Marketing To Latinos – What You Think You Know CAN Hurt You

March 11, 2008 at 4:42 am | Posted in Advertising, Communication, Decision making, General, Marketing, Online marketing | 4 Comments
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Imagine your job is to market to Latinos. Let’s say it is our job to sell houses to young Latino families. (While you’re flexing your imagination, forget the housing crisis for just a moment.)

OK, so we’re fancy ad execs ready to place these folks in the homes of their dreams. We’ve got two ads to chose from. The first ad features a large, politically-correctish-brownish family laughing the day away. The second ad shows a bright green lawn that was trimmed with sewing scissors and there’s a white picket fence, probably owned by people named Chet and Muffy in a locale that starts with “the” (think Hamptons, Vineyard, etc.).

Which would sell more houses to our young Latino family? What property has the appeal to seal the deal?


According to Alicia Morga, Founder and CEO of Consorte Media, the first ad featuring the big, happy family polled the worst among her focus group. It turned out that people didn’t prefer to be marketed to as a race; they were more attracted to their aspirations (property ownership, America dream, suburbia).

Now, let’s try the same exercise with cars. How do we get Latinos, one of the fastest growing segments of the population, to buy more of our vehicles?

MarketingVox has this explanation of a recent Hyundai ad: ” ‘Second Chance,’ a [Hyundai] TV spot, features a man reflecting on how he would take life more seriously during an out-of-body experience [after a car accident]. The sentiment of taking life more seriously — was positioned as a cultural cue.”

I understand if you need to read that over again. Heck, here’s the original in its glory. Enjoy.

The basest weed outbraves his dignity

So let’s review: Hyundai wants to increase the number of Latinos who own their cars. In order to sell these cars, they create an ad that focuses on the regrets a man has after a car accident. Of course, they do go the extra mile with a website all in Spanish. I recommend clicking “Seguridad” and then “Aire” – you can save Latinos who wander around cluelessly on a flaming apartment before falling, only to be saved by a Hyundai airbag (I swear I’m not kidding).

If we assume this is a bad ad – I think we can assume that, right? – what’s wrong with it? Before we begin the litany, let’s relate it to the first ad. The first example showed us that people like to be talked up to (as opposed to talked down to). They seem to appreciate it when we treat them with dignity. I don’t know what kind of “cultural cue” re-evaluating your life after a car accident is, but it doesn’t sound particularly infused with dignity.

Clearly, there a difference between marketers knowing the demographics and actually knowing Latinos.

Get to know them

Yes, it helps to know demographics. Some facts are fairly obvious (Latinos tend to be more Catholic than the population at large) and some are not so obvious (Colorado and Georgia are among the top ten states for Hispanic purchasing power). If the first rule of marketing is to know your audience, these are not useless facts. However, as generalizations, they should be held at arm’s length.

No, really get to know them

The difference between the demographic facts and the first ad example is how people are viewed. In a focus group like Alicia Morga’s, people are truly individuals. Instead of focusing on how groups are different (demographics), wouldn’t it be better to focus on what brings us together (aspirations)? We all want to provide for our family, we all want to own property, we all want to be treated with that dignity.

Better for business: pulling together or tearing apart?

I’m all for changing the world in your day job, but this is really about being better marketers (social change is the added benefit). Gary Nelson wrote a great article for iMedia Connection about ethnic marketing:

I believe that a unique opportunity exists in America. We are all multi-cultural, we are African, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, (the list goes on)-American. Considering the latter half of the hyphenation, and the fact that we all carry it as citizens, shouldn’t we in the advertising industry emphasize the ties that connect us rather than the gaps that keep us apart?

And it turns out that all this feel-goodery actually produces better marketing! We can avoid embarrassing ads like Hyundai’s and focus on things that actually poll better among consumers; just think about the house and the white picket fence. It turns out that treating people like actual people is better for business. Just imagine that.

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4 Comments »

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  1. Interesting analysis. A few thoughts about similar campaigns from my work:
    In my Ethnic Studies classes I regularly ask students to analyze advertisements to get a sense of the ways race and ethnicity are structured in popular discourse. Now, I tend find the Benneton-style ad(or the effective example from Morga’s study) obnoxious because these ads ignore the realities of poverty and marginalization that inversely affect people of color and present a rosy vision of American capitalism. My students will often bring in a Benneton-style ad and talk about it positively. This is true of my white students and my African-American, Latino, and Asian/Middle-Eastern students. It’s always befuddled me and I’ve responded by working harder to unpack marketting discourses. But, now you’ve gone and given me something else to think about altogether…

  2. Enjoyed your post–I came across your comment on the Fast Company article (on Alicia Morga). I agree with what you wrote, and I think companies are becoming more subtle and more sophisticated in advertising toward different racial/ethnic groups. One of my posts on FastCompany.com addresses this issue with regards to African American consumers and Black History Month.

  3. […] they frequently find things that relate to their own lives. For instance, in a recent post about marketing to Latinos, a buddy of mine in a totally different field was able to translate what he taught the college […]

  4. […] When it comes to marketing to Hispanics (or any group for that matter), it’s important to go with what you know works, rather than what you think you know.  It’s good to see that more and more marketers are starting to understand this. […]


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