Latinx consumer expert Dr. Ines Poza says if you work in any kind of consumer insight industry, the term "acculturation" is worse than useless – it can waste time and money. Here are her top 5 reasons why.
There's no established metric for acculturation, just the idea of how affiliated someone is to one culture vs. another. In trying to come up with a measure, you can go way wrong. Based on a screener that asked about church attendance, Spanish fluency, family size and frequency eating Mexican food, a Chinese-American friend qualified as an "Unacculturated Hispanic."
Assumes a non-existent end point.
Implicit in the term is that immigrants start out "unacculturated" and become "acculturated." But if you can't define "acculturation" how do you know when someone is "acculturated"? What if they're bad at learning English but crazy for gangster rap? What if they learn English fluently but can't wait to move back to Mexico?
Reliance on behavior change as a measure when Immigrants aren't the only ones changing.
Vegetarianism, yoga, meditation and sushi are now part of the U.S. zeitgeist, a big shift from 30 years ago when these things were relegated to fringes no one marketed to. And salsa dethroned ketchup as the most popular condiment 20 years ago. The likes and lifestyle of U.S. general market consumers have been and will continue to evolve. On moving to the U.S., most Latinos find themselves in a richer consumer environment with more disposable income. It's only natural their habits might change.
Changes in habits don't necessarily mean change in cultural affiliation.
While yoga, plant-based diets and meditation were taking hold in the U.S., advertisers didn't assume this meant people en masse were trying to "acculturate" to Asia. Nor does anyone think salsa's popularity means U.S. consumers now consider themselves more Mexican.
When we screen general market consumers, we don't ask if they feel like a Southerner vs. Yankee or try to measure how Jewish, Muslim or Christian they are. As important as region and religion are in terms of lifestyle and personal identity, we work to understand consumers from the ground up, learning about their actual mindset and habits rather than trying to gauge their cultural affiliations and overlaying assumptions about what they mean. The same approach should be taken with U.S. Latinos.
If "acculturation" is out, what matters?
Dr. Poza points to language dominance as the key factor to consider. It can tell you where consumers get most of their information and how much, which in turn influences choices. Consider the number of Spanish vs. English language media outlets. Regarding advertising featured across outlets, fewer companies across fewer categories advertise in Spanish. And those that do, dedicate less to Spanish ad budget compared to English language ad spend.
Language dominance can also correlate with important demographic indices. Currently in the U.S., Spanish dominant Latinos tend to have larger families and lower incomes. Dr. Poza gives an example of how focusing on this rather than "acculturation" can mean a big win for companies. "While IKEA may seem as far from Latino culture as you can get, they quickly understood they fit the classic "3-B's" for this market, "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" (good quality, attractive and affordable), important to anyone on a tight budget. They've advertised in Spanish with great success. If they had bothered with 'acculturation' they might never have approached this segment in the first place."