Language and Consumer Behavior in the Hispanic Market.

The marketing industry is often faced with the complicated question on how to make their products and services appeal to the U.S. Hispanic population. The marketers that have been successful have found that understanding the influence of language can be an important key to understanding this diverse population.

Language and behavior are culturally tied together through the history of events that shape the people who speak the language (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005, pg. 65). The Spanish language plays an important role in how Hispanics think and behave, because it is with the Spanish language’s cultural concepts that they view the world.

According to the 2004 U.S. Hispanic Market Report, Spanish is the language eighty-eight percent of Hispanics first learned to speak (Synovate, 2004, pg. 164). This is fundamentally important in the marketing process, because when a language is learned emotions are attached to words that refer to certain situations and objects (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005pg. 87). The Hispanic Market Report’s findings indicate that marketers need to be culturally aware of how certain words and phrases influence their Hispanic market, because Spanish is their language of thought.

Linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir and his colleague Benjamin Whorf support the idea that language and behavior are related with their theory the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses which states, “…the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached… We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.” (Sapir, 1958 [1929], p. 69).

Marketers must realize that if they intend to market to the Hispanic population in English or in Spanish they cannot simply translate or apply a campaign that was targeted to English speaking non-hispanics, because the intended message will not be received in the same way (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005, pg. 88). An example of this is the difference between using the word hipoteca (mortgage) and prestamo (loan) when trying to convince a Hispanic to get a mortgage to buy a home. The word hipoteca or mortgage has a cultrually negative charge because in Latin America only people in great financial trouble take such actions (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005pg. 91).

Even for those Hispanics that are acculturated into the United States and whom English is their language preference- Spanish is still an important influence on their lives. In a October 2005 study by New American Dimensions on 1,135 US-born Hispanics around the country it was found that all groups watched at least some Spanish language TV even though they had a preference for English-language TV (Fromer).

The mixing of the Hispanic Spanish speaking population into the United States’ English dominate population has given rise to a new communication style for Hispanics called “Spanglish,” which is a form of code-switching ( Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005, pg. 98). Code switching is when a billingual individual switches between two languages during speech (Skiba). According to Skiba, code-switching occurs for three reasons: the speaker may not be able to express a concept in just one language, the speaker may want to express solidarity with another speaker, and when the speaker wants to convey a certain attitude.

An example of a use of code-switching I have observed in U.S. Hispanics is on the soccer field. I have often heard players switch to Spanish terms when calling plays, because of the excitement of the game. Such as saying, “I am open …el centro!”

Marketers see Spanglish as a way to reach the Hispanic market, but without a defined vocabulary or syntax it is difficult to strike a cord that is understood, because Spanglish is used in such a personally unique fashion (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005, pg. 98). This idea of Spanglish being a culturally unique language can be related back to the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses, because according to the theory each set of individuals has a culturally unique experience in learning a language and thus we could infer they would have culturally unique way of learning a second language as well. Different words might be interchanged differently depending on their experience with those words. In the future, though, I believe we will see the use of Spanglish more and more in popular culture as the mixing of the two languages continues.
Marketers have a long and hard road ahead of them if they plan on successfully targeting the Hispanic population. These marketing professionals will have to have an educated understanding of what language and thus cultural influences have on the portion of the Hispanic population they have identified as their target population. The product messages developed with these strategies must be tested time and again as the culture and language structure shifts throughout the generations of Hispanics.

Rachel Smiley
Hispanic Marketing Communication
ADV5415 Section 1
Spring 2006


Fromer, Marcos (2005, Oct) PR Newswire: English is the Undisputed Language Preference of US- Born Latinos.
Korzenny, F. and Korzenny, P. (2005) Hispanic marketing: A cultural perspective. New York: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
Sapir, E. (1958) Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture, and Personality. University of California Press.
Skiba, R. (1997) Code switching as a countenance of language interference. As retrieved on February 7, 2006 at Sapir-Whorf>
Synovate (2004) 2004 U.S. Hispanic Marketing Report. Miami: Synovate.

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