BrainTrust Query: Why are we missing when it comes to Hispanic marketing?

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Jan 31, 2008
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By David Morse, President & CEO, New American Dimensions, LLC

When it comes to understanding Hispanics, we Americans display an uncanny sense of ignorance. That was the essential point of two completely dissimilar articles I read this week.

The first article, written by RetailWire’s own BrainTrust panelist, Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, is called Kosher Subways and Car Insurance for Dogs? And You Can’t Do What for Hispanics? (AdAge – 1/25/08). Rochelle refers to two campaigns, an ad for Progressive Insurance featuring a Labrador Retriever, and a Glatt Kosher Subway store in Los Angeles with the tagline “Subway. Eat Kosher.” instead of the familiar “Subway. Eat Fresh.”

To quote Rochelle, “About 40 percent of the U.S. population owns a dog. But only about 2 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, and fewer yet are Glatt Kosher. Still marketers have found innovative and insightful ways to create products and services that are relevant to the lifestyles and tastes of these two highly valued consumer segments. … When it comes to U.S. Hispanic marketing, it has always been a mystery to me when clients say they can’t make culturally relevant modifications.”

The second article, by Gregory Rodriguez, appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Rodriguez bemoans the media hype generated by a well-known Hispanic pollster who opined that Latinos would not accept an African American candidate. Despite listing some impressive examples demonstrating that the claim doesn’t hold water — Harold Washington, David Dinkins and Charles Rangel — the pollsters’ comments have been featured on shows including Tucker Carlson, Hardball and NPR as if they were conventional wisdom.

Rodriguez asks, “If a Hillary Clinton campaign official told a reporter that white voters never support black candidates, would the media have swallowed the message whole? What if a campaign pollster began whispering that Jews don’t have an ‘affinity’ for African American politicians? Would the pundits have accepted the premise unquestioningly?”

Discussion Questions: Is the American public, marketers included, naïve and gullible when it comes to understanding the Latino consumer? If so, why? If not, why do there seem to be so many mistakes?

[Author’s Commentary]
I have a favorite urban legend, one that I have heard literally dozens of times, most recently from the publisher of one of the best known Spanish language newspapers in the country. The claim is that the Chevy Nova was a flop when the car was launched in Latin America because Chevrolet didn’t get that Nova in Spanish, “no va,” means “it doesn’t go.” The morale of the story is that the pitfalls in Spanish language marketing are many and that one can, with the best intentions, unwittingly make big blunders.

The Nova is a nice fairy tale, and it’s point is a good one, but it’s simply not true. First, General Motors has publicly stated that the Nova was a success in Latin America. Second, no Spanish speaking person would ever connect the name to its reputed lack of motion, nor do they even really sound the same. Until recently, the premium gasoline at any Mexican Pemex station was called Nova. And the idea that General Motors’ entire Latin American staff would miss this is laughable.

So don’t always trust the experts. Rarely trust the election pundits, especially when casting your vote. And when marketing to Hispanics, take some of Rochelle’s advice. Whenever appropriate, use bilingual signage and/or packaging, add menu items and/or condiments that reflect a cultural connection with the Latino community in the trading area, train your staff about Hispanic culture, and develop “product or service innovations based on culturally specific values or behaviors.”

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22 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Why are we missing when it comes to Hispanic marketing?"


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David Livingston
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

We have to expect some degree of mistakes to take place. Why do professional basketball players miss free throws? Why do NFL kickers miss field goals? I think for the most part marketers and the public are not naive and gullible. To me, it seems Hispanic shoppers are just smarter than they are given credit for. And they are obviously more loyal to their own to where no amount of clever marketing by the Gringos is going to change their shopping patterns.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
11 years 6 months ago
In my opinion, at the end of the day, the opportunities are being missed because very few marketers want to take the time to fully understand the complexities and diversity of the US Hispanic consumer segment. The arguments, including many of them in the responses on this site, often seem to take an either/or focus, as in: It’s not Hispanic, it’s Latino; or: there is no Hispanic marketing as opposed to there are marketing choices that may or may not make a focus on some segment of the Latino population of business value; and of course the classic, Spanish vs. English as opposed to allowing for both. Marketers are not usually anthropologists or sociologists, and frankly even though their job requires an understanding of consumer behavior, they are often ill equipped to really get into the psyche of consumers and understand what makes them tick, individually and collectively. The research methodologies used are often superficial and therefore, a superficial marketing approach is usually what gets executed. The US Hispanic market is not a priority for… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

When “experts” are interviewed, smart journalists ask for the facts driving the experts’ conclusions. If there are no facts, then their opinions might have no special credibility. Every day, any RetailWire reader sees various BrainTrust panelists completely disagreeing with each other. So experts often disagree, and furthermore, facts are often contradictory. About inappropriate ethnic advertising: Hispanics aren’t the only ones. It often seems that the majority of all advertising, ethnic and otherwise, is inappropriate and wasteful.

Steve Gomez
Guest
Steve Gomez
11 years 6 months ago
My experience with CPGs is that Hispanic marketing is usually assigned to the most junior people in a marketing organization to figure out on their own. When they defer to their marketing training and education they find the gaps in syndicated data to measure Hispanic purchases on a national scale. While this info is available for grocery in key markets, there is no national share info for a CPG brand across Grocery, Mass, Club, Drug and Convenience like there is in the general market. So we are left with patchworking information together from what data is available, to the data we can determine through our own efforts, which is different from company to company. This lack of measurability is the key factor that makes so many CPG Hispanic efforts sporadic and inconsistent, and one that is reactionary rather than proactive and sustaining. Every year becomes a new adventure in proving payout and justification of funds. Until the measurement factor is solved, Hispanic marketing in the CPG arena will forever be a continual challenge and battle.
Carlos Arambula
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Wow! Where do I begin?…I’m writing an upcoming book on this subject. First and foremost, I would like to inform everybody that there isn’t such a thing called “Hispanic Marketing” (see my blog for further reference http://carlosarambula.blogspot.com). Marketing is an absolute discipline and it applies to all consumer segments, regardless of the consumer segment being HISPANIC, KOSHER, or PET OWNERS. Language is not an issue in most segment markets, and it shouldn’t be the main issue when addressing the Hispanic Consumer. So if your marketing communications are prioritized by language, you need to take a few steps back and look at the big picture. The main issue as marketers is the consumer behavior with the brand/product/service. Usage and attitude, purchasing behavior, and other measurable metrics like brand awareness and category development are critical issues. Spanish language usage is a subset of all the aforementioned and a factor in the metrics. I often hear about anecdotal myths like the Chevy Nova story, and I’m dismayed that they play a role in product development. While it is… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
11 years 6 months ago

Retailers may miss marketing opportunities because they are not in touch with their shoppers-be they Hispanic, Asian, African American, Indian, or Caucasian. Often, ads are written and programs are developed for certain groups of consumers without input from customers and employees who represent the very groups the company is trying to reach. I call this a missed opportunity.

For example, a focus on fresh products appeals to many ethnic groups such as Hispanics and Asians who prefer to buy fresh produce and meats. Marketing efforts can be made to appeal to these groups of consumers through signage, product mix, etc. while still reaching the growing number of consumers in general who prefer “fresh” products throughout the store.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 6 months ago

Thank you Peter Fader for saving me from having to post my usual boiler plate response to this marketing topic whenever it comes up in some form (boomers, Blacks, women, Hispanics, etc).

Jeannette Abrahamson
Guest
Jeannette Abrahamson
11 years 6 months ago

#1: Stop calling Hispanics “Hispanics.” Spanish speaking people prefer to be called Latino.

Latinos also prefer to shop where they know they are going to get products from their country or the spices and brands that they are used to getting…at a reasonable price.

Bill Kennedy
Guest
Bill Kennedy
11 years 6 months ago

Some marketing is a no brainer. A prime example of missing the market is the American studios have their DVDs that are meant for US markets with just English and French subtitles.

The studios are missing the mark by not adding Spanish.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

This issue is easily politicized and personalized. Factors need to be removed in order to gain a proper business perspective.

Try the following:

Evaluation is an essential part of a marketing plan. If your consumer segment program–regardless of the particular segment, can’t be evaluated, you need to reconsider the marketing efforts.

Perhaps the first efforts, the basis of it all, should be focused on measurement. It will be easier to confirm if “we are missing when it comes to Hispanic marketing” at that point.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
11 years 6 months ago

What Hispanic are we talking about?

The sixth generation American in Phoenix with a Hispanic last name?
The Argentine industrialist with a Miami condo?
The Mexican migrant farm worker in Wisconsin?
The second generation Cuban refugee newscaster in Ft Lauderdale?
The sixteen year old Florencia 13 gang member in LA?
The Honduran dishwasher in Chicago with six kids?
The third generation Denver pediatrician?

Beware of stereotypes. Market to individuals.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

From my experience, there is tremendous difference among first, third, fifth generation Hispanics in the US. There is also tremendous difference among the Hispanic population depending upon their roots. Hispanics tracing their family roots to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, or Argentina do not have the same background or buying interests. Members of the Jewish religion have a central dogma and kosher food relates to that dogma. There is no central dogma in which Hispanics believe. The closest you might come with Hispanics is selling fish on Friday during lent because of the prevalence of Catholicism.

We are not successful because we don’t pay attention to differences that make a difference.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
11 years 6 months ago
It has always seemed strange to me that marketers, pollsters and media use the term “Hispanic” to imply some homogeneous group. But my experience tells me different. What the group shares in common is the Spanish language. So, it would follow that advertisers must deliver their message and offer service in Spanish. That’s a given. Ask a Mexican how much he has in common with other Mexicans? He’ll then ask if the other Mexican is from upper, middle, or lower class. Then he’ll want to know if he is from the city or from small town, from the North of the South of Mexico. The answer will determine the level of commonality. Usually not much. Then ask the same Mexican how much he has in common with someone from Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Columbia, etc. The answer is usually nothing, except the language. Until marketers recognize that there is nothing “Hispanic” except the newspapers, radio and TV stations and websites that sell ads to naive marketers under the false pretense that they are addressing a… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 6 months ago

In marketing to others of another culture, one usually begins by deceiving oneself, and then one usually ends by confusing or deceiving those they wish to persuade to buy. That is what we call–as David reported–a missed field goal. You seldom get into a consumer’s pocketbook unless you become part of their heart. Si.

Peter Fader
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Every time an ethnic marketing topic comes up, I’m obligated to cut-and-paste my standard comment: Ethnicity is largely irrelevant as a factor that drives retail behavior. The differences among Latinos (and non-Latinos) are so vast that they swamp the difference between the “average” member of each group.

It is far more important for marketers to recognize the existence and nature of these vast differences than to try to zoom in on particular characteristics that might apply to a small portion of one group or another.

The discussion of “Subway: Eat Kosher” above demonstrates this point. Don’t go after stereotypes of a group, since it doesn’t apply to most of the group (and, in fact, could offend some of them).

Ignore ethnicity. Treat customers as an incredibly heterogeneous group regardless of their skin color or country of origin (or gender or sexual orientation, for that matter).

Kevin Sterneckert
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Having lived in south Texas for many years, I have seen many retailers who have come and gone attempting to market and attract the Hispanic consumer. Many retailers believe that if you have items common to this group of shoppers, they are in business and should be able to attract these shoppers. As with any approach, marketing to a group is not about items, it is about the shopping experience. I have seen retailers that have done everything right inside the 4 walls but their building had the exterior appearance of being highly affluent and high priced, while in fact, the prices were the lowest in the market. If retailers truly want to attract the Hispanic shopper, they must understand the expectations of the entire shopping experience and build one that connects with these shoppers. The real marketing magic is creating these experiences for specific groups while at the same time not confusing the other shopping groups that frequent their stores. I am not advocating the store within a store concept, but more experiential environments… Read more »
Don Kirkley
Guest
Don Kirkley
11 years 6 months ago

I think the central problem is that the term Hispanic is applied to an incredibly diverse group. For example, concerning taste preferences, it is a mistake to assume that all Hispanics like Mexican flavors. Thus, they cannot be considered to be one monolithic group.

Raymond D. Jones
Guest
Raymond D. Jones
11 years 6 months ago

There are several ways in which marketers often miss the point in Hispanic marketing. First off, while we spend endless time and effort on market segmentation, Hispanics are often incorrectly viewed as a homogeneous group rather than a variety of people connected mainly by a Latin heritage. What appeals to Mexican Hispanics may not appeal to Cubans.

Secondly, marketers often assume that heritage and culture is key to every kind of purchase. In fact, when it comes to buying shoes, a Hispanic, male, teen basketball player living in Phoenix has more in common with other male, teen, basketball players in Phoenix than with other Hispanics.

Perhaps most important is the need to make your product or store relevant to the Hispanic consumer. It is not enough to simply advertise in Spanish and use Latin music. You have to make your product relevant to them by showing how it fits into their lives and if, appropriate, their culture.

Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
Guest
Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
11 years 6 months ago
Good comments all. Interesting that Rodriguez is cited, because he just published a book that goes even further. Its title is “Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans and Vagabonds,” a history of Mexican-American immigration. The main thesis is one of assimilation and acculturation (to a changed mainstream, to be sure), and that America itself is becoming so “mongrel” that eventually all racial, ethnic and cultural distinctions will be rendered meaningless. (I have reviewed the book for http://www.hispanictrending.net and for the February issue of Growth Strategies.) Rodriguez reinforces a point I have made many times over the years: English language adoption among Mexican-Americans is far more extensive than is commonly believed. Just because there are vast swaths of America where only Spanish is required to function does not mean that only Spanish is spoken among Spanish-speaking populations. How else, asks Rodriguez, could upwards of 75% of Mexican-Americans be employed in white-collar or skilled occupations? Rodriguez goes so far as to label the entire “Hispanic market” a contrivance, an “invention” of Spanish-language marketers such as Univision, who sought to convince… Read more »
Eva A. May
Guest
Eva A. May
11 years 6 months ago
Most companies are completely missing the business opportunity. “Right now, marketers spend an average of 3 to 5 percent of their budget on advertising to Hispanics,” although they make up 15 percent of the population, said Laurel Wentz, multicultural and international editor of Advertising Age. Now it’s glamorous to do marketing to bilingual Hispanics, but the fact remains that most Hispanic adults emigrated to the US from another country, primarily Mexico. And the life they lived in the other country, especially if they came here for financial reasons, was one of abject poverty, little exposure to brand selection, and little opportunity to exercise the power that consumers get to enjoy here in the US. Until companies take the time to understand the habits and practices of these consumers as well as their products’ or services’ benefits and fit into the Hispanic community, they may totally miss the opportunity to convert these millions of potential consumers into customers. More than anything else, I think most companies simply are just not interested in targeting Hispanics–which is great… Read more »
Bonnie Rubinow
Guest
Bonnie Rubinow
11 years 6 months ago
David Livingston’s comment that “Hispanic shoppers are more loyal to their own and no amount of clever marketing by Gringos is going to change their shopping patterns” is not recognizing Hispanics for being smarter than they are given credit for. His statement assumes that Hispanics ignore a store that invites them in and provides goods and services that meet their needs in favor of shopping at an Hispanic-owned store. Give Hispanics more credit. Hispanics, just like the rest of the shoppers, will shop in a store where the retailer takes responsibility for offering a good value and service. Those retailers who undertake an entire Hispanic plan instead of insisting on shortcutting where they personally see no value will, indeed, never change Hispanic shopping patterns. I have a full-service ad agency exclusively targeting the Hispanic market in the Chicago area, and from my experience, I have seen clients look at a Hispanic marketing plan as a Chinese restaurant menu to be picked apart for whatever reason, taking “one from Column A and one from Column B”… Read more »
Alicia Morga
Guest
Alicia Morga
11 years 6 months ago

To gain the respect it deserves, Hispanic marketing has to be lifted out of the realm of cultural stereotypes and into the arena of measurable, quantifiable advertising success. That takes testing and analysis of campaigns to find out exactly which messages resonate with Hispanics (any way you define them).

One might think a Spanish ad showing a large Latino family sitting around the table eating dinner will work to sell a local wireless phone service, but if we test it and it bombs with the advertiser’s target audience, we can say with certainty it does not resonate with that portion of the Hispanic market the brand is looking to reach. (And that’s exactly what we found out in a recent test of just such a campaign.) To deliver on its true promise, Hispanic marketing has to become like all other marketing–measurable and accountable.

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