The 1960’s radical Abbie Hoffman would probably be horrified to learn that he was being invoked in a discussion about corporate marketing but he said something several years ago that still resonates for this marketer: “never impose your language on people you wish to reach.”
I was reminded of Hoffman when I received the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines, Tu Ciudad–the L.A.-based, English-language Latino monthly. I like the way Tu Ciudad has positioned and crafted itself: cool, hip and unabashedly bicultural, and speaking in English. It is meeting the needs of a more proud and assertive L.A. bicultural Latino. And it provides the perfect environment for marketers who wish to reach this rapidly growing consumer segment. So why are some marketers–even those who have had the wisdom to advertise in Tu Ciudad–not really leveraging this unique media environment?
Why are some advertisers placing ads that are 100% Spanish in a great publication that is 99% English (the 1% being the magazine’s title)? The issue for me goes beyond language. It is all about marketing fundamentals: understanding your consumer landscape, undertstanding your consumer target, tapping into unique consumer insights, and frankly, it’s about not dissing Tu Ciudad’s readers. Look, my guess is that many of Tu Ciudad’s readers can read Spanish, and use some Spanish in their everyday lives, but the real opportunity for Tu Ciudad’s advertisers is knowing precisely how and when to use Spanish. It’s not rocket science. It’s called knowing your consumer.
I will spare those Tu Ciudad advertisers who run 100% Spanish-language ads from my naming them, but I will give shout-outs to some of the others who do get it: BMW, Target, Johnnie Walker, Farmers, Bud Light, and that standard-bearer for multicultural marketing, Toyota. I highlight Toyota because they clearly have taken the time to get to know Tu Ciudad’s readers. Toyota’s ad is essentially and distinctly bicultural/bilingual: it features Hispanic individuals, the copy is in English, and it uses Toyota’s Spanish-language tagline as its signature. What a nice, clever touch.
There are a few other advertisers who practice good Hispanic marketing, who understand their consumers, and know how to leverage media environments. McDonald’s, for example, often runs bilingual ads in English-language Hispanic print vehicles. And when we recommended to one of our agency’s clients, Dunkin’ Donuts, to advertise in NY Post’s Tempo, we created bilingual and Spanglish ads for them. Tempo, like Tu Ciudad, is a Hispanic content, English-language publication. Once again, it’s about NOT imposing your language on people who you’ve targeted.
Of course, the idea of leveraging media environments in terms of language usage applies to all media. Our agency does not recommend or create English-language ads for our clients who advertise on Univision or Telemundo. And we don’t do this just because it’s Univision’s practice not to accept English-language ads–it would be just plain stupid and disrespectful! We know from research that Spanish-language TV does attract bilingual Hispanics but in some ways, it’s also about expectations and authenticity. If a young, bicultural Latina tunes in to see her favorite telenovela, she’s not expecting to hear her favorite Latin hunk speaking pocho Spanish. And I’m sure she would be turned off by advertisers who ran English-language ads. And those Tu Ciudad advertisers who run Spanish-language ads have perfect vehicles to run them in, such as the 100% Spanish People en Espanol or Readers Digest en Espanol.
There are plenty of reasons I’ve heard as to why some advertisers run 100% Spanish-language ads in English-language Hispanic publications: everything from “after all, those readers understand Spanish,” to “we can’t run our English-language ads because they’re not Hispanic enough,” to “it’s too expensive to create two different ads.” But I suspect the real reason is two-fold: Hispanic agencies figure their clients might just force them to translate the English-language ads, leaving them with little or no work to do (and no dinero), and/or; Hispanic agencies just don’t have the internal capabililties to craft culturally-relevant advertising for the burgeoning bicultural Latino consumer segment. Whatever the excuse, what about just doing the right thing?
These days, cultural relevance comes in three languages: Spanish, English and Spanglish. As marketers who practice in the Hispanic world, let’s take the time to truly understand our Latino consumers first, then let’s figure out how to truly engage them. Let’s heed Hoffman’s exhortation. It’s all about respect.