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SOY YO

This little girl’s video is a perfect example of how to motivate Latino millennials to vote

sarai gonzalez in people for the American Ways soy yo latino outreach video
People for the American Way
Master campaigner.
  • Ana Campoy
By Ana Campoy

Deputy editor, global finance and economics

This article is more than 2 years old.

For insight on how to reach an elusive but potentially decisive voting block—Latino millennials—Democrats and Republicans might want to watch this video of a spunky 11-year-old.

Made by liberal PAC People for the American Way, the video offers a primer on speaking to Latinos born in or after 1981. Absent are any charro-clad ranchera legends, or references to conservative social values. Instead, the video features a bespectacled Sarai Gonzalez corralling a neighborhood of voters to the tune of “Soy Yo” (“That’s Me”) by Colombian band Bomba Estéreo.  The video’s Spanglish title is “Be You y Vota.”

Hispanics currently make up around 12% of the country’s electorate, and nearly half of them are millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s close to 12 million eligible voters who could make or break a candidate in the increasingly tight presidential election—if they vote.

But neither candidate is doing particularly well with this segment of the population, and their predecessors haven’t done much better. In the 2012 race, Hispanic millennials were even less likely to turn out than older Hispanics, whose participation rates are already well below national levels. Hispanics also voted at considerably lower rates than their white and black peers.

Hard to get

Part of the problem is that Latinos are concentrated in non-swing states, which don’t typically command a lot of campaign cash. But there’s a more fundamental issue at play, too: White candidates have traditionally been rather tone deaf when it comes to young Hispanic voters.

To be sure, millennial Latinos can be tricky to figure out. Their origins are just as diverse as first-generation immigrants from across the Spanish-speaking world, but culturally they’re a complex blend of American and Latin-American. They speak both English and Spanish, sometimes in the same sentence. Many are US-born, but many others aren’t. They’re proud of their roots, but they also want to blend in. And they’re motivated by a lot more than immigration.

Clinton has been trying to woo this group. To run her Latino outreach she hired Lorella Praeli, a leader of the DREAMer movement, which seeks to grant legal status to immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. The move galvanized many young Hispanics, including citizens. But decidedly less sensitive was the listicle Clinton’s campaign posted on her website last year, enumerating the ways in which the Democratic nominee is like a Hispanic abuela. The grandchildren of Hispanics were quick to point out that Clinton, unlike their grandparents, has never endured poverty or racism.

On balance, Clintons isn’t doing great with Latino millennials: A Pew poll conducted between August and September found that less than half of them back her. That’s a world away from the 15% of Hispanic millennials supporting Trump, but the Republican nominee has also made far less effort to court the Hispanic vote.

Unlabeled

To young Hispanics sick of being pigeonholed or overlooked, Sarai Gonzalez’s unique hairdo and “Soy yo“ rallying cry feels long overdue. The 11-year-old gained internet fame thanks to the original “Soy Yo“—produced by Bomba Estéreo and released in September—which inspired the People for the American Way version.

The original video has been viewed more than 7 million times, and actor John Leguizamo explained its appeal in a piece for the New York Times last month. “It was so powerful to see ourselves mirrored back,” he wrote. “We as an ethnic group are so starved to see our own lives reflected in the media and literature, to have a sense of value and belonging.”

The lyrics of “Soy Yo” are also particularly poignant in the context of the election season’s tough talk on immigration—namely by Trump— and generalized pandering to Latinos by him and others. “Don’t worry if they don’t approve of you, when they criticize you, you just say ‘that’s me’” goes the song’s chorus. At another point, it says “That’s how I am… And you don’t even know me.”

The Bomba Estéreo video may have distilled the frustration of being an American Latino into two minutes of art, but it also features some of the same strategies being used by marketers catering to Hispanic millennials. Those guidelines could be useful for political operatives hoping to replicate Soy Yo’s success. Among those techniques:

Don’t “hispander”…

Efforts to get Latinos to buy stuff—or vote—can sometimes come across as opportunistic or insincere. To combat that, be authentic.

“Specificity drives authenticity,” Venezuelan-American comedian Joanna Hausmann said at a marketing forum organized by Univision last year. For example, instead of trying make a Spanish-language accent more general to target a broader number of Hispanics, respect regional nuances.

With her quirky outfit and self-assured attitude, Gonzalez’s character is nothing but authentic. She’s also funny, another trait Hausmann advised adopting in order to reach young Hispanics.

…but do acknowledge Latino culture

Even though they live in the US, young Latinos choose to identify with their familial heritage, writes Jeff Fromm, an expert in millennial marketing. According to the Hispanic Millennial Project, a study from ad agency Sensis and market research firm ThinkNow Research, nearly 70% of Hispanic millennials say they want to stand out as Latinos.

Marketers say nodding at that sense of identity is a good way to connect with young Latinos. It’s something the new Soy Yo video does with subtlety, showing the types of tight family connections that are central to that community.

Make it mobile

All millennials have their eyes glued to their smartphones, but Latinos more than most. The average Latino mobile user goes through roughly 650 minutes on their mobile plan every month, compared with the 510-minute average for all consumers, according to Nielsen Mobile Insights.

Young Latinos also prefer visual- over text-based social media, according to the Hispanic Millennial Project. They are particularly fond of YouTube: More than 70% of respondents to the project’s 2015 survey said they visit the site daily, a higher share than for whites or blacks.

In short? Be authentic, sensitive to nuance, and innovative in approach. By those measures, the Soy Yo video is made to order for the growing Hispanic millennial electorate.

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