Arlene Davila's Latinos, Inc.

Latinos Inc Cover Image

Latinos, Inc. by Arlene Dávila is a pivotal contribution to the study of ethnic marketing in the United States. The book critically examines marketing executives’ understanding of the U.S. Hispanic market at a time when Latino culture began experiencing unprecedented visibility in American society, a process the author maps over the emergence of Latinas/os as a profitable demographic and their increasing, if limited, presence in U.S. political discourses. Specifically, she argues that Hispanic marketing professionals broker the heterogeneity of the Latina/o population in order to present a unified and sizable demographic that can be sold to corporate advertisers. In this context, marketing and advertising are crucial to the consolidation of a pan-ethnic identity as the defining characteristic of what it means to be Latina/o in the United States.

Dávila’s analysis covers both English- and Spanish-language advertising geared towards Latinas/os. Her conclusions are based on ethnographic research carried out in Hispanic marketing agencies in New York and at national marketing conventions, as well as interviews with Hispanic media executives in other major cities. This excerpt underscores how “facts” derived from market research lend credibility to the work of marketing professionals, even as those marketers produce contradictory representations of Hispanic consumers and their role in the U.S. economy. The U.S. marketers’ version of Latinidad is constructed from generalizations about Latina/o culture; Latinas/os are presented as young, family oriented, and brand loyal Spanish speakers who spend a significant percentage of their income on consumer goods. This definition erases important differences among Latinas/os in relation to class, race, and nationality. Moreover, the economic realities of most Latinas/os are ignored in order to construct an image of an increasingly affluent Latina/o consumer that can attract advertisers. Ultimately, these generalizations become necessary for marketers to convince advertisers—whose knowledge of the U.S. Latinas/os is often based on stereotypes—that devoting resources to Hispanic advertising is a worthy investment. They furthermore frame Latinas/os as a foreign market within the United States whose rising economic value remains at odds with more progressive recognition of their socio-cultural position and rights to citizenship. According to Dávila, ethnic marketing thus assuages political anxieties over the recent population growth of ethnic minorities while still allowing corporations to profit from their consumption.

Davila, Arlene. Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

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