Do You Speak Latino?

by Jennifer Vides on October 22, 2010

in Blog Posts,Hispanic marketing,My Soapbox (AKA My Blog)

Last Friday marked the end of Hispanic Heritage Month – a 30-day celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture. September 15 was designated as the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month because it marks the day in 1821 when Costa RicaEl SalvadorGuatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua declared their independence. Mexico, Chile and Belize declared their independence a few days later that same year.  This year’s theme, according to

“Heritage, Diversity, Integrity and Honor: The Renewed Hope of America.”

I’d like to talk about Heritage and Diversity. See, the Hispanic population is very diverse in heritage, language and culture. This includes people like me – who don’t appear to be Hispanic and who speak, write and read English fluently. All of this often raises the debate in the marketing industry:

Do Latinos need to be marketed to separately from the general market any longer?

This subject came up the Latino2 Conference held recently in Los Angeles by Latinos in Social Media ( and Brian Solis ( – the keynote speaker – was interesting as expected. He noted on several occasions that he does not do Hispanic marketing. In fact he doesn’t do any form of marketing that’s targeted to ethnic groups – rather to groups of people based upon their interests. I can relate to that sentiment – I’m more of a niche marketer myself. But I’m not sure that I agree fully that when marketing to Latinos – and other ethnic groups for that matter – you don’t’ need to take into consideration culture and language to some degree.

This subject heated up a little bit during a marketing agency panel discussion I moderated whose purpose was to understand how the popularity of social media among Latinos has affected the Hispanic marketing industry.  Really? Popularity of social media among Latinos? Yes, really: 36 percent of English-preferring Hispanics (acculturated) and 27 percent of Spanish-preferring Hispanics surveyed by the Florida State University Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication with the support of DMS Research surveyed visit social networking sites at least 2 or 3 times a month – as opposed to only 18 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The panelists – whose PR and advertising agencies use social media to reach Latinos – were Jose Villa (, Wally Sabria (, Kety Esquivel ( and Suzanne Cordero ( They cited similar social media challenges across the general market and Hispanic segments (e.g., measurement, over-emphasis on tools). They answered some questions from the audience: should brands be doing more mobile to reach Latinos? (Absolutely.) Is Myspace really still relevant o Hispanics? (Yep, sure is.) But the “meatiest” question was “Are culture and language are important – particularly with social media where most of the Hispanic users are fairly acculturated and therefore mostly speak/use English?”

Yes, no, sometimes, it depends.

So does this mean that brands are already effectively reaching acculturated Hispanics via their general market campaigns anyway?

No, yes, sometimes, it depends.

(Note: I said “No” first this time. We call this foreshadowing.)

It’s no secret that, generally, Hispanic marketing budgets are slim, and that some agencies’ positions on the need for  a separate Hispanic marketing campaign are based upon which way they want the budget dollars to flow. But I’d like to point out that each of the agencies represented on the panel do work in both the general and Hispanic markets. The fact that these traditionally general market firms are investing in the Hispanic arena tells me that they know a “general market for all” approach won’t work. Why won’t it? A few reasons.

Language. Diversity. Heritage. Language.

Let’s start with language. According to the 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35.5 million people aged 5 or older. That’s a lot of people to miss, don’t you think?.

Convinced to market to Hispanics in Spanish? Great. Now: what “Spanish” to use? I’ve heard more times than I’d care to cite:

“Oh, just write it in Mexican Spanish. The rest of them will get it”?

Yeah, we’ll get it all-right. Try this on for size:

“Get” in my Spanish is “coger.” I dare you to say that to a Mexican. Or I dare you to use the term “bicho” – which to Salvadorans is a small bug (or slang for a small child) –  when addressing a Puerto Rican. Also, go ahead and flash the “a-ok” sign to a Brazilian. Let me know how that works out for you.  (Depending on your country of origin, I just cursed on my blog in Spanish.)

Keep that up for long enough and you’ll get a whole lot of this —————————–>

Confused Latino

This is what happens when you try to speak Salvadoran Spanish to a Puerto Rican

But this isn’t just about colloquialisms. Earlier this year Will Rodriguez of Trisolt Video ( )and I were hired by the Alzheimer’s Association to help them develop video testimonials of Hispanic patients and their caretakers talking about the disease and its effects on their lives and the lives of those around them. The goal was to capture the impressions of a diverse group of Hispanics from a variety of countries of origin. Will and I were hired because we understand the cultural and language nuances of the various U.S. Hispanic populations. We could easily go from Mexican Spanish to Puerto Rican Spanish, for example. And we understood other nuances – like differences in how family units operate from one culture to another – as well as references to food, music and more. It was clear to the people we interviewed that we got it. We understood them and – importantly – could relate to them.

Many of the people we interviewed needed for us to speak to them in Spanish. Others could have easily conducted the interviews in English but preferred Spanish. And still others would have preferred to speak in English. However, pretty universally the people we interviewed indicated that they really needed more information about the Alzheimer’s disease in Spanish. Yes – even those who speak English fluently. Why? For one, they needed to share the information with their family members whose English varied in terms of fluency. Yes, the English-speakers can and will translate. But they would also prefer to share the information with their families directly. Secondly – and this is purely my opinion as an acculturated Latina – there are certain things that Latinos just prefer to do in Spanish. For many of the people we spoke to, caring for their sick parents as it related to this disease was just easier, more natural and more comfortable in Spanish.

So what about the acculturated Laino? I fall into this category. Do you really need to talk to me as a Latina? This is what really confuses marketers – particularly those who want to use social media. Statistics show  we are the ones who are using social media the most. Yes, you reach me in your general market campaigns. But you’re missing a huge opportunity if you don’t’ understand that there are certain Hispanic-oriented emotional triggers that are pretty powerful to me. Trust me – nothing’s going to get me more amped than a conversation with my friend Angel Magaňa (@cheleguanaco) about Salvadoran food (pupusas!). And I completely geeked out a year or so ago when I discovered that Target was selling Chavo del Ocho dolls.  So what’s the answer?  Well, while I don’t need Charmin to market to me as a Latina? It might pay for a grocer, airline, music downloading service and more to do so. It’s all about the connection, the experience.

So, what’s the answer?

Do Latinos need to be marketed to separately from the general market any longer?

Yes. No, Sometimes. It depends.

I think Brian Solis has it right. Demographics, psychographics and other factors are important and drive many aspects of a campaign. But for the best impact, remember that my language, my cultura and the fact that I’m a Guanaca are important. Let’s also not forget the heritage and diversity of the Hispanic culture – even beyond Hispanic Heritage Month.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie Edwards (Ella Media & October 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

I completely agree that it’s a yes, no, sometimes answer. Sometimes, as you said, just taking the culture into account is enough, sometimes more is needed. Great insight.

Ana Lilian Flores October 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

And this reminds me that you and I still need to sit down and chat over some pupusas and horchatas!

Latinas, in particular, are a tricky segment to market to because we ARE the general market, yet, and I agree 100% with you, we do react positively to emotional triggers that truly reflect our heritage and the nuances of our culture.
The more influential our market becomes, the more the marketing dollars will be allocated to reach us. I just hope marketing and brand agencies hire the right people, with the cultural insights needed, for their campaigns.

Tracy October 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

To be fair, speaking Salvadoran Caliche to any non-Guanaco (Puerto Rican or otherwise), may result in the hilarious faces pictured. LOL 😉

Great post, Jennifer.

Juan Lulli November 3, 2010 at 6:54 am

If there were a top 10 list of marketing & advertising issues affecting local and national brands over the next 5 years, among that list of top issues — opportunities and threats — is understanding and leveraging the potential of hispanic marketing.

And we’ve got to be able to understand and define those brand opportunities and threats of hispanic marketing so they become actionable — for the benefit of the brands (local and national companies) and the hispanic consumer.

But I do think you’re absolutely right that it starts with appreciating an unusual fact about our demographic — we do, we actually do, respond positively to marketing messages that appreciate our cultural heritage in ways that other melting-pot cultures do not.

Something else just struck me — Hispanic segment may be the ultimate “hybrid” consumer segment straddling the mainstream and the niche.

What do you think? @juanlulli

Jennifer November 3, 2010 at 8:57 am


I really do think the approach needs to be a hybrid. I think for some things, appealing to us as Latinos may not matter but for other things, yes. And I think this applies also to other ethnicities. Heck, it applies to other “niche groups.” Think of this: when I buy certain products, I buy them as “mom.” But if a brand tries to sell me something as “mom” that I prefer to buy as “woman” I may be turned off. Add the Latino layer…

Ultimately the issue is that marketers are trying to sell to everyone…they want to become huge. I get that. But imagine the power of an overlay niche marketing effort that reaches people who TRULY LOVE what you sell… that level of engagement can really change things for a brand. Especially in the Latino market given our brand loyal tendencies. What say you?

Jennifer November 3, 2010 at 8:59 am

Bwa ha ha… The Guanacos unite to confuse the world! Thanks, Tracy. And yeah I do love that picture.

Jennifer November 3, 2010 at 9:01 am

We really do. Cuando es la pupusada?

Also agree with you about agencies bringing the right people on board. Which OMG I have an idea. You and I need to talk…

Jennifer November 3, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yeah, I’m curious about how people buy products. As in… which products do you buy as a Latina and which ones not? Make sense?

Juan Lulli November 3, 2010 at 9:21 am

Yes–you’ve hit on something…there’s a culture and worldview about Latinos that makes the segment more apt to be “brand loyal.” A latino consumer has greater long-term customer value than other segments…hmnn. Imagine testing that!

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