“A couple years after I arrived in Hollywood, everything that was Latino was fashionable, and years after, my thought is that we’re not fashionable anymore. We’re here to stay.” -Antonio Banderas
Banderas is correct about Hispanics’ presence and influence in Hollywood. But the impact goes beyond the entertainment industry. Over the last 10 years, America’s Hispanic population has surged. U.S. Hispanics now number more than 50 million—roughly one out of every six Americans—and they account for more than half of the country’s population growth in the last decade. Their influence is increasingly felt throughout American culture and politics, and that impact will continue to grow along with their numbers.
Media companies were among the first to realize and tap into the spending power of the Hispanic community, and the number of Spanish-language media outlets has exploded proportionately over the years. According to a recent Nielsen report, Latinos currently wield $1.4 trillion in buying power in 2014, and that figure is projected to increase 50 percent over the next five years.
Companies jockeying for these dollars often consider employing Hispanic spokespeople to connect with and motivate Latinos specifically, and American consumers overall.
Based on demographic trends, this approach makes sense. But have the attitudes of the general public followed suit, or is the appeal of a Hispanic spokesperson still perceived as being limited to the Latino community? And if Hispanic Americans have indeed made the jump, which personal attributes are considered the most vital, and which Latino celebrities are most likely to be successful in a spokesperson role?
The Pioneering Spirit
In the world of product spokespeople, African-Americans were the first minority group to successfully make the jump to the mainstream U.S. media. It started in the 1960s with Bill Cosby, who became the national spokesperson for a number of companies whose products were geared toward all Americans. Cosby represented an impressive string of Fortune 500 companies, including General Foods (Jell-O), Coca-Cola, Kodak, Texas Instruments, and E.F. Hutton.
Based on Cosby’s success in selling to mainstream America, spokesperson gigs followed for more African-Americans, including Pearl Bailey, O.J. Simpson, and “Mean” Joe Greene. Having an African-American spokesperson represent a mainstream product today, thank goodness, is no longer considered remarkable.
The top black spokespersons today include entertainers such as Oprah Winfrey (Teavana), Dennis Haysbert (Allstate), and Samuel L. Jackson (Capital One), plus top athletes such as Michael Jordan (Hanes), Shaquille O’Neal (Gold Bond), and Kobe Bryant (Hublot).
If there is a pioneering Hispanic-American spokesperson equivalent to Bill Cosby in terms of transcending ethnicity, it has to be Jennifer Lopez. A native New Yorker born to Puerto Rican parents, J. Lo landed the top slot in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list a few years ago, which then included eight Latinos. This distinction came on the heels of American Idol—the highly-rated TV program that’s especially popular among Latinos—naming Lopez a judge. At the time, Forbes said that Lopez “may be the most powerful entertainer on the planet.”
The star turn helped Lopez reinvigorate her career as a singer and actress, as well as a brand ambassador. Lopez has launched branded product lines that include fragrances, clothing, and accessories in partnerships with Kohl’s and Tommy Hilfiger. She is now the Global Ambassador for a line of L’Oréal Paris hair and skincare products, as well as Gillette’s Venus razor. J. Lo endorses Fiat automobiles, and has further enhanced her brand through highly visible charity work, most prominently for the American Red Cross and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Fittingly, Lopez has consistently been the top-rated Hispanic celebrity throughout the DR Star Index’ lifespan. She regularly lands in the top 5 percent of all celebrities, ranking as high as No. 6 in early 2014. Her popularity transcends age and income groups, and she maintains widespread appeal among all ethnicities and all geographic sectors of the United States.
The Star Index focuses on public perceptions of celebrities for six key spokesperson attributes, and while Lopez exhibits strength in all, the latest survey results place her in the top 3 percent of all celebrities for Attractiveness (No. 9), Relevance (No. 9), Influence (No. 15), and Recognition (No. 16). While her scores dip slightly for the other attributes—she is 30th in Likeability and 49th in Trust—she still lands in the top 8 percent in both categories.
Eva Longoria is another Hispanic-American entertainer who has transcended ethnicity to become a top national product spokesperson. Like Lopez, Longoria always scores well in the Star Index, though she rates slightly lower. The single spokesperson attribute in which Longoria places ahead of J. Lo is for Attractiveness, having once secured the No. 1 slot among all celebrities. Longoria’s rankings for the other attributes have also been strong: She ranks 30th in Influence, and consistently lands in the top 10 percent for all other traits.
Like Lopez, many of Longoria’s endorsement deals have centered in the fashion and beauty categories. L’Oréal Paris named her its spokesperson in 2005, a role she held until being replaced by Lopez five years later, and Longoria has fronted Bebe Sport, Hanes, and London Fog. Her appeal expands beyond beauty and fashion; she has also served as the face for Magnum Ice Cream, Heineken, and Microsoft.
A Top-Selling Import
Both Lopez and Longoria were born and raised in the United States, but many top Hispanic celebrities are not, and that can be perceived as a hurdle for companies seeking a spokesperson. One celebrity who has overcome this obstacle is Sofia Vergara, the Columbian-born actress and former Univision host who has an ongoing, starring role in ABC’s Modern Family, for which she has been nominated for numerous awards.
Hispanics’ impact will continue to grow along with their numbers.
Like her American-born counterparts, Vergara, who became an American citizen in 2014, has landed national spokesperson roles for products beyond the fashion and beauty categories. While she has done ads for Cover Girl and developed a clothing line with Kmart, Vergara has also starred in commercials for Diet Pepsi, State Farm, and Comcast’s Xfinity brand.
Vergara’s Star Index rankings have been solid, but not as spectacular as those of Lopez and Longoria. Overall, she ranks in the top 20 percent of all celebrities, ranking strongest for Relevance (No. 56)—surely a function of her high visibility as the star of a top TV show. Where Vergara falls somewhat short are in the crucial spokesperson categories of Trust and Influence, though she lands in the top third for both.
A Few Good Hombres
Unlike their female counterparts, Latino men have a tougher time breaking through the national spokesperson barrier. The highest-ranking Hispanic-American male in recent editions of the DR Star Index is Bob Vila, the former host of TV’s This Old House and Bob Vila’s Home Again. Vila has been a spokesperson for Sears, Lumber Liquidators, and TeleBrands’ Grassology.
Where Vila shines with the public is in the vital attribute categories of Trust and Influence, where he ranks No. 13 and No. 19, respectively, among all celebrities. Based on these results and Vila’s long-established credibility in the home-improvement category, it was recommended that TeleBrands consider Vila for the Grassology spokesperson role; the client agreed, and Vila proved to be an excellent choice.
Enrique Iglesias has also had significant endorsement deals, though primarily in Europe. The Spanish-born singer and actor has appeared in commercials for PepsiCo International, Viceroy watches, and for fragrances by Azzaro Paris and Tommy Hilfiger, but he has yet to make his mark as a spokesperson in the United States. Iglesias’ scores in the Star Index have been solid but unspectacular; he ranks in the middle of the pack for every attribute category except Attractiveness, where he places in the top 25 percent.
While other male Latino celebrities have landed spokesperson opportunities, none has yet made the jump to top-tier status. Whether this is a function of perceived shortcomings on the part of the public or advertisers, or the lack of a suitable candidate, is a question that demands further analysis.
Regardless, Antonio Banderas’ statement that the Latino influence in America is “here to stay” is certainly true, and brand advertisers that are savvy enough to capitalize on this fact will be positioned for long-term success in the years to come.