The Hispanic consumer can no longer be ignored. Too many opportunities are lost from lack of attention and conversation around reaching this audience. As a Latina, I feel it is an important issue to address. At the root of this problem is a lack of understanding. Why are Hispanics important? What makes us any different? How do we even reach this audience? Let's go one at a time.
Before getting into the material, let me clarify a few terms. The term Hispanic refers to people who originate from Spanish-speaking countries, while Latino/a indicates Latin-American origins, including countries speaking Portuguese, French and many others. For the sake of simplicity, I will be focusing on Hispanic Americans but some of the material, especially related to culture, can be applied to other Latin American communities.
Why are Hispanics important?
According to US census data, by the year 2044 the US population will be majority multicultural. This includes Hispanic Americans, Asian American, African American and more. At the moment 43% of the population is multicultural, that's 143 million people, 65 million of which are Hispanic.
Beyond population, how about the money they bring to the table? Hispanics in the US have a higher buying power than Italy’s GDP. Pretty impressive, right? Additionally, they are dominating in a number of markets such as food, clothes and phone services.
On a human level, representation, while not a new conversation, is currently standing at centerstage. People want to see themselves in the media they consume. Seeing one’s self represented creates a bigger emotional impact and attracts attention. Misrepresentation and stereotypical representation is a reality for most minority groups. For Hispanics in particular, we are too often represented as criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes or the loud dramatic best friend but almost never the strong independent main character, or the doctor, engineer, entrepreneur. Slowly things are changing. Salma Hayek recently appeared in Marvel’s, the Eternals, as a guide, leader, and main character. A Netflix show called One Day at a Time follows the story of a Hispanic American family, touching on subjects like mental health, sexuality, and race. Change doesn’t happen overnight and it requires dedication and understanding. Lets play a part in furthering this change.
What makes Hispanics any different?
There are two factors that differentiate Hispanics from the American consumer: language and culture. These differences are at the root of most difficulties and confusion experienced when trying to reach this audience. Not understanding these differences can lead to mistranslations and misrepresentations which have a negative impact on how people in this community view certain brands.
It is important to recognize that though we as Hispanics share a language, it is not a monoculture. This can be seen through variations in the language itself, food, music, and traditions. As Spanish speakers we have different accents, dialects, and slang depending on our country of origin and even the region within each country. This makes sense if you compare this differentiation to the different British, Australian, and American accents you hear while traveling or watching movies and TV. Even within the US we have slightly different words for things like fizzy drinks; soda, pop, coke, etc.. The Hispanics living in the US come from all 21 Spanish-speaking countries so we have to be careful to use copy that doesn’t have a negative or completely different meaning to a certain country. This is going to require a few minutes of extra research from you team, but it’s worth it to avoid mistakes other brands have made in the past:
- To demonstrate their advancements in comforts, American Airlines launched their “Fly in leather” campaign in Latin and Central America. The translation used was “Vuela encuero”, unfortunately in some countries that is translated to “Fly naked”
- Similarly, Coors translated their “Turn it loose” campaign to something meaning “suffer from diarrhea”
It should be noted that for the two examples above, the translations were technically correct word for word, but the teams involved in this did not take into account colloquial meanings and slang not typically recorded in google translate or translation dictionaries. To avoid any miscommunications it is safest to do a little research before finalizing your copy.
Culture is the reason why we think and act differently. It dictates what we value and what we look for in our surroundings. A famous social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, developed 6 cultural dimensions, one of which - “individualism” - is particularly important within the context of advertising. The Individualism scale helps define culture by identifying what is valued within the community. Countries with higher scores are categorized as individualistic, meaning they value individual success, personal reward, and personal benefit. While countries on the lower end of the scale are collectivistic, valuing family, group success, and group goals.
The US is one of the highest scoring countries in the world at 91, signaling individualistic values. Spanish speaking countries, while varying in score, are almost all collectivistic. Research has linked this cultural dimension to how consumers react to different themes within advertisements.
- Consumers from individualistic countries react best to themes of autonomy, achievement, personal benefit, and expression of uniqueness.
- Consumers from collectivistic countries react best to themes of avoiding negative outcomes, maintaining harmony, social connectedness, and fulfilling social roles.
For the Hispanics in the US it is not so simple. Hispanic Americans are on both sides of this scale at the same time. Because of different levels of exposure to both cultures, not all Hispanic American consumers have the same cultural identity. So, how this framework is applied depends on individual experiences. There are three named variations of cultural identity within this area of study; Acculturated, Bicultural, and Unacculturated.
Acculturated Hispanic Americans identify more with American values. For this reason they should respond more to individualistic themes, and the English language. Differing from Americans, however, they would respond well to Hispanic cultural references. This can be something like casting, music, and more. This is especially true today where a lot of people are making a conscious effort to connect to their heritage. In fact, today 66% of Hispanic Americans say “the Spanish language is more important to me today than it was five years ago.”
Bicultural Hispanic Americans have equal levels of the two cultures within them and their identity differs depending on how they negotiate the two cultures in their heads. The more common of the two, integrated biculturals, combine the two cultures and thus will react best to a combination of values, and language. Compartmentalized Biculturals, on the other hand, separate the two cultural identities and thus react best to either American values or Hispanic values.
Unacculturated Hispanic Americans identify more with Hispanic values meaning they respond best to collectivistic themes, and the Spanish language. This group is very rarely a part of the target for brands, but a portion of this segment can however be reached using the efforts for the two other previously mentioned groups as (comprehension stat).
It seems that the sweet spot within all the groups is a combination of values, language and culture. Most importantly it highlights the fact that in order to reach Hispanic Americans the material does not necessarily have to be in Spanish.
How do we reach this audience?
1. Knowing your audience: This can help when choosing the best approach. Who are they?
- Acculturated? Include small nods to the Hispanic culture.
- Bicultural? Include stronger Hispanic themes like family, and togetherness.
- Unacculturated? Consider a unique creative concept to execute in Spanish.
If you don’t know, your best bet is to incorporate Hispanic culture or values in some way throughout your content. Remember, at the end of the day, you probably know your target the best so trust your gut. Make sure your Hispanic American audience is a part of the conversation.
2. No direct translation: From all the differences in culture and values, having the same approach for everyone seems to fall short. This is one of the reasons why you should try to avoid direct translation. From the outside this might be seen as lazy or inauthentic and have a negative impact on brand perception. Beyond that, it simply might not have the same emotional impact that the material had in English. This is not a hard and fast rule, direct translation could work in some situations, but what is important is to take time to discuss this deeper rather than make a split second decision. Most consumers are smart, they’ll catch on to your intentions.
Alternative ways to approach this could be tweaking the concept to be more relevant to the Hispanic American audience, then develop it solely in Spanish. Another option is to include a Hispanic perspective in the English material. Think about the statistics about the US population, make content truly representative of that diversity.
3. Double check your Spanish: If you are using Spanish, double check everything. Watch out for colloquial meaning from different countries and common translation mistakes. Some ways that you can do this are consulting native speakers if they are willing, and checking the internet. When consulting the internet be aware that Google Translate will not help the majority of the time, instead try using Urban Dictionary. For example, when looking up the phrase “que lo que,” Google Translate says “what what.” While technically directly translated the words mean “what the what,” this phrase is used in the Dominican Republic as “what’s up?” Urban Dictionary does however pick up the meaning and provides examples of its usage in day to day life.
The most common translation mistakes come from false cognates. These are words in two languages, in our case English and Spanish, that sound the same but mean something completely different. For example, the words embarrassed and embarazada, while they look the same, the Spanish word translates to pregnant. Not knowing this could lead to some very confused consumers.
4. A sprinkling of Hispanic culture: Sometimes all that is needed are some small changes to creative. Including elements of Hispanic culture can go a long way, even without any language changes. Making the community feel represented can sometimes be enough to reach the Hispanic audience. If using this approach, watch out for overused stereotypes, and take into account the country by country differences. You might not be able to find a food that every Hispanic would immediately identify with but many would relate with a three generation household or going to a kids birthday party with more adults than kids. There are many small details that can be added beyond casting that will add to the authenticity of the material.
5. Spanglish: Spanglish is something that most Hispanic Americans can say they use regularly. It is a mix of the language used to optimize how we get something across. Sometimes there just isn’t a word in English for a certain feeling or object and vice versa. Adding this element to advertising material is admittedly tricky to navigate and execute but if done right and in a natural and logical way it could attract the attention of Hispanic Americans engaging with the content.
6. Be Intentional: All of these approaches have one thing in common: all of them will fail if they are not backed by the right intention. If you try to reach this audience just to reach them it will most likely translate into the work. In order to improve this gap in knowledge we need to make a conscious effort to have conversations, think about decisions, and develop useful practices.