Billenials Are Cultural Chameleons

Latino millenials are one of the fastest-growing, most sought-after consumers, and they're about to change everything.

Fans attend the iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina festival (National Journal)

The most coveted consumers often live with their parents. They prefer English. But when they speak to their abuela — who they love — they speak in Spanish.

They are generally more content with the direction of the country. And when they have kids of their own, which they typically do at a younger age, their children will speak both Spanish and English.

Meet the Latino-millenials, 200 percenters, generation M (for multicultural), also called billenials.

Coined recently by Univision, the giant in Spanish-language TV broadcaster, the word "billenial" is a synthesis of bilingual and millennial, a nod to how many young Latinos speak both Spanish and English.

"They're 100 percent Latino and 100 percent American." — Jackie Hernandez, NBCUniversal

Billenials are a sizable slice of all millenials, at 21 percent. And they're about 30 percent of all Latinos in the United States.

They're one of the most sought-after consumer markets, and in their insistence on being truly multicultural, they're redefining American culture. In order to appeal to billenials, marketers are walking through a new world of advertising, where everyone is learning as they go, and there's plenty of Spanglish in the mix.

The reason companies are so determined to appeal to billenial interests is not only because of their sheer numbers but also because of what they have the potential to become.

In the last 40 years, the U.S. Latino population grew by 592 percent, mostly from immigration. However, immigration has slowed. Now billenials will carry that growth, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2060, Latinos will make up about a third of the country's population.

{{thirdPartyEmbed type:magazineAd source:magazine_mid}}

Perhaps because who a billenial is can be more easily defined (kind of), companies have turned to marketers to grab this group's attention, and their money. "If you can get to them, your brand will not only be successful, but aspirational," says Mike Valdes-Fauli, president of Pinta, an advertising company.

But that can be tricky.

Let's generalize a bit here to get a fuller picture. Billenials are 20 to 30 years old. They were born in the United States. And partly because of the the recession, and partly because they are much closer to family than the typical American millenial, they often live at home. They prefer to watch TV in English. Their grandmother or grandfather probably lives with them. They live in two worlds: At work or school, they can disguise themselves to fold into what marketers call the "general audience," which is an overly broad term for White America. But at home, billenials are surrounded by Latino culture.

Billenials are largely the first generation that doesn't have to decide if they want to be solely Latino or American.

This is what Jackie Hernandez, chief marketing officer of Hispanic enterprises and content at NBCUniversal, calls being a "200 percenter."

"They're 100 percent Latino," she says, "and 100 percent American." It's that duality that marketers are learning how to tap into — with varying degrees of success. Target recently started a campaign called #SinTraducción, which translates to "without translation," putting a Spanish twist on the pervasive, millenial, don't-label-me attitude. And Mike's Hard Lemonade had a Refreshtacular! campaign. Refresh + espectacular = Refreshtacular! aimed at these thirsty consumers.

"This is a question of culture," says Linda Lane Gonzalez of VIVA, a Latino ad agency, "and Hispanics are no longer assimilating. They are no longer acculturating. They're rejoicing in their culture."

Lane Gonzalez says Target has done a good job in this regard. In particular, she remembers one commercial that featured a Latina-looking mom, probably 30 years old. The mother pushed a shopping cart with her daughter seated inside. As they walked the aisle, Latin music played. Both moved casually to the music. As they're shopping, the mom rubs her daughter's face.

{{thirdPartyEmbed type:magazineAd source:magazine_bottom}}

"The way she interacted with that child is so purely Hispanic," says Lane Gonzalez. "It just spoke immediately to my heart. I thought, 'Oh, I remember those days.' They didn't have Latin music in Target [when I shopped there with my baby], but it was just so simple and it showed that Target is talking to you."

It worked, she says, because it tapped into the need to be like everyone else — just a mother shopping with her child. And it also spoke uniquely to Latinos.

Which gets at the point these marketers make: Billenials are largely the first generation that doesn't have to decide if they want to be solely Latino or American. By not choosing, they've changed the way marketers appeal to them, the way giant corporations think of them, and they will undoubtedly change American culture.