Ignore Latinos at your own risk

Manny Gonzalez & Richard Zaldivar

NOTE: This blog post is a follow-up to my piece of November 16, and expands on my reference to Latino voters and the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which officially bans gay marriages; I am joined by Richard Zaldivar, president of LA’s The Wall Las Memorias Project, the monument in LA’s Lincoln Park dedicated to the memory of Latino victims of AIDS (www.thewalllasmemorias.org).

You would think that in 2008, and especially in a state like California, people would not ignore Latino voters.  But that’s exactly what happened this year.  Unlike the Obama campaign which worked diligently for every Latino vote, the campaign fighting against passage of Proposition 8 decided the Latino vote “wasn’t a priority.”

The No on 8 campaign paid dearly for their incredibly bone-headed decision.  But it provides a great lesson for today’s marketers.  The No on 8 campaign made three assumptions often made by many marketers: 1) the political landscape (or marketplace for brands) is generally favorable; 2) Latinos aren’t critical to our success, and; 3) our “general” messaging will reach Latinos, anyway.

The first assumption that the No on 8 folks made was that liberal-leaning California already provided them with the ideal political landscape.  After all, the state’s Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees had earlier ruled a gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

We could have been telling a story about the lack of cultural relevance in the No on 8 campaign but Latinos weren’t even on the radar screen!  Imagine, in 2008, in California?!  Perhaps No on 8 based its assessment on the fact that while 32% of California is Hispanic, Hispanic voters represent only 15% of all voters.  But unlike the Obama campaign which approached the campaign quite surgically, No on 8 ignored the fact that 40% of the state’s Latino voters are in L.A. County.  Guess what?  Prop 8 was even approved in liberal-friendly L.A. County, by 0.4 percentage points!  Obama carried L.A. County by 39 points.  In the waning days of the campaign, No on 8 did run a couple of Spanish-language TV spots but as they say, it was too little too late.  It can be best described as “token outreach.”

Ascribing the Prop 8 approval rate among California’s Hispanic voters (53%) to Latino conservatism would be too easy and misses the point.  The No on Prop 8 campaign was essentially a message driven by and intended mainly for the liberal white elite.  It tried to invoke a civil rights message–a strategy and tone not always embraced by African-Americans.  Latinos were not seriously engaged nor could they identify with the No on 8 message; No on 8 failed to craft a culturally-relevant message.  As we all know, Spanish-language TV advertising can be a critical component of a comprehensive Hispanic marketing strategy but given the sensitivity and controversy surrounding gay issues, you’re short-changing your message and Latinos when you don’t go beyond using the right language.

 The leadership of the Prop 8 campaign may have failed to effectively reach out to Latinos and African-Americans in this election but in many ways it is a reflection of how the nation’s gay and lesbian leadership has historically neglected Latinos and African-Americans.  It’s always tough learning a lesson the hard way but we hope that the gay and lesbian leadership have learned theirs.  We’re optimistic that gay marriage will eventually be approved by Californians and that Latinos voters will form a big part of that victory.

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