Language Choice? Cualquiera!

The Hispanic market has always been defined by exclusively Spanish-language media - until now. As this demographic undergoes historic population shifts and growth, Spanish is no longer the default language, but an option. And reaching this multifaceted audience demands a newfound understanding of language usage and preference.

Today, the birthrate of Hispanics in the U.S. outpaces the rate of immigration, and U.S.-born children to immigrant parents typically result in bilingual homes. The growth of this population is so exponential that the U.S. Census Bureau has revised its projections for a majority-minority-nation by eight years, from 2050 to 2042. Yet, the way most tend to think of language does not reflect this shift.

Can you run English creative on a Spanish site? Does it impact performance? Would consumers attracted to a site by a Spanish-language advertisement be offended if the destination were in English? For marketers and publishers alike, these questions are common and the concerns are valid, yet they do not accurately capture the issue at heart.



If the content of a marketing campaign is not relevant, language alone will not drive consumers to a site. Likewise, it is equally shortsighted to think this audience can be reached via general market efforts based on the fact that the majority can speak English.

Within the U.S., the majority of Hispanics are bilingual and bicultural. As such, language choice is most often a reflection of preference, not necessity. In fact, studies and syndicated reports have consistently shown that language choice varies by situation.

The same person will often have three different answers when asked in what language he reads, surfs the internet and converses at the dinner table. And, when Terra USA asks its users about their language preference on, the answer is more than likely: "Cualquiera (either), I speak both." Language is simply a vehicle. For consumers, where they come from and where we take them is of utmost importance.

While there is no magic formula for reaching a bilingual audience, we do know that a good starting point is the combination of value proposition, creative message, post-click experience, cultural relevancy and, of course, the media plan-not necessarily the language. It is one thing to be within the line of sight or earshot of consumers and quite another to reach them with a culturally relevant approach.

For example, a recent English-language Telco campaign designed to promote long distance services to U.S. Hispanics brought users to a destination page displaying rates to call Europe, not Latin America. On the other hand, the current Toyota Venza campaign is a prime example of a marketer "getting us." The campaign plays on the nuances of the three Spanish variations of "car" and "tire," in turn centering on language while celebrating diversity.

Language is invariably tied to Latino identity, and both are constantly evolving. Forty percent of Hispanic Internet users claim Spanish as their first language but, depending on their exposure to Spanish in the U.S., they will probably become as or more proficient in English.

The appeal of the online landscape is that it is conducive to an ever-changing bilingual experience, allowing people to explore their identities, reinforce ties to their countries of origin and even forge new identities anonymously with user-generated content. For marketers and consumers alike, language is a vehicle traversing a wide open field, and we are driving together towards a majority-minority future.

4 comments about "Language Choice? Cualquiera! ".
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  1. Summer Schiavo from LinkedIn, March 26, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.

    At BabyCenter we have a Spanish language site for U.S. Hispanic Spanish speaking moms. Interestingly only about half of that sites visitors are bilingual. There is also a relatively large population of Hispanic moms on our English language U.S. site. There is definitely some division in the preferences of visitors to each though. Of the Spanish language site visitors, 68% never visit the English language version, and 63% prefer ads that click-through to Spanish language sites. In my opinion, this means that marketers should market to Hispanics in both languages, and make sure they have landing pages for their ads that will follow-through on the Spanish or English language experience.

  2. Dr. Jake Beniflah from Analytica Plus, March 26, 2009 at 2:36 p.m.

    For decades, the Hispanic marketing industry has claimed that U.S. Latinos prefer Spanish as a language. We know this is a false belief, now.

    Language is a choice (not an option) and marketers understand this much better in 2009. I am proud to have found for the first time on this website an article that is correct in its content and representative of today's Latino segments. Kudos!

    Language has and will continue to be an important determinant in targeting U.S. Hispanics effectively. As marketers, we need to determine the language (the approach) we use. What and how the Latino segments operationalize reality is going to be based on the language they cognitively use. (Sapir and Worf were on to something big decades ago when they first began researching the effects of language and thought.)

    Finally, regarding the BabyCenter comments, I am not surprised that you have English-speaking Latina moms on your Spanish-language site. About half of all U.S. Latinos are online and the Latino online profile tends to be English-speaking and U.S. born. There is still an 'access problem' to getting online, and their lack of familiarity and inability to navigate online (among foreign-born Latinos) may help explain the slow rate of adoption (of technology). This is expected to change in the future, but companies should do more today to help Latinos "get online" more easily.

    Lastly, keep testing and creating hypotheses that help you understand your consumer's behavior. That is a sign of a smart, sophisticated, and effective marketer.

  3. Cynthia Campos from Girl Scouts of America, March 26, 2009 at 6:01 p.m.

    While in complete agreement with reynaldo, the lag between taking the approach suggested and developing relevant campaigns might be a bit long. This article sheds a good amount of light on the American bi-lingual bi-cultural experience. Widening the net by celebrating diversity among Spanish speakers creatively is a great rule. Combined with behavioral relevence it makes for a pretty robust formula.

  4. Venida Evans from Freelance, March 27, 2009 at 3:34 p.m.

    Really intriguing! Especially the commercials he cited! What about newer ones, i.e. the Ikea ads done in English and Spanish w/a non-determinate "Ethnic"?

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