Do You Call Them Latinos or Hispanics?

The U.S. 2010 Census reported that there are now 50.3 million U.S. Hispanics. Sadly, this ever growing populace is destined to flail about, because according to a Pew Hispanic report, Latinos feel leaderless.

The Pew center asked U.S. Hispanics who they considered the "most important Latino leader in the country today." Two-thirds of respondents said they did not know.

Why is that?

Maybe we feel leaderless because we don't see many Hispanics represented in national media. One of the more intriguing items of the Pew report was the fact that when survey participants were presented with a list of eight prominent Hispanics, including Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, English dominant Hispanics were less likely than bilingual or Spanish-dominant Hispanics to have even heard of the individuals on the list.

The fact that English dominant Hispanics were less likely than bilingual or Spanish-dominant Hispanics to have heard of the leaders listed suggests that Hispanics get more play in Spanish language media than they do in English language media. A quick turn through the television dial bears this out. Setting aside Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez and George Lopez (no relation), there are very few clearly Latino national standouts.

Maybe that's another reason why we feel leaderless. It's not clear who is Hispanic. The Hispanic market is multi-faceted. Some of us speak English only, some Spanish only and some both languages equally well. Some of us were born here and others are foreign born. We span socio-economic classes and shades of brown. All of which makes the Hispanic population incredibly rich and interesting, but also difficult to lump into a monolithic group with a single leader.

We're tough to get your arms around. The issue is not black or white -- literally. Hispanics suffer perhaps from a general discomfort with grey.

I witnessed this challenge first hand as the founder and CEO of a digital media company focused on Hispanics. My job was to convince leading advertisers that the Hispanic market was worth pursuing. Hispanics are more than 16% of the U.S. population, but marketing to them only represents 4% of all advertising dollars. My company spent a lot of time testing different ways to reach Hispanics online, but we were often limited by the inclination of large advertisers to even try. Complexity, it seems, breeds complacency.

During my uphill battle I was continually reminded of the consternation the Hispanic market invokes by statements like that of an advertising executive from a well-known consumer brand who threw up his hands in a meeting and exclaimed, "Do you call them Hispanic or Latino?"

Or maybe the Pew study portends a multi-cultural, multi-lingual future that will demand a different type of leadership. What will that look like? That's another place my Hispanic advertising experience is informative. My company's research showed that the incredibly diverse U.S. Hispanic market has one thing in common: they're human.

But let's face it -- there are few leaders who can speak to the complexities of a population, who understand how to address our shared humanity. Come to think of it that's not just a Hispanic problem.