Please Hold the Sombreros

Making Your Creative 'More Hispanic,' One Stereotype at a Time

By Published on .

Alberto Ferrer Alberto J. Ferrer
There has been a lot of debate on this blog (at least in my posts) about the issue of language (see my previous post here and my earlier one here). My point was that people should be able to communicate in the language of their choice -- and marketers should be able to communicate with them in that language -- without fear of reprisal. I'm grateful to all who weighed in with their opinions (on both sides of the issue).

Today I'd like to steer the discussion in a different direction. Let's take the issue of culture versus language up a notch and explore "Hispanic-ness" as it relates to marketing.

Not too long ago, we presented some creative concepts to a client. The work was well-received and complimented, and we felt good about a job well done. That feeling soon changed.

A couple of days later, our client called to say that other colleagues, who were not present at the original meeting, had seen the creative. These clients felt that the work as "not Hispanic enough." We were floored.

Mind you, the team working on this was 100% Hispanic (an issue for a later post), working from a Hispanic market-specific creative brief which was rooted in a Hispanic insight that resonated with the target. We felt the concepts were relevant, engaging, and on strategy.

Still, these other clients felt there was a sort of "Hispanic-ness" missing from the work. Our main clients were asking us, in essence, "What's Hispanic about this?"

I'm sorry to say that this is actually not that uncommon in our industry. Clients, after all, have a general market agency that creates work for the mainstream market, and a Hispanic agency that does the work targeting Hispanics. They want the work to be the same, but different. While I touched on the strategic side of the matter in an earlier post, here I'll address the nuances of execution.

When a client (usually non-Hispanic) makes a comment about lack of "Hispanic-ness," generally he or she is referring to things like darker-skinned talent, louder and livelier music, environments that are less "high-end," stereotypical cues like family, food, clothing, etc.

There's a fine line here. It's perfectly reasonable to expect that the music used in a commercial targeting Hispanics be one that deeply resonates with the target. It's not reasonable, however, to expect that it will be lively and loud because Hispanics like Salsa music. Targeting what we show in a commercial or how we portray our talent is just smart marketing. Putting abuelita (grandma) in the creative just because Hispanics care deeply about family is just silly.

Hispanics run the gamut on many scales of identification or definition (for example: all types of skin color; different tastes in food, clothing, and music; all levels of income). Be careful not to take the easy (and wrong) way out that is "add a few stereotypes to make it Hispanic." We're not talking about instant pancake mix(just add water) here.

It goes back to basic marketing and targeting. Putting darker-skinned folks wearing Mexican sombreros dancing to loud music with a large group of family members in a modest home may fit the bill for a specific situation. It will not fit every situation.

Challenge yourselves and your agencies to deliver communications that effectively engage the Hispanic target consumer without resorting to the cheap, stereotypical, and often insulting cues that an uninformed marketer might conclude makes something "more Hispanic" while the consumer finds it irrelevant or even insulting.
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