WASHINGTON – Latino parents are the target of a new public service advertising campaign by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) in concert with the Ad Council to help instill a college-going culture within the nation’s largest minority group.
The campaign, which emphasizes the phrase “Tus palabras,” or “Your words,” harps on a Hispanic cultural idiom where life values are packaged into commonly used catchphrases. Using another phrase, “their tomorrow depends on your words today,” the campaign urges Latino parents to encourage their children to pursue higher education.
The campaign’s creators, along with public officials, hope that adding college to the daily vocabulary of parents and children will foster a culture where good grades and diplomas will be as ubiquitous as tortillas and Spanglish. The media advertisements are accompanied by a Web site that is available in both English and Spanish.
On hand to help introduce the campaign on Tuesday in downtown Washington, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the persistent negative trends for U.S. Latino students are “morally unacceptable” and “economically unsustainable.”
“Hispanic students K through 12 represent about 22 percent of our population but only 11 percent on the higher education side,” Duncan said. “This is a tremendous dropoff … those numbers need to increase dramatically.”
Frank Alvarez, HSF president and CEO, said the influence of Latino parents on their children is indelible, and building a college culture in the home will take the nation closer to fulfilling President Barack Obama’s degree completion goals. The new campaign follows efforts by Univision, the Spanish-language television network, that launched a college encouragement campaign called “Es El Momento” in February.
“These commercials are designed to put at least one baccalaureate degree in every U.S. Latino household,” Alvarez said. “We want to inculcate the Hispanic community in such a way to make college-going the norm.”
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said parental engagement is the common denominator students need to succeed at the higher levels of education.
“We won’t succeed without them,” he said. Research from the Pew Hispanic Center shows Hispanics parents understand the value of a college education but are simply at a loss when guiding their children through the college preparation process.
Nevertheless, a majority of Latino youth report that their parents are the single most significant influence in their schooling decisions.
The Ad Council, a private, nonprofit coalition of advertising and communications firms, has worked with the United Negro College Fund on similar efforts. The council is working with media outlets that can donate airtime to run the public service announcements or PSAs.
The campaign, designed pro bono by Grupo Gallegos, includes bilingual television, radio, print, outdoor, and Web advertising as well as a how-to DVD, “Hija, you must go to college,” for parents that compiles HSF’s collective wisdom about the college application process.
In one video spot previewed at Tuesday’s campaign launch, a young man is heard arguing with his mother about his decision to forgo college for the instant gratification of a minimum-wage job. He wants things, the voiceover in the ad tells the mother.
The ad flashes between different scenes, juxtaposing images of a small house, a plain car, and the young man wearing a blue-collar uniform to the same young man wearing a lab coat and driving a luxury sports utility vehicle from a comfortable spacious residence.
Alvarez said it was decided to use a young man and his mother because of the underrepresentation of Latino males in all levels of education.
“All voices are important in the Latino community, but we know that, when mom says it, things get done,” Alvarez said jokingly.
The commercial’s focus on the material benefits of a college education is the result of focus group research that found that Latino parents respond to the financial stability message attributed to a college education, said Coca-Cola assistant vice president of Hispanic Marketing Reinaldo Padua. The pretext of the American Dream translates into class mobility and economic stability for Latino parents.
Padua said that, when they prescreened the ads, they received a 94-percent approval rating from diverse groups of Latino parents.
“The research shows it’s a powerful message for Latino families,” said Juan Sepulveda, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. “It’s a tricky one, and I can understand people having issues with it. But for Latino parents their top priority is giving their children a better life.”
J. Fernando Barrueta, former president of the Hispanic College Fund, said they have used similar tactics for appealing to Latino parents but students reported they are more interested in exploring the variety of career opportunities that await them after graduating from college with a degree. As a result, HCF has started encouraging mentor relationships with professional Hispanics who have earned their degrees.