In the last few years, Latin America has been moving towards a process of regional integration. National economies are being brought together through trade pacts and treaties. A very visible aspect of this process is the emergence of regional media, which has in turn brought about regional media and marketing database systems.

In most countries, television accounts for a large portion of advertising expenditures. Previously, each country has its own television audience measurement systems that have evolved in response to local needs and independently of each other. For example, IBOPE has separate people meter ratings systems in seven different countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. The demand now is to integrate these separate systems into a single regional system.

Due to their divergent historical trajectories, there are some significant differences among these systems. Consider something as basic as the reporting of television ratings by age group. For whatever reasons, there appears to be as many age group definitions as there are countries!

Amidst this chaotic situation, it is tempting to impose a simplified system across all countries. One might even want to impose a set of harmonized definitions to be applied worldwide. Given the agnostic position where there is no absolute right nor wrong, perhaps also because of mental sloth, the choice would be the one that is currently used by the most number of people.

But this is where local sensitivity becomes important. We need to recognize that local definitions usually did not arise out of a vacuum, but reflects cultural and social reality. Let us consider the case of pre-adults. In the United States, the traditional age group would be defined as 12 to 17 years old, inclusive. This is the age for people in junior high or high school. On one hand, people younger than 12 would be in grade school. On the other hand, people older than 17 are considered to be adults. Therefore, the 12-17 group is considered to be reasonably homogeneous in the USA. Even so, there are still some advertisers who felt that their targets are the 'tweens' group (8 to 14 years old, inclusive).

But to some Latin Americans, a 12-17 age group is incomprehensible in the context of their traditional culture. Specifically, this has to do with the rite of passage known as quinceañera (literally, the fifteenth birthday) among girls when they reach their 15th birthday. This rite dates back to the Mayan and Toltecan period in history. On this day, the young woman makes the important transition from girl to woman. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, compadres and comadres all come together to witness and celebrate the occasion and offer gifts to the young woman. Perhaps most significantly, the quinceañera announces formally to the world that this young woman is eligible for marriage. For this reason, from that day on, she will behave differently and is treated differently by everyone.

We will now use data from the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996 to show how psychology and behavior differ before and after the quinceañera. Specifically, we have broken the 12-17 group into 12-14 year olds and 15-17 year olds. First of all, we show the usage of beauty products in Table 1. Usage levels rise sharply after the 15th birthday. To some people, it might be considered inappropriate and unseemly for pre-quinceañera girls to be applying certain beauty products.

Table 1. % Used Beauty Product in Last 6 Months among Latin American Girls

Beauty Product % among Girls 12-14 % among Girls 15-17
Perfume 35% 52%
Foundation make-up 6% 14%
Lip stick/lip gloss 44% 69%
Eye liner 10% 30%
Mascara 15% 23%
Nail care products/polish 63% 70%
Hair Spray 9% 23%

Next, we looked at the opinions held by the girls. In Table 2, we list only those situations in which there are significant differences between the two groups. We see that the two groups have different motivations and criteria for product purchases. Furthermore, the older girls have become more outer-directed and more anxious about their futures. These psychological profiles have obviously implications for marketers.

Table 2. Opinions Held by Latin American Girls


%Agree Strongly/
Agree somewhat
among Girls 12-14
%Agree Strongly/
Agree somewhat
among Girls 15-17
I would pay extra for a quality brand name 44% 57%
I will try something just because it is new 51% 37%
I prefer to buy things that my friends approve of 31% 17%
I have little desire to travel and see the world 30% 14%
I am worried that I (or family member)
will lose job or not find one
68% 84%

In terms of their television viewing behavior, there are also some major differences. The older girls become less interested in cartoons and much more interested in documentaries, movies and telenovelas. The last three program types ostensibly contain much information as to how the outside world operates, and are therefore consistent with the increasing outer-directness.

Table 3. %Very Interested in Program Types among Latin American Girls

Program Type

% Very Interested
among Girls 12-14
% Very Interested
among Girls 15-17
Cartoons 41% 35%
Documentaries 11% 19%
Telenovelas 44% 58%
Classic Hollywood movies 14% 31%
Recent movies 17% 40%

Summary: It is now commonplace to preach the virtues of thinking globally without forsaking local sensitivity. In this above, we present a case study in which a local rite of passage contravenes a standard used elsewhere. What gives? Well, the answer is obvious. Local adaptation should prevail since the cultural practice is not going to change anytime soon just to please media planners. Besides, we would never want to see the quinceañera disappear, because it is a beautiful and invaluable tradition which formally confers responsibilty and maturity upon young women in the presence of their families and their communities. In other cultures, the lack of such a formal ritual may impede the transition to adulthood.

(posted by Roland Soong, September 11th, 1997)

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