Random Acts of Spanish in My Mailbox

Marketers Need to Communicate, not Just Translate

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Quite often, my front door is littered with door hangers and my mail slot is filled with samples of everything from Swiffers to sanitary napkins (which I find oddly similar in texture, but that's another story for another day).

Boost Mobile door hangerEnlarge

The "real estate" on these pieces is often a 50-50 split between Spanish and English. This is mostly made possible by a "front-side/back-side" approach as demonstrated by this Boost Mobile door hanger.

It is not uncommon, however, to find the Spanish language incorporated into an English language piece in a way that clearly places it in a role of lesser importance. While one can argue the pros and cons of dual-language usage and the size of font and placement of the second language, there are most certainly valid strategic reasons (not to mention graphic realities) that would make it appropriate to relegate the Spanish language to a supporting role.

What I'm often struck by, however, is what seems like a random use of the Spanish language. One in which it is unclear why the communicator (the brand) feels that the message recipient (the consumer) needs certain key phrases in Spanish and not others.

This Domino's Pizza door hanger serves an interesting example. The decision seems to have been that the main messages featured on the door hanger, those that position the brand and communicate the new-product benefits and competitive advantage, aren't as important to the Spanish speaker as the direct translation of product specific information -- product-specific information that is almost identical in Spanish and English as a result of its simplicity and the similarities in language surrounding these particular product-related words. For example, the translation of 2-Large 2 Topping Pizzas and a 2-Liter of Coca-Cola is Dos Pizzas Grandes Con 2 Ingredientes y Dos Litros de Coca Cola.

Spanish for Pizzas? Pizzas.

Spanish for Liter? Litros.

Is the featured translation really providing consumer's value when placed on a piece of communication that neglects to offer up any of the key positioning information to the Spanish-speaking audience in their language of preference. What is a Spanish speaker to think?

"Hey, Spanish speakers. I don't really care if I speak to you about my brand. As long as I make sure you know how to pronounce things when it comes to calling in an order?"

Or, is it more like:

"Hey Spanish speakers, my general-market agency couldn't figure out how to go bilingual with this piece, but my franchisees know there are Spanish speakers in their trading area, so they thought some Spanish was better than none. In fact, some advisers told us that a little Spanish sends out a message that says, 'We get it and we care.'"

The same random acts of Spanish were committed on the sanitary napkin samples that appeared in my mail slot the other day. Receiving sanitary napkins in any language is a little startling, I have to admit. And the marketing of menstruation just keeps getting stranger and stranger. Call me old school, but the use of the word "period," direct references to blood and even the friendly, catchy rhyming phrase "The Ultimate in Care Down There" make me blush. And those who know me know that I'm not easily shocked. (If we ever run into each other outside of cyberspace, ask me to tell you my favorite Hispanic marketing story about trying to convince the Marcalus family, owners of Marcal paper products, to capitalize on the growing Latina population and their preference for sanitary napkins over tampons. It's, as they say these days, hil-aaaiiir-ious. But I digress.)

With no other Spanish in the direct-mail kit, except the label on the pad itself, my take-away is that Kimberly-Clark is somewhat concerned that Spanish speakers might be prone to repurposing the samples and selling them for fun and profit. After all, with the exception of a translation of what kind of pad it is, the warning is the only information the communicator (aka the brand) saw fit to put into Spanish. I'm guessing that there might be a bilingual sampling program and the bilingual pads were produced in bulk for cost efficiencies. But I think that way because I'm an agency person. Your average consumer isn't thinking cost efficiencies. They're thinking, "Why does this brand think I need to be warned in Spanish and not communicated with in Spanish." It's an unfortunate take away and one that happens way too often, particularly at the retail level where warning signs like "You are being watched on video" and "Don't your let your children touch this or that" or "Wash your hands before leaving the bathroom," are the messages that seem to merit translation (Which is not to say I ascribe any negative feelings to the last one in particular).

So think about your random acts of Spanish. Do you know why you're putting certain things into the language of Cervantes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Are you really trying to communicate and persuade? Or are you trying to show off your translating skills in the hopes of bonding with the bilingual? Maybe you have a strategy. But step back and think about what the take away would be for the average consumer. Work with graphic designers that know how to deal with the space challenges that bilingualism raises. Work with bilingual strategists and creatives who truly understand the ways in which the bilingual mind works and in which the Spanish dominant mind works. They're not the same thing. And, depending upon the product category and the target's level of education, affluence and other life-stage factors, there may be nuances that could play a role in your ultimate decision to use Spanish and the ways in which it can be used most organically and with the most relevance to the target's needs and preferences.

Whether a consumer speaks Spanish or Swahili, he wants you to talk to him -- not translate to him. Remember that the next time you stick something on the door of Hispanic USA and expect it to wind up in their home and not in their garbage.

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