Hispanics and the Supernatural

May 17, 2012 Author: Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

When I was growing up I used to fear the ‘empacho’. An empacho in Latin America is akin to indigestion but it’s not cured with antacid. My aunt was a curandera from Argentina. Curanderas are folk doctors in Latin America and are often consulted for physical as well as spiritual ailments. If she saw that I was lethargic or otherwise not feeling well she would squint at me and announce “This child has an empacho!” This is usually when I would run.

There are two cures for an empacho, one involves using a tape or ribbon that measures where in your body the empacho is and the other one involves pulling and ‘snapping’ the skin on ones back to help dislodge food “stuck” in the stomach. This is the treatment that I was running from as it was rather painful. The other most common ailment my brothers and I were diagnosed with was ‘mal de ojo’ or evil eye. This ailment wasn’t as dreaded as an empacho since the cure involved mostly incantations.

A belief in the supernatural is mostly taken for granted in Latin America. While Hispanics believe in traditional medicine and generally accepted scientific principles they also believe in intuition and a spiritual dimension to life. The whole genre of Magical Realism in Latin American literature and art exists as a way to express the Latin affinity for finding meaning in more than just the concrete and practical dimensions of life.

As Hispanic insights professionals whose job it is to uncover how to reach consumers on an emotional level, it behooves us to understand this Hispanic way of thinking and find ways to have our messaging resonate with this world view. Dry, scientific pitches about how four-out-of-five Dentists recommend something or the efficacy of a product would not generally be persuasive to a Hispanic audience. A pitch to Hispanic consumers needs to have a cultural insight that indicates that the marketer cared enough to ask the right questions about how Hispanics feel about the product or category before starting the pitch. Something as simple an adult looking at a baby can have ominous overtones since many Hispanics believe that infants and children are especially susceptible to the afore mentioned ‘mal de ojo’ which can be caused by a firm or penetrating look from an adult. A cultural insight is more likely to be found during open ended, qualitative research since it’s difficult to put into a quantitative survey what you don’t know exists. We come across these types of insights in the free-form discussions on our Hispanic Market Research Online Communities. Our Hispanic moderators are trained to tease out these insights from the sometimes “throw away” comments that individuals make when discussing other topics.

While catering specifically to supernatural beliefs in a marketing message would be difficult and not necessarily recommended it’s important to acknowledge them among other insights to ensure the messaging that is chosen does not unduly antagonize these beliefs and adding a nod or slight acknowledgement when appropriate may mean the difference between a message that is ignored and one that breaks through.

Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

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