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The 5 Best Practices in Hispanic Marketing

By Louis Maldonado

Any smart, modern marketer knows there is no question that the U.S. Hispanic population continues to grow and evolve rapidly. Some even realize that this consumer segment is the primary growth driver for their categories and brands. In fact, according to a recent report from UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, if the U.S. Latino population were its own country, the GDP would be the world's fifth largest, outpacing even the United Kingdom, France, and India. What's more, out of the world's top 10 largest GDPs, U.S. Latino GDP would be the second-fastest growing from 2020 to 2021, second only to China.

So why is it that, even with the increased commitment to all things DEI – the prioritization of inclusivity and authenticity in brand storytelling so that consumers feel "seen" and "heard" – a high number of clients and their agencies are glaringly skipping or forgetting the tried-and-true best practices in Hispanic marketing?

The answer is simple: There is a bad assumption that, because the American mainstream is approaching the majority-multicultural tipping point, broad market campaigns based on universal insights and that feature diverse and inclusive casts are the way of doing multicultural marketing.

As it pertains to Hispanics, there is a misguided belief that, because Hispanics born in the U.S. now account for 60 percent of this segment, there is a weaker connection to Latino culture and a lesser affinity for Spanish-language content. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Pew Research Center confirms that 77 percent of Hispanics are familiar with their cultural roots, and over half say Latino culture is central to their identity.

Please do not misunderstand me. Increased diversity and inclusivity in mainstream campaigns are highly merited and applauded, but inclusivity alone is not enough to engage and drive brand trust and purchase intent with Hispanics and other multicultural segments. Why? Because the diverse cast members are usually playing general roles — in some cases, even white-washed ones that can be polarizing and even offensive. Winning Hispanic consumers requires a deeper level of insightful and authentic storytelling so that these growth consumers are not just seen or heard but deeply understood.

I challenge all marketers, on both the client and agency sides, to be a bit introspective, assess their Hispanic efforts – or lack thereof – and recommit to these five best practices in Hispanic marketing:

1. Lead with Spanish while strategically integrating English.
The overwhelming majority (71 percent) of U.S. Latinos speak Spanish, and 66 percent are bilingual and speak each language well, according to Claritas. The Spanish language serves as a way for most Latinos to live out and preserve their culture and heritage on a daily basis. Speaking Spanish helps Latinos connect with their roots and each other, creating a sense of belonging to the broader group and to our ancestral homelands. This is why, despite the faulty common narrative, an increasing number of younger Latinos are choosing to reclaim the Spanish language commit, maintain its use and/or commit to learning it better; and doing so unapologetically.

2. Recognize growing diversity AND the foundational commonalities.
The U.S. Hispanic population is rapidly growing in diversity and complexity. We represent 22 Spanish-speaking countries including Puerto Rico and Equatorial Guinea – and 24 if one includes Spain and the United States. What's more, Hispanics are racially diverse, and while our European white lineage tends to dominate, 25 million Latinos identify as Afro-Latino, Asian Latino, Indigenous, or of mixed race. Our rich diversity is why we have a variety of food, customs, traditions, and norms. It also explains why not all Spanish words and phrases have universal meanings. Regional colloquialisms and words/phrases with double meanings abound, and just as with English, new words are being created every day.

On the other hand, the powerful similarities we share across all sub-segments often outweigh the differences. Our Spanish heritage and the Spanish language are foundational galvanizers, as is the cultural influence of the Roman Catholic faith. Most of us hail from immigrant families and share similar life journeys, and this includes Latinos whose heritage is linked to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The exceptions are Mexican Americans whose families have always lived in what today is recognized as the U.S. and the border moved on them, but even they share the commonalities mentioned above.

Here in the U.S., we often live in blended communities comprised of multiple Hispanic nationalities, which has created a cross-cultural exchange and adoption of one another's words, foods, and even customs. This dynamic is fueled by the extensive Spanish-language media ecosystem in the U.S., both vast and deep, which has fostered a galvanizing pan-Hispanic sentiment across the country where we understand each other and stand by one another, both literally and figuratively.

3. Invest in media and content with the greatest cultural resonance and consumer trust.
A recent report by Nielsen confirmed that Hispanics gravitate toward content they can trust due to its cultural resonance and authenticity. As such, Latinos hold greater trust in Spanish-language media because it better reflects Latino interests, values, and beliefs. In fact, even younger generations find Spanish-language media to be more trustworthy. Numerous studies show that Hispanics are more likely to buy from brands whose advertising represents them, understands them, and speaks to them.

Isn't it hard to comprehend that, despite this, investment in Spanish-language media has markedly declined since 2016, and only 26 percent of the brands that advertise in English-language TV include Spanish-language TV, according to Nielsen? As it pertains to English content, we cannot assume that English-preferred Hispanics are consuming the same media as their non-Hispanic counterparts since Hispanics are 20 percent more likely to stream content given the rapid growth in platforms offering relevant programming.

4. Creating strong brand connections often requires customized strategies and creativity.
As noted above, the overwhelming majority of Hispanics are bilingual and speak English, but that does not mean mainstream ads will resonate with them in a way that connects and motivates them. Spanish is the language of the heart and can help tap and persuade both the logical and emotional aspects of our brains. Going back to the '90s, quantitative ad effectiveness studies have shown that Spanish-language ads perform better in ad recall, likeability, and persuasion than English ads — not only with Spanish-preferred Hispanics but with bilingual and English-preferred, as well.

5. Hire real experts in Hispanic marketing with a proven track record.
Today, we see general agencies diversifying their talent pools in an effort to build out multicultural capabilities from within, but there is a need for broader knowledge, and anyone being hired as a practitioner has to have this broader knowledge. This talent often lacks the dedicated study and expertise required to effectively market to the diverse and complex Hispanic consumer market. One's personal DNA and lived experiences are not enough to qualify anyone as a Hispanic marketing expert.

And while some general agencies tap Latinos who have past experience at dedicated Hispanic agencies, some of these folks are often, and unwillingly, used as tokens. Sometimes with the best intentions. Many times, they lack the broader resources needed to keep abreast of an ever-changing consumer segment and media landscape. And let's face it, even if they do, their voices are often silenced by the broader agency team, and they are asked to compromise and even conform under the guise of efficiency and consistency.

Consumers can read a brand. They have a way of detecting the intentionality of a brand's commitment and have greater expectations from brands, especially during these tumultuous times. Doing the due diligence to connect on consumers' terms (language and culture) is paramount in modern marketing. Marketers that don't follow these best practices and shortchange the driving power of culture – whether in Spanish, English or Spanglish – are really doing a disservice to the consumer and to their brand. In doing so, they are likely leaving money on the table.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Louis Maldonado is partner and managing director of d expósito & Partners.