Reaching Hispanics Now – Cultural Legacy Matters

September 28, 2016 Author: Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

Recent U.S. Census figures indicate that Hispanic immigration to the U.S. has slowed down considerably since reaching its mid-90’s peak. The 2000 Census was a wake-up call for marketers that hadn’t yet focused their efforts on the Hispanic segment. The U.S. Hispanic population was larger than had been projected and appeared to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory.
The U.S. Hispanic population as it existed in 2000 was also heavily Spanish dominant and unacculturated since nearly half of them had been in the country just 10 years or less. From a marketing perspective, this translated into a lot of Spanish language advertising. At the time, running ads on Univision was a fairly easy decision to make since it captured the bulk of U.S. Hispanics in the language they wanted to be reached in.

A decade and a half later, the decision as to how to reach U.S. Hispanics is no longer straight-forward. As immigration slowed U.S. born Hispanics started outnumbering immigrants and the prominence of the Spanish language has slowly started receding. The operative word in that previous sentence is slowly since the immigrants who came in the 90’s and their children won’t be forgetting how to speak Spanish any time soon. However, as the prominence of the Spanish language for marketing purposes recedes what should marketers focus on to connect with Hispanic consumers?


U.S. born Hispanics may not be as proficient in Spanish as their parents are and may identify as American first but their cultural legacy still affects their world-view and life choices. How do we know this? African Americans. They have 100% English language proficiency and yet have a distinct world-view from White America. Pretending that African Americans view marketing messages the same way as Whites is bad business and so is marketing to English speaking Hispanics without considering their cultural heritage.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s marketers realized that simply dubbing English language ads into Spanish did not work. Dubbed messages were mostly disregarded by consumers as being second-rate since the advertiser appeared to be saying Hispanics were an afterthought & not the prime target. As the U.S. Hispanic market evolves towards bilingualism and English dominance, there’s a temptation to believe that acculturated Hispanics will be captured by existing English language marketing. This is just as dangerous as dubbing. Consumers can tell when a creative team took their worldview into consideration. In fact, an English-language ad that is culturally attuned often works better than a Spanish language ad that uses a “gen pop” theme.

OK, So What Cultural Legacy Should I Take into Consideration?

Directly asking U.S. Hispanics to define their culture often leads to superficial answers such as “Family is important”, “Religion matters” or “Respect for elders is important” but most of us are unaware of how cultural legacy affects us or why it affects us. Family matters to everyone. Few cultures around the world would tell you that they don’t care about their families. The why for Hispanics is that family has greater saliency for them because it’s not just viewed as a means of raising children or source of unconditional love but as a bulwark against a sometimes threatening U.S. culture. For U.S. Hispanics, families provide a support system that non-Hispanic Whites don’t necessary need to rely on.

Extended Hispanic families are also at the center of U.S. Hispanic social lives. Getting together frequently reinforces bonds and strengthens this social safety net. Marketers can, therefore, speak to Hispanics about family but showing a mainstream theme such as a Thanksgiving dinner with arguing relatives or surly teenagers does not ring true to them since a greater emphasis on smooth social interactions is placed on Hispanic gatherings than in the more individualistic mainstream culture.

Fatalism vs. Control Over Destiny = Tension

Accepting things as they are is generally viewed in a negative light by mainstream American culture. Americans don’t accept the status quo and believe the world can be bent to our will. Hispanics are typically more fatalistic and don’t necessarily ascribe negative connotations to fatalism. Accepting life’s circumstances can be viewed as liberating by allowing one to focus on other, perhaps more social, aspects of life. This does not mean that U.S. Hispanics do not want to get ahead. It means there is often tension between Hispanic culture and life in the U.S. Many U.S. Hispanics feel guilt for feeling like they’re “abandoning” their families in favor of their careers. Hispanics are looking for solutions that ease the tension they feel between what their culture dictates and the demands of modern American life.

Tension = Opportunity

Getting ahead in the U.S. and meeting family obligations are not the only sources of tension for U.S. Hispanics. Values such as respect for elders, gender roles and social conformity are also under stress. This cultural stress is present regardless of language and intensifies as individuals acculturate and start breaking some of their original culture’s norms. Understanding this tension and communicating with Hispanics in a way that recognizes their dilemma will help create trust. Brands that connect in this way have a good chance of riding the Hispanic demographic wave as it evolves beyond the Spanish language.