Sales and Marketing

Beyond Cinco de Mayo

You wouldn’t dream of promoting your services among, say, the elderly, with a pitch that is full of slang and references you picked up from your kids.

Marketing that Makes Sense to Latinos Year-Round

You wouldn’t dream of promoting your services among, say, the elderly, with a pitch that is full of slang and references you picked up from your kids. It also is unlikely that you would choose a Beatles’ or Rolling Stones’ song as the backdrop for a commercial that seeks to appeal to 20-somethings. Yet, mistakes like these are made regularly when going after the coveted Hispanic demographic.

Over 52 million strong, Latinos are an important component of a business’ success and not a passing fad. Their buying power is estimated to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2015, a 50 percent jump from 2010. For businesses to benefit from this growth, it is necessary to establish a relationship with the community throughout the year – which goes well beyond the Cinco de Mayo festivities – and to market to Hispanics in a way that is consistent with their values and culture.

This isn’t just a matter of languages. In fact, oftentimes it isn’t about the language at all. It is about developing your message within a context that is culturally relevant. Only then can your message be received as credible, and your call to action (that dial-the-number-now, or visit-us tag) be effective.

The following are three of the most egregious – and common – mistakes I encounter in my practice as a Latino communications professional.

Wrong Cultural Context

I was asked by a nonprofit to do the Spanish portion of a comprehensive anti-obesity media campaign that sought to get people active. The English portion recommended playing basketball, baseball, tennis and horseback riding at local parks. The first two didn’t present a challenge. They are both popular in the Latino community. The last two, I knew right off the bat, wouldn’t work. They are both perceived as elite sports in our community and they would shoot both of them down, before realizing they were actually very affordable at these county parks. I suggested substituting these activities in the Spanish campaign with soccer and free Zumba lessons instead. This brings us to the second point I want to make.

Transculturation Trumps Translation

Whether or not you need a campaign in Spanish depends on what you are promoting and the specific demographic, within the demographic, you are trying to reach. But almost everyone can benefit from some outreach in Spanish. A recent Nielsen study shows that although the majority of U.S. Hispanics speak English, they remember advertising and public relations messages better when these are in Spanish.

If you decided on a Spanish campaign, be aware that a literal translation hardly ever works. As with any other language, there are concepts that do not translate directly and nuances that are lost when doing a word-by-word substitution. For instance, the popular ‘Got Milk’ campaign should have to be rethought and renamed in Spanish, because a literal translation would mean something like “Are you Lactating?” Therefore, rely on a professional for your translation needs. That bilingual person that you employ might have learned his or her Spanish with grandma and as good as it may be for oral communication it may not be enough for transculturation.

Not All Latinos Are the Same

Very much like the general market, it should never be assumed that all Latinos are the same. Hispanic is an ethnicity that includes people of many races and cultural traditions. But do not be discouraged; it is possible to appeal to some common denominators within the group. You just have to be mindful not to isolate some of them by making references that aren’t relevant to their cultural experience.

While working in Miami, I couldn’t help but cringe while listening to an ad on a local Spanish radio station. It was for a national health and beauty brand. The male announcer, in a heavy Mexican accent, told listeners how the product outperformed others during the hectic activities of a rodeo. Clearly the brand had taken a one-size-fits-all approach and developed one ad for all of the Spanish markets it targeted. This ad might have performed well in Texas, Arizona and even California, but in South Florida, where the majority of Latinos are of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, it is likely to fall on deaf ears, as they aren’t rodeo fans.



Maria Isabel Sanquirico and Jeannette Rivera-Lyles serve as public/media relations professionals for Eleven 11 Communications, a full-service marketing agency that specializes in transcending general market brands to the Central Florida Hispanic market. For more information, Eleven11Communications.com or call (813) 420-2922.

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