Cultural Identity and Hispanic Consumer Behavior. [INSIGHT]

A person’s identity stems from what they do and don’t want to be associated with, depending on their current circumstances. People can often relate with more than one group and therefore have more than one, not easily definable identity.

“Cultural identity refers to the cultural group that individuals use in specific circumstances for selecting courses of action or evaluating ideas or objects,” (Korzenny 82). Cultural identity influences an individual’s purchasing decisions. In doing so, they use reference groups or role models to help guide these decisions. It is important for marketers to understand how individuals relate and interact with different reference groups in order to make sense of cultural consumer behavior. “Ethnic identity is learned, consisting of taught attitudes, values, and language associated with the ethnic group into which we are born,” (Montoya, 2008). “For example, it may include shared history and sense of common origin. It is not biological or racial, but subjective, unstable, situational, and flexible over time,” (Montoya, 2008).

In regards to Latino cultural identity, it is more important than ever for marketers to examine the ways that Hispanic consumers use reference groups in their buying decisions. The Hispanic market has become the largest ethnic group in the United States and has a buying power of 1.2 trillion (Villarreal, 2008). There four main elements of Hispanic culture that unite them according to a study done in the Journal of Advertising Research. These aspects are familism/collectivism, ethnic pride, experience with discrimination, and political beliefs (Villarreal, 2008). The strength or salience of ethnic identity varies according to one’s experience with socially constructed expectations, values, and beliefs, and is a different issue from the nature of those values and beliefs. (Montoya, 2000).

Understanding how Hispanic’s make purchase decisions and what role models they use to make these decisions, will help marketers understand how to target these group and how to use advertising and marketing tools successfully. For example, when making a purchase decision a Hispanic buyer will be influenced by their co-workers, family, friends of all ethnicities and perhaps their surrounding environment at the time. Graciela Eleta, senior VP-brand solutions at Univision Communications said this regarding the Hispanic market, “It’s a la carte acculturation, they pick and choose which part of Latino culture they get to keep. It’s… more about cultural fluency,” (Westlund, 2010).

There are two aspects of Social Learning Theory that are relevant when trying to understand Hispanic consumers. These are ‘homophily’ and having people that one admires and looks up to as a role model for purchase decisions. First, when Hispanics tend to identify best with other Hispanics, it is known as homophily. Once a brand can penetrate a homophilous group, such as Hispanics, it will spread throughout because they value what close relatives and friends like them think about a brand. “In almost every brand category, Hispanics are sophisticated consumers who are very loyal,” says Don Browne, president of Telemundo. “If you reach out and show them the relevancy of your products and services, they will stick with your brand through thick and thin,” (Westlund, 2010). Hispanics choose the parts of their culture they want to keep and the parts of other cultures they want to associate with. Understanding which ones they relate to is the key.

The second relevant part of social learning theory is how they choose role models based on people they admire or aspire to be like. Understanding these role model choices can be crucial when creating ideas for advertisements. Using popular role models from the Hispanic community to endorse a certain product can be very appealing. However, sometimes it can be beneficial to use a popular figure that both Hispanics and non-Hispanics can relate to, to make the product seem more inclusive and avoid labels.

“The number of different identity labels used to refer to Hispanics or Latinos in the United States appears to be increasing with each decade. Some may view this increase as a reflection of the expanding size and diversity of the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population, a greater appreciation for this diversity, or a better understanding of the complex racial and ethnic issues involved in Latino identity,” (Montoya, 2008). These labels tend to transfer into advertisements but marketers must be cautious that they are not used in an exclusive or discriminatory manner. Labels tend to differ based on the context. For example, depending on who asks the question, a Hispanic person may change their answer and their label. The issue with labels is not as important in terms of marketing, as understanding an individual’s cultural frame of mind and reference group is when the consumer is making a decision (Korzenny 95).

“Understanding the reference groups that form the identity of specific Hispanic segments is crucial for effective Hispanic segmentation and targeting,” (Korzenny 91.) Marketers must keep in mind that just because someone is of Hispanic origins does not mean that they consider themselves ‘Hispanic’ in all cases. All Hispanics cannot be clumped into the same market because they often choose to associate with different classifications based on the unique situation. The main point to take away is that stereotyping and grouping Hispanic consumers into one group takes away potential cultural connections that a brand can make with an individual consumer. Creating a marketing objective targeted toward Hispanics needs to start with research in order to truly understand the type of person that the target audience is. Identity is a complex idea and it “varies with the social context in which the individual interacts,” (Korzenny 100).

By Emily Bel
Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication
Florida State University

Works Cited
Korzenny, F., & Korzenny, B. A. (2005). Hispanic marketing: A cultural perspective. Burlington, MA: Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann.
Montoya, Danielle & Rinderle, Susana. (2008). Hispanic/Latino Identity Labels: An Examination of Cultural Values and Personal Experiences. Howard Journal of Communications. Volume 19, Issue 2.
Villarreal, R., & Peterson, R. A. (2008). Hispanic Ethnicity and Media Behavior. Journal Of Advertising Research, 48(2), 179-190.
Westlund, R. (2010). Finding the Gold in Hispanic Marketing. Brandweek, 51(15), H1.

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