May 29, 2008

The 1960's radical Abbie Hoffman would probably be horrified to learn that he was being invoked in a discussion about corporate marketing but he said something several years ago that still resonates for this marketer: "never impose your language on people you wish to reach."

I was reminded of Hoffman when I received the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines, Tu Ciudad--the L.A.-based, English-language Latino monthly.  I like the way Tu Ciudad has positioned and crafted itself: cool, hip and unabashedly bicultural, and speaking in English.  It is meeting the needs of a more proud and assertive L.A. bicultural Latino.  And it provides the perfect environment for marketers who wish to reach this rapidly growing consumer segment.  So why are some marketers--even those who have had the wisdom to advertise in Tu Ciudad--not really leveraging this unique media environment?

Why are some advertisers placing ads that are 100% Spanish in a great publication that is 99% English (the 1% being the magazine's title)?  The issue for me goes beyond language.  It is all about marketing fundamentals: understanding your consumer landscape, undertstanding your consumer target, tapping into unique consumer insights, and frankly, it's about not dissing Tu Ciudad's readers.  Look, my guess is that many of Tu Ciudad's readers can read Spanish, and use some Spanish in their everyday lives, but the real opportunity for Tu Ciudad's advertisers is knowing precisely how and when to use Spanish.  It's not rocket science.  It's called knowing your consumer.

I will spare those Tu Ciudad advertisers who run 100% Spanish-language ads from my naming them, but I will give shout-outs to some of the others who do get it: BMW, Target, Johnnie Walker, Farmers, Bud Light, and that standard-bearer for multicultural marketing, Toyota.  I highlight Toyota because they clearly have taken the time to get to know Tu Ciudad's readers.  Toyota's ad is essentially and distinctly bicultural/bilingual: it features Hispanic individuals, the copy is in English, and it uses Toyota's Spanish-language tagline as its signature.  What a nice, clever touch.

There are a few other advertisers who practice good Hispanic marketing, who understand their consumers, and know how to leverage media environments.  McDonald's, for example, often runs bilingual ads in English-language Hispanic print vehicles.  And when we recommended to one of our agency's clients, Dunkin' Donuts, to advertise in NY Post's Tempo, we created bilingual and Spanglish ads for them.  Tempo, like Tu Ciudad, is a Hispanic content, English-language publication.  Once again, it's about NOT imposing your language on people who you've targeted.

Of course, the idea of leveraging media environments in terms of language usage applies to all media.  Our agency does not recommend or create English-language ads for our clients who advertise on Univision or Telemundo.  And we don't do this just because it's Univision's practice not to accept English-language ads--it would be just plain stupid and disrespectful!  We know from research that Spanish-language TV does attract bilingual Hispanics but in some ways, it's also about expectations and authenticity.  If a young, bicultural Latina tunes in to see her favorite telenovela, she's not expecting to hear her favorite Latin hunk speaking pocho Spanish.  And I'm sure she would be turned off by advertisers who ran English-language ads.  And those Tu Ciudad advertisers who run Spanish-language ads have perfect vehicles to run them in, such as the 100% Spanish People en Espanol or Readers Digest en Espanol.

There are plenty of reasons I've heard as to why some advertisers run 100% Spanish-language ads in English-language Hispanic publications: everything from  "after all, those readers understand Spanish," to "we can't run our English-language ads because they're not Hispanic enough," to "it's too expensive to create two different ads."  But I suspect the real reason is two-fold: Hispanic agencies figure their clients might just force them to translate the English-language ads, leaving them with little or no work to do (and no dinero), and/or; Hispanic agencies just don't have the internal capabililties to craft culturally-relevant advertising for the burgeoning bicultural Latino consumer segment.  Whatever the excuse, what about just doing the right thing?

These days, cultural relevance comes in three languages: Spanish, English and Spanglish.  As marketers who practice in the Hispanic world, let's take the time to truly understand our Latino consumers first, then let's figure out how to truly engage them.  Let's heed Hoffman's exhortation.  It's all about respect.


I really do not understand what the all the fuzz is about. Good advertising has never been about language. I thinks this whole blog entry is a waste of energy as the fundamentals of advertising has always been to find universal truths that, regardless the language, work. On the other hand, the use of Spanish tells the other message of I know who you are, this is for you, and only for you, and I have read a lot of studies on he matter, audiences really like that. Not a translation, not a version, a dedicated message from a brand that you trust, to you. But what really shock me was "Hispanic agencies just don’t have the internal capabililties to craft culturally-relevant advertising for the burgeoning bicultural Latino consumer segment" you have to be kidding, this is a joke isn't it. You just insulted a huge base of professionals from the industry some of the awarded nationally and internationally, both for creativity and results, Cannes and Effies for example, with a very reductionist argument because your Spanish is not good enough and felt insulted from your local magazine. I would recommend a bit of research. might help.

Manny - your blogs are always a great read and you make important points. Being a big Tu Ciudad fan myself, I never miss an opportunity to voice my support of this bilingual, bicultural of a handful (if that) that has gotten the in-culture vs. in-language piece right. I'm also a big fan of well done bilingual, bicultural creative. Like many of our colleagues, I have had the opportunity to bring that work to life in English and Bilingually, which includes the use of Spanish and English as well as of Spanglish. I have to call into question, however, your conclusion about "why some advertisers run 100% Spanish-language ads in English-language". Never mind that the publication hasn't chosen to turn down the revenue from the ads you believe don't connect with their readers. Never mind that clients still aren't budgeting properly for bilingual, bicultural opportunities. As I'm understanding you, the agencies are specifically to blame. We all know that there are still agencies for whom the in-culture piece is creatively challenging (even traumatic) or incompatible with their business model. That's certainly a shame (even irresponsible) and it's their loss (and their clients). They don't, however, represent all agencies playing in this space. Good agencies do get less than perfect clients. And good publications do have to pay the bills. Publisher, client and agency should share the responsibility of prioritizing getting it right for the sake of the consumer connection. So why let everyone else off the hook and make Hispanic agencies look like fearful old-school amateurs who are only driven by profit? Yes, I know. Because some are. I just think it's important to remember that they don't represent all of us.

Manny, You make many great points. In particular, I fully agree with your fundamental premise that we should understand consumer tendencies and preferences in order for us to effectively market to the intended target. Like you, I too agree that this goes beyond language; it is more about the fundamentals of marketing. Unfortunately, whenever I see Spanish-language ads in predominantly English-language ethnic-oriented publications, I can’t help but think that the focus during the decision making process might have been more on the “Hispanic” than the “Marketing” side of the Hispanic Marketing equation. I believe that if we, as “Hispanic Marketing” practitioners, focus more on the latter half of the equation, we’ll all become better advertising professionals and more astute marketing advisors to clients. I’m sure we all want that of ourselves! However, if we continue to largely focus on the former part of the mix, then it is very likely that we will continue to find ourselves in situations similar to the one that you are pointing out in your piece.

Just playing devil's advocate here: A Spanish- language ad in an English language publication stands out from the crowd. The linguistic disruption might also increase recall. But again, maybe that is what Toyota does- in a very simple an elegant way. thanks for the interesting article

Manny, this was all well said. I have always held to the belief that too many "Hispanic" agencies are really "Spanish" agencies and can't do anything else. I don't care about the rewards, and plaudits. Those are just subjective, BS backstrokes. Superior advertising makes a connection within the media environment, and sells product. It is that simple. Hispanic agencies and Hispanic ad managers are frightened to step out into the "English for Hispanics" realm for fear of losing their unique position. When in reality they could be opening so many new marketing doors.

Manny, You hit a home run with this post mi amigo. I concur with your analysis of the issue and recommendations. I have studied the magazine “Tu Ciudad”, and the publisher is on the money with the content and advertising. In this case the media for the target reader is the message. Keep up the stimulating dialogue. Just my dos centavos

Rochelle - I'm with you 100%. It's everyone's responsibility (publisher, agency and client) to provide insights/recommendations before a final decision is made. I would bet anything that Tu Ciudad encourages all advertisers to formulate an in-culture/in-English or Spanglish approach in their ads, like we do at TEMPO...because we know it will resonate better with our readers. Please note that our readers include non-Latinos who read us because they are into 'all things Latin'. However, in many instances due to budgetary limitations, time constraints or plain old fear of the new, agencies or their clients will not act upon our recommendation. In my case, I also had to battle internally with 'los jefes' when I first started, because they would not want to accept Spanish-language ads in TEMPO...seriously a huge problem from every angle for me. But it was resolved because in the end, money talks and know the rest. In any event, as the industry evolves we are seeing more and more advertisers encouraged by 'born-again agencies' deciding to do the right thing by the audiences they speak to. It's just taking a little time for all of us to be on the same page. And when we get there it's going to be so much many opportunities to play with cultural subtleties vs. debating over language.

Look what happened to La Ciudad .. ...I guess they didnt get it right !

I agree witth rsanchez, what a waste of time and energy this blog entry was. Im a big fan of the vast majority of the blog entries on this site, but man , WHAT A WASTE OF MY TIME. First of all Manny has a very warped defenition of a "bi-cultural" hispanic. The core esence of a true bi-cultural hispanic suggests that they are FULLY comforatble in both worlds, the hispanic and anglo. They bounce from world to world at not only their leisure, but whenever it suits them, or is advantageous for them as well. The tru bi-cultural hispanic has a leg up on the vast majority of the US population, via a mastering of both. A 100% spanish ad to a bi-cultural latino is just fine, the same way a 100% english ad is ok, just as a bilingual ad is ok. I suggest that Mr. Manny is perhaps an english dominant hispanic who is trying to pass for a tru bi-cultural, or is very loosley using the term "bi-cultural". The "how dare they talk to me in spanish and invade my 99% english realm leads me to the conclusion that he skews more english dominant that bi-cultural. If his defenition of bi-cultural is a hispanic with some knowledge of spanish, but far more comfortable in english, I must fully and whole heartedly disagree with him.

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