Multicultural representation is essential for any marketing strategy that hopes to connect with a broad spectrum of consumers, and with Hispanic Heritage Month beginning on September 15, the purchasing power of Hispanic Americans may be top-of-mind for many marketers.
For the past 10 years, the United States’ demographic landscape has shifted dramatically—there are now approximately 140 million non-white Americans, representing more than 42% of the country’s population. And Hispanic America is at the forefront of this transformation. The U.S. Hispanic population reached at least 62.1 million in 2020, accounting for 19% of all Americans, thus making it the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group, behind white Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As such, cultural fluency can create cultural relevance with specific multicultural segments and also resonate with and appeal to Americans at large. To be culturally fluent is to bring authentic cultural expressions forward as a core component of a brand’s broad communications and marketing agenda. Our data shows that brands who exercise cultural fluency drive greater effectiveness and greater efficiency.
Collage Group’s latest CultureRate:Ad analysis, using a database of hundreds of ads across 15 different categories, indicates that for advertising to resonate with Hispanic Americans, marketing needs to go beyond surface-level strategies. So, for example, merely translating existing ads from English to Spanish isn’t enough.
According to a survey Collage conducted in 2021, 60% of Hispanic respondents are more likely to buy from a brand that supports their own race or ethnicity, which is up 8% from 2020. Aside from Spanish-dominant Hispanics, only about half say they’re satisfied with portrayals of their race and ethnicity in advertising, which declined by around 6% since 2020. What’s more, only 14% of ads surveyed achieved a Cultural Reach Score of 4, meaning they were resonant across all four racial and ethnic segments (Hispanic, Black, Asian, white).
Our mission at Collage is to help brands harness cultural fluency to unleash the power of culture to drive growth. Our deep analytics on consumer behavior measure cultural variation, traits and attributes to determine unique similarities and differences across diverse consumer segments. And once we understand these consumers in depth, we identify how those behaviors manifest in a specific category.
Here’s what we’ve learned and where brands need to pay attention: By focusing on commonly connectable themes, like family, or cultural traits that are high for a segment but shared by all, like warmth, a brand can resonate not just with Hispanic audiences but with all Americans. And that’s thanks to the halo effect, which occurs when an ad contains a story or theme that culturally translates across diverse consumer groups.
As David Evans, our Chief Insights Officer says, “What that means is now you can be targeted and mainstream at the same time. And if you get the ingredients right, you won’t have to fear backlash.”
It’s not about creating multicultural marketing as an add-on; it’s about making it a perennial and integral component of your marketing strategy. And as the halo effect has shown, that strategy doesn’t need to be blandly generic nor inauthentically representative to reach the total market.
Developing advertising that transcends segments, and is both unique and universal, is one of the greatest marketing puzzles that brands face today. But face it we must, and using our data-centric cultural intelligence platform, Collage has identified three key steps marketers can take to solve this puzzle and unleash the halo effect.
1. Avoid showing universal truths generically—express them in culturally specific ways.
Family, friends, community—stories that touch on the social nature of humans—are narratives that ring true across all segments. This is a reminder to consumers that beneath our surface differences, we are all the same.
But the pressure is on brands now to express these in distinctive culturally specific ways or risk being irrelevant. Take, for example, Subaru’s “CrossTrek: Girls’ Trip” commercial, which features a young Hispanic woman helping drive her grandma home. From stopping for milkshakes to dancing in the car, the deep multigenerational bonding expressed here is not only a critical part of the Hispanic experience, but also emblematic of the universality of certain themes. This scene manifests the human experience, no matter how specific the representation of a Hispanic grandmother/granddaughter relationship.
2. Recognize that most consumers empathize with groups other than their own.
While calling on the threads that bind is vital, so too is highlighting the ways in which most human beings embrace difference. This leads us to the outgroup-bias phenomenon, when empathy is created across differences.
A stunning example of this is Band-Aid’s commercial featuring the Black ballet dancer Michaela DePrince. Viewers watch as DePrince places on her leg a Band-Aid that matches her skin tone. The ad halos across non-Black segments because of the valuable message of inclusion.
3. Do your research to limit backlash.
Even with the best of intentions, well-researched and inclusive ads may still experience backlash, which we define as flipping perception from positive to negative, creating a substantial decline in brand favorability. It’s inevitable that what works for one segment may be received negatively by another. But here’s what we’ve discovered: Regardless of content, most commercials experience an average 11% rate of backlash. With culturally fluent ads, such as the two mentioned above, the backlash rate falls to anywhere from 3% to 10%.
Brands need to tell stories that speak to the human truth of connection in an authentic way, so that all segments can find a common point of resonance. Brands should always opt for a well-researched multicultural marketing approach, and they should do so year-round, not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. With this strategy, you’ll have far more gains than losses.