Though the socio-demographic development of America gave birth to the ‘melting pot’ concept, a relative lack of understanding of other ethnicities’ value systems —deficiency born in social, educational and cultural factors— has long prevented American business owners from advertising to ethnicities with any kind of authenticity.
From the early 80s racial diversity progressively crept in TV, magazine and billboard ads, thereby allowing for a better representation of our minorities. The ‘white-only’ ads of the 50s, 60s and 70s are no more. Well… Almost.
For all our political correctness, do we effectively market to other ethnicities when we use photos of Asian, African-American or Hispanic women and families in our ads? Surveys tend to say we don’t, or not genuinely.
And beyond the social and moral issues that Caucasian-centric advertising raises, there is a question business owners should ask themselves: how much does marketing to minorities mean for my bottom line?
Authenticity of flavor
In my previous career as a translator for the financial services industry, I had plenty of opportunities to meet with a highly interesting species of specialists: the official language interpreters for international organizations. Translating ‘live’ meetings for thousands of people from all over the globe, these super-skilled specialists have a multitude of professional anecdotes to share.
Simultaneous interpreters translate in real time the address of a speaker into the headphones of the listeners. It is a daunting task: the interpreter has to decide in a split second what words and figures of speech to use to convey the exact meaning of the speaker. The job is so difficult, it takes 5 years to train a world-class interpreter and years of cultural immersion to become really good at it.
When on the job, official interpreters of international meetings routinely challenge their clique to a ‘dare’ as a way to release tension. Before the start of a keynote speaker’s address, all interpreters on the scene gather up and select a specific sentence to insert at the earliest opportunity in the flow of the translation. This sentence is completely off-context, and they have to use it in a way that will seem natural to the audience. The winner is the interpreter who inserts the phrase earliest in the gig in a way it doesn’t get noticed.
During one such contest, a delegate from Morocco was addressing an international assembly of government representatives. In the midst of his discourse, there was a sudden rumble in the audience, followed by a loud applause. Gladened by the positive reaction of his colleagues to a predictably boring speech, the Moroccan delegate finished his speech and later asked them what had triggered their cheering.
The interpreter who won the dare that day had inserted the following in his translation: “By the way, I own a herd of camels and I am pleased to invite all of you to my country for a camel ride.”
The translation was so natural, it hadn’t seem goofy or off-beat to any of the delegates — they reacted naturally well to this most uncommon and congenial offer.
[The interpreters fessed up of course, and explained the ‘dare’ custom. A warm-hearted and pleasant fellow, the Moroccan delegate took it in stride and confirmed ‘his’ invitation to all.]
The power of a message stems from its appeal to a specific segment of the population. Genuine and natural, it will strike a chord. False or forced, it will miss its target. Stereotypes and cliches fall in the second category.
Advertising is not made of words
What matters to the white Caucasian isn’t what matters to his neighbor, the Latino.
Your yellow pages ad entirely written in English with a discreet ‘Se habla espanol‘ mentioned in the lower right corner isn’t likely to attract a crowd of Spanish-speaking clients at your door. If you speak Spanish and intend to help the local Latino population with your services, you ought to make a more decent effort at addressing them.
A fully translated ad would certainly help. Would it be fully adequate? No.
In his well-read book “Another One Bites The Grass”, author and international advertising exec Simon Anholt wrote: “Advertising is not made of words, but made of culture.”
Colorful gaffes cost dearly
In the last 2006-2007 French presidential race, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal was neck and neck with conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. Running on the gender card (she’s a woman) and on the Socialist spending-prone agenda, Royal had the lead in the polls before the first round. Her rival was fresh out of a bloody battle with a Centrist candidate who had run a vicious smear campaign and had come out the loser.
All Segolene Royal had to do to bag that election was to consolidate an image sorely lacking in international stature. A rank-and-file Socialist with no prior position and experience in foreign affairs, Royal knew she did not have the stateman-like image of Nicolas Sarkozy, a well-rounded presidential candidate with a long experience of governmment (successively Minister of the Budget, Minister of Finance, and Minister of the Interior).
In her effort to look like the next President of France, Royal traveled on a unofficial visit to China where she met with some second-tier officials. To drive the nail in her opponent’s coffin, she arranged a photo opp on the Great Wall. Her campaign then circulated the photos to the new agencies.
This move sounded the deathknell of her candidacy. Within 48 hours Mrs. Royal’s lack of cultural experience had resonated around the world: she had paused on the Great Wall dressed in impeccable white. In China, white is the traditional color of death.
16 percent of your customers
As of April 1, 2010 the Hispanic population of the United States has reached 50.5 million persons or 16.3 percent of the total US population. Hispanics have become the nation’s largest ethnic group.
To put this figure in a wider context, only Mexico with 112 million persons has a larger Hispanic population than the US. California alone is home to 14 million persons of Hispanic descent.
A State-by-State analysis of the percentage of Hispanics in the regional population shows the following figures:
Can you ignore this market?
Let’s imagine for a second that an inside source at the headquarters of your strongest competitor leaks out to your sales staff that his employer has just decided to withdraw from a large niche market on which your own business is the runner-up.
This segment already accounts for 15% of your recurring sales, and your competitor’s exit promises to double your market share and propel you to the #1 spot.
Once you get reassurance that your competitor does not have some prospective intelligence that this segment is about to crumble, wouldn’t you rejoice at the opportunity you now have to take over market share from your competitor?
The Hispanic market is one such large opportunity, and your own business is missing on it if you don’t address it actively in your marketing and sales efforts. You are leaving money on the table and it is vacuum-cleaned by your direct competitors.
Addressing the Hispanic market
A recent study titled “Understanding Multicultural Marketing” was conducted by Yahoo!, Mindshare and Added Value to offer business owners and advertising agencies an insight into what consumers of various ethnic origins (Caucasian, Hispanics, African-American and Asian/Pacific) react to when being marketed to.
This study reveals that Hispanics consider their ethnic identity to be defined by specific factors (‘drivers’).
In order of importance:
- Political beliefs
- Home decor
- Speech, dialect & slang
- Ethnic champion
- Eating habits & preferences
- Reunions, family and gatherings
The study also shows that Hispanics consider that ‘ethnicity’ (how your advertising speaks directly to them using the drivers above) carries weight in the way they perceive services and products.
As could be expected, progressive integration of minorities into the fabrics of the American society has decreased the desire for 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics to connect and identify with their ethnic roots. The melting pot effect.
But even as integration proceeds, Hispanics of all generations remain sensitive to the way their group is portrayed in the media, and how advertising addresses their specificities.
Some facts and figures
Consider these few figures:
First generation Hispanics have apparently a much more lenient eye than their children and grand-children towards the capability of advertising to address them ethnically.
Diversity is a universal value. All generations of Hispanics agree that the more ethnically diverse an ad, the better. Avoid addressing your ads to Caucasians only. Or dial back to the 50s.
Add a Latino appeal to your advertising, and your products, services or brand will be noticed better by Hispanics.
Even with the Latino flavor, your advertising do not necessarily connect at a deep level. Are you using cliches? Why don’t you consult with your Latino friends before you print your flyer or roll out your website?
It’s unmistakable. Hispanics recognize themselves as Hispanics. Cultural identity is a core value. Advertising plays on emotion. How can you connect at the emotional level if you don’t connect culturally?
Pride in their heritage is strong in the Hispanic population. Cliches debase and look down upon. Avoid them, be genuine and respectful.
There you go. Make the effort, you will be appreciated. Especially by first generation Hispanics.
Translating, best of options?
The most common way products are peddled to minorities is to slap an ethnic face on the packaging. But as the statistics show, Hispanics have greater expectations from advertisers.
It is common practice to translate ads and there are affordable and professional resources online. One of the best resources is proz.com, a site where you can post a task and get bids from translators from around the world. Don’t pick the lowest bid. The lowest bid rarely yields the best quality, and advertising using the wrong translation is a killer mistake.
Socialnomics.net gives us a few funny mishaps:
- Coor’s slogan “Turn it loose“, translated in Spanish as “Suffer from diarrhea.“
- Pepsi’s slogan “Bring you back to life“, translated in Chinese as “Brings your ancestors back from the grave.“
- Parker Pen’s campaign “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarass you” turned into “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” in Spanish.
And a personal one. I took this picture in Beijing. This hair salon had just opened their doors with a cool English name:
You can’t invent this.
If you take the translation route and decide to address your target market in their language, pick a translator with a resume that shows experience in translating marketing and advertising materials, and always select a translator born and educated in the country you target.
Better yet: Spend a few more bucks to have the translation proofread by another professional translator from the country of your target market. Two brains are often better than one.
Translating your ad is certainly a better alternative than advertising in English to consumers that do not necessarily understand American colloquialisms and cultural references. After all, do you understand Latino cultural references and their subtleties? I didn’t think so.
Yet, translation often strives to find a foreign equivalent to a local concept. And this is not always the best option because some ideas are too impregnated with local cultural references to be correctly translated.
The better alternative
Good marketers know that there is rarely a better placed person than a salesman to understand and connect with the target market. After all, your salesmen communicate with your market every day. Boots on the ground collect good intelligence.
The key word here is communication. Eskimos do not buy fridges… Any eskimo salesperson can tell it to you with a 100% certainty. What better person to tell you what they buy?
If you are targeting the Hispanic market, who would be in a better position to give you pointers on how to communicate with this market than people belonging to the Latino community?
A Latino community? Short anecdote
In the course of a conversation I had with an Argentinan friend of the family, I learned an interesting series of facts about how fragmented the so-called ‘Latino community’ is. There is no ‘Latino community’. There is a series of contiguous but only loosely connected Latin-American communities.
Mexicans look down on Salvadorans who show them back the same kind of tough love. Puerto Ricans dislike being associated with Mexicans and Cubans. Cubans take great pride in the purity of their Spanish, the closest to Castillan Spanish among all the Latino variations of Spanish. Argentinans really like themselves and not very much any other Latino-American ethnicity.
All are “Latinos” but none of them “the same Latino”.
So before you place an ad in a Latino magazine, ask the publisher what is the demographic breakdown of their Latino-American readership, and zero in on a specific market. Then discuss with people from this specific country to find out what concept will make your product or service resonate best with their specific cultural references.
Think about it: What rythm do Mexican people dance to? If you want to want to sell them fashion, don’t use a picture of an Argentinan woman.
As far as I know, it still takes two to tango.
To your success,