By Doreen Hemlock/ Miami.
“The big issue,” says Jose Velez Silva of Comcast, “is to be culturally attuned.”
Working in Hispanic marketing for three decades, Jose Velez Silva has seen the evolution of outreach to U.S. Latinos. Brands used to focus largely on campaigns in Spanish in Spanish-language media. Now, they recognize that the fast-growing community is very diverse, with many second-and third-generation Hispanic more comfortable in English yet still seeking Latino cultural connections.
Velez Silva applies that experience as vice president for multicultural marketing at Xfinity, a key unit of Philadelphia-based telecom group Comcast that also spans broadcast TV, broadband, films, Universal Studios theme parks, venture capital, books, and other divisions. In 2022, the Comcast group reported annual revenues topping $121 billion and employed about 186,000 people.
The bilingual marketer believes that when brands represent Latinos and show them love in meaningful ways, they’re more likely to get that love back. His outreach to Hispanics, starting in advertising in Puerto Rico, has earned him recognition across the U.S. He won the Award for Executive Leadership at the annual Hispanic Television Summit held in New York in 2022.
Here’s our interview with Velez Silva, who cherishes his grandmother’s advice: “José, en la vida siempre se como las estrellas que iluminan pero no encandilan”, or “José, in life, always be like the stars that guide you but don’t blind you.” He aims to humbly inspire others.
Hispanic Time: How did you get involved in Hispanic and multicultural marketing?
Velez Silva: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and went to the University of Puerto Rico. For me, Hispanic culture, Puerto Rican heritage and telling our stories are a lifelong passion. I love the story-telling power of Hispanic media. In fact, my mom’s beloved godfather, Jose Ramon Quiñones, was the founder of WAPA-TV in Puerto Rico to bring stories, education and entertainment into Puerto Rican homes.
I started in marketing through an internship with Young & Rubicam [ad agency] when I was in college. The intern slots were filled, but I persisted and got in. The agency offered me a job before I even graduated. From there, Foote Cone & Belding called me to oversee the Colgate-Palmolive account in Puerto Rico, and then, to come to New York to lead U.S. Hispanic marketing for that brand.
Fun fact: We did an ad back then in Spanish-language media for a new Oral Care toothbrush, and my client asked, “Why is this only in Spanish?” So, Colgate ran the ad in English for the general market, which broke the pattern of Hispanic ads being only in Spanish. That helped foster my passion for multicultural marketing as not being just for specific groups in dedicated media, but also for the total market.
HT: What is your role at Comcast?
VS: I’ve been with Comcast for 11 years. Now, I’m vice president of integrated, multicultural brand marketing for Comcast Cable, aiming to increase market share across multicultural audiences: Hispanic, people of color and LGBTQ+. I’m also on the Diversity Council for Comcast, a position I hold dear, because the more people see themselves represented across all levels of the organization, the more they will know that we have a true commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
HT: How important are Hispanic consumers for Comcast, and how do you serve them specifically?
VS: Hispanics are very important, because we know from the Census that Latinos are among the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.: more than 62 million people, or nearly 20 percent of the population and projected to reach almost 30 percent by 2050.
Our mission is to connect with the community on multiple fronts. First, we offer a specially-curated Latino destination within Xfinity On Demand, which aggregates series, TV shows, movies, kids’ programming, telenovelas and other content in Spanish and English. We even have audio-feeds on select Spanish-language shows that let you hear content in English, so we can serve multi-generational households that have different language preferences.
We also develop new products for Hispanics. Our award-winning X1 voice remote was the first in the market to be bilingual in English, Spanish and different dialects of Spanish. We know Argentinians pronounce things differently than Mexicans or than me, a Puerto Rican, so we tested dialects for the system to recognize. We also recently launched our xFi app in Spanish for Xfinity internet customers.
HT: Tell us about Comcast’s $100 million initiative to fight injustice and boost diversity.
VS: It’s a multi-year initiative. There’s $75 million in cash and $25 million in media we’re distributing. That’s on top of commitments from our Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation to assist thousands of organizations that support under-represented communities through social-impact programs. For instance, during the pandemic, we supported the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and its initiative Nuestros Negocios, which helped Hispanic-owned small businesses. We also support scholarships for Hispanic students, including some through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
Our initiative is not just about money, but also about access. For example, our Internet Essentials program brings low-cost, high-speed internet to low-income households. The program provides a modem and internet service, and depending on the tier, can cost $10 or $25 a month. Combine that with the U.S. government’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers a credit up to $30 a month, and some households that earn less than $50,000 a year pay nothing for their internet service.
During COVID, we also launched Comcast RISE, which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment, to provide grants to Hispanic-owned small businesses. And we’ve rolled out more than 1,200 WiFi- connected “Lift Zones” in local community centers nationwide, helping provide free access to the internet and to hundreds of hours of educational and digital-skills content.
HT: In over 30 years in the business, how have you seen Hispanic marketing evolve? What’s hot now?
VS: I came in when you almost had to beg companies to do advertising in Spanish, because people thought there was no way to measure Return on Investment (RoI) in Spanish-language media. And they thought that Hispanic marketing was talking on Univision and only through Spanish-language media.
Fast forward to 2023, there are still some companies like that, but not Comcast. We see the plethora of media options that Hispanics engage with, not only in Spanish. We know Latinos are pacesetters in culture and technology. We Hispanics over-index on streaming, because we want to see content outside of traditional networks. That’s partly because we’re under-represented in the cast of shows on some networks, but it’s also because brands don’t focus enough on Hispanics in English, especially to reach younger, bicultural, bilingual Hispanics. And to be quite frank, you don’t connect in a meaningful way with a different culture by having just one message for the whole market in English.
Let me give you an example. We work with Becky G, the Mexican-American global superstar who sings mostly in English but has strong Latino cultural heritage. She’s helped us reach our target market of second-and third-generation bilingual, bicultural Hispanics in English. And she’s helped us reach the general market, because she inspires not only Latinos but African-Americans and young generations.
The big issue for Hispanic marketing is to be culturally attuned, which involves several factors. One is country of origin, which is not just Mexico but at least 20 countries. A decade ago, about 70 percent of U.S. Hispanics had Mexican heritage. Now, it’s 61 percent. Pew Research says Venezuelans are the fastest-growing U.S. Hispanic group, up more than 75 percent since 2010.
Then, there’s the generational factor. The strongest growth now is coming from second- and third-generation Latinos, like Becky G. Acculturation is important too. Depending where you live, you may not need to adopt the behavior and tastes of the general market. There are areas in Houston and Miami, for example, where Latinos are the general market and the market drivers, unlike cities like New York or Chicago.
And lifestyle matters. Some people think to reach Hispanics, you need to talk about soccer or ranchera music. But Latino tastes are broadening. Hispanic viewership is growing for American sports leagues including the NFL, MLB, NBA and NASCAR. We Hispanics over-index for box-office opening weekends for big English-language films, because we’re social people, who love to be with others, be entertained and be in the know. Going to the movies with the family is an opportunity for us to be all together.
HT: Where is Hispanic marketing going?
VS: With the plethora of content options, you need to create marketing that talks to me as an individual. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore. I want to see myself represented in the content and platform I’m engaging with. When you feel seen, you feel loved. And when I see someone makes the effort to showcase people like me, a Latino in the U.S., I know you respect me, you love me and that you care for me as a human being. So, Hispanics will play a greater role in marketing to the total market.
HT: For those starting in Hispanic marketing, what advice can you share?
VS: First, respect those who came before you. Many people new to multicultural marketing act as if the past never existed. Second, just because you’re from a group, that doesn’t make you a marketer.
What’s important is to respect Hispanic culture and keep learning the cultural cues that transcend the typical ones like language, music or food. There are cues that we Latinos have for family and social interaction that we need to respect and represent. We need to push for representation in the stories we put forth. It’s not only about putting a Latino, African-American and LGBTQ+ face in an ad. It’s about the story you tell and how you empower the community with the stories you tell.
The key is the cultural cues – some that others may not even see, but that I do and I feel: They love me. They love me as a human being. They love me as an American. They love me as part of this U.S. community.