Marketers, don't assimilate your Hispanic ads

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Recently on CNBC's "The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch," the well-known adman host and his guest, comedian George Lopez, suggested Hispanic-targeted advertising was becoming "unnecessary" due to the acculturation of Hispanic Americans and the blurring of cultural lines. They suggested marketers would be better served by appealing to a broader audience by casting Latinos (among other representative ethnicities) in their general market advertising. Here, Alex Lopez Negrete refutes that argument.

Adman, TV host and author Donny Deutsch demonstrated small thinking on his CNBC show "The Big Idea" when, in an interview with comedian George Lopez during Advertising Week, he pursued the position that advertising targeted to the Hispanic market, or even any other ethnic segments, including the African-American or Asian-American markets, was unnecessary.

Bear in mind, and as far as we know, George Lopez is a comedian, not a marketing expert, by trade. Messrs. Deutsch and Lopez further suggested that such targeting only served to stereotype and segregate consumers of ethnic backgrounds from the rest of "mainstream" America.

Those comments serve as an interesting contrast to the semiannual meeting of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. Hispanic shops represent more than $5 billion in combined agency billings and work on behalf of clients across corporate America, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Motors, McDonald's, Verizon, Sears, Toyota, Bank of America and countless others, to target a $715 billion consumer segment.

To say that Messrs. Deutsch and Lopez just don't get it is too simplistic. And if one were to follow their logic, there would be no need to target women, teens, men, seniors, sports enthusiasts, gays and lesbians or myriad other market segments. They have failed to understand one of the basic tenets of advertising: that the only way for brands to connect with consumers is through insight and emotion, and thus, through context and culture.

No assimilation

It is also ironic that Mr. Lopez calls for an end to advertising for Hispanics when he makes his living by making people laugh at uniquely Hispanic situations, traits and customs. In other words, by tapping into the unique cultural context of U.S. Hispanics.

The U.S. Hispanic market has grown not only in numbers, but also in its complexity, diversity and influence. Heritage, level of acculturation and geographic concentration are only a few of the nuances that are critical to understanding how to reach this increasingly coveted market segment.

Compared to earlier generations of immigrants, Hispanics are unique in their desire to retain language and culture as crucial elements of self-identity and pride. This has led to a fascinating shift from abandoning culture to sharing culture. As a result, virtually every aspect of society has benefited from the enterprising and contagious rhythm of Hispanic culture.

The reality that Hispanics have not assimilated and will not assimilate like previous immigrant groups gives rise to a new marketing imperative. Simple translations are no longer acceptable to this increasingly savvy consumer group. Nor is featuring Hispanic faces in general-market advertising effective on its own. Marketing to U.S. Hispanics requires greater consumer insight and cultural and linguistic skills than ever before. Original creative that uniquely connects with Hispanic consumers is one of the most important and proven strategies for success in advertising today.

Hispanics, together with African-Americans and Asian-Americans, are, in fact, the new face of America.

Yes, sometimes reaching Hispanics in English works, but as most marketers know, reaching consumers and actually connecting with consumers are two very different propositions. The language and context in which Hispanics connect to a brand message is directly correlated to their level of acculturation.

The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences recently learned this when, following disappointing ratings on CBS for the Latin Grammys (hosted, incidentally, by Mr. Lopez in a Mexican charro outfit), it decided to move the awards show to Spanish-language TV. If Messrs. Lopez and Deutsch were right about there not being a need for Hispanic marketing, then the Grammys on CBS would have worked, because the faces (casting) were there, and even the language (Spanish-language music) was there. What was missing was the appropriate context and cultural cues that resonated with the viewing audience.

First movers

Acculturation and the assimilation of Hispanics into the American culture is a hot topic. It has brought about a specious debate on Spanish-language advertising vs. English-language advertising. AHAA's position on the issue is clear: There is a place and a need for both. Effective advertising is not about simply choosing to communicate in one language or the other; effective advertising develops an emotional connection with consumers and motivates them to action. Hispanic advertising agencies are uniquely qualified to recognize the complexity and heritage of the Latino community and offer insight into consumers in this influential market segment to create effective advertising.

J. Walker Smith, president, Yankelovich Partners, has said, "There is no more important segment of the American consumer marketplace of tomorrow than Hispanics. Most marketers get it wrong when it comes to Hispanics, leaving an enormous opportunity for first movers who do it right."

AHAA member agencies are uniquely qualified to "do it right." Working with clients across corporate America, Hispanic agencies have provided and will continue to provide an important road map to sustained market leadership by tapping into the profound values, beliefs, and emotions of U.S. Hispanics, which affect consumer behavior.

Donny Deutsch and George Lopez demonstrated small, narrow thinking when it comes to connecting with Hispanic consumers in ways that build long-term brand affinity. The only true "big idea" is that traditional audiences and markets for advertising have changed. Hispanic consumers are not simply assimilating into a "melting pot," and those who do not comprehend this reality will be left behind.

Alex Lopez Negrete is president-CEO of Lopez Negrete Communications, the Houston-based agency he founded in 1985. He is also the current chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

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