Beyond Acculturation

For nearly a decade, even those most savvy about marketing to U.S. Latinos have applauded the "acculturation" approach to Latino consumer segmentation. Latino marketers have adopted it for its general relevance, especially in certain categories; for its indisputable link to Spanish language usage; and most of all, for the miraculous awareness and consensus it has garnered among marketing and media leaders as a construct they find useful in furthering business decisions.

The "acculturation" approach caught on because it makes sense, recognizing the complexity of Latino identity in the U.S.

But every bi-cultural (not necessarily bilingual) Latino in this country knows that the "acculturation" approach to Latino consumer segmentation is flawed, presenting the same challenges suffered by similar models used by marketers in the last 50 years. Designed to accommodate limitations set by the best information then available about consumers -- demographic data -- demographic segmentations have long been the inescapable final output of all consumer segmentations -- attitudinal, psychographic, behavioral, etc.



Demographics were, and unfortunately are still, the basis for most mass media buying. The result: segmentations that forced each consumer into a single "type" or "lifestyle."

One consumer, one box.

Naturally, individuals tend to rebel against such boxy generalizations about themselves. For example, just living in a certain ZIP code or driving a certain car doesn't mean we're anything like the "Tobacco-chewin' Joe Six-Packs" or "Cat-Loving Silver Scrimpers" who seem to be our neighbors.

We drink beer and prefer dogs, don't live fancy, and could use more money. But unlike our profiles, we have advanced degrees, and take ski trips to Vail. We're even Puerto Rican.

And our spending behaviors vary depending on which of our diverse friends and relatives happens to be with us.

Today's technology offers an ever-increasing abundance of information about consumer behavior and its motivating occasions. We can use these resources to ride the next wave in understanding situational contexts for Latinos' spending behavior.

Diana Rios and Federico Subervi have coined a term for this new idea: "Situational Latinidad." The term is still up for a namestorm - "Occasional Hispanicity," "Sometimes Feelin' Latino," etc. The idea is simple: Each Latino in the U.S. experiences the Latino identity in different ways, in different situations. Acculturation labels sum up general types and levels of such individual identification based on language use and media consumption, but they miss what matters to most marketers -- behavior related to their category.

Most importantly, segmenting by acculturation alone misses the influence of the complex multi-generational and cross-cultural social networks in which most Latinos spend their days.

Certain products tend to connect Latinos with their heritage. In food, for example, the Goya brand has exploited this tendency, growing its large, Latino-loyal brand in the U.S. since 1936.

Other products that Latinos use to express their "Latinidad" include makeup, jewelry, clothing, cologne, shoes, cars, personal technologies, art, home décor, landscaping, and music, to name a few.

But these same Latinos live their days cross-culturally. Individuals buying Goya also might love pizza, Mediterranean food, and so on. The Latino identification and orientation to products will depend on moods and social situations, and on the cultures of their friends and relatives (usually a cultural salad in itself!), and not just on their own.

So, I recommend that you start your Latino consumer segmentation and targeting process not with pre-defined birthplace, national heritage, or language-based groups, but instead by crossing behavior and values information with situational and social context. Then, you're more likely to ensure relevance and brand loyalty with the Latinos who matter most to your brand.

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10 comments about "Beyond Acculturation ".
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  1. Doreen Iannuzzi from Multimedia Nova Corporation, July 16, 2009 at 12:55 p.m.

    Yes, many do resort to putting people in boxes, target selectively and justify that as understanding 'cultural behaviour.' Far from it. (Besides, imagine the complexity of that approach when involving 2nd and 3rd generations.)

    "behavior related to their category" ..."situational and social context": exactly! We're all cross-cultural - whether we have Hispanic, Italian, Chinese, etc., heritage/ancestory. Your well-said commentary is a valid and necessary approach when agencies or advertisers believe they need to get through to "those ethnic audiences." Makes for a much more comprehensive planning process.

  2. Harold Cabezas from Cabezas Communications, July 16, 2009 at 4:34 p.m.

    Well-written. We need so many more posts like this. Thanks!!

  3. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, July 16, 2009 at 6:43 p.m.

    There's a huge amount of good direction here.

    I don't thing that there is a single solution to being Hispanic, and your article certainly seems to point out towards that.

    Situational Hispanicity certainly beats other more simplistic approaches such as dividing latinos by whether they are born here, outside... the generational approach which tends to discount country of origin. A second generation Mexican may be as much a "Latino" as a first generation Nicaraguan, for example.

    I guess at the end, you prove, in a roundabout way, a point that many advertisers conveniently try to obviate: the ONLY way to understand your consumers is to research them, talk to them, live them.

    Since being "situationally Hispanic" changes from product to product, it should force many companies to do primary research and develop true strtegic planning.

    Hats off for solidifying what was only a hazy concept

  4. Mark Kolier from moddern marketing, July 17, 2009 at 5:39 p.m.

    One of the better posts I have seen regarding this segment in a long time. Thanks Lauren.

  5. Raquel Tomasino from MarTomMarketing, LLC, July 19, 2009 at 12:12 a.m.

    I agree. Acculturation became a buzz word when general market researchers were trying to fit Hispanics into an assimilation model. The word is different but the model is still based on the assumption that Hispanic adaptation of the US general market culture, where the latino culture disappears in some degree as we move towards complete assimilation.

    I is time to do away with the acculturation model.

  6. Louis Pagan, July 20, 2009 at 7:53 a.m.

    Lauren, I've approached this topic here ( and here ( And as long as government and business want to process this information, it still remains a 'problem'.

    The only solution right now is the reaction of individuals in the face of this line of these types of classification techniques. Unfortunately, going forward w/out having a negative attitude towards this is harder said than done.

  7. Cesar Melgoza from Geoscape, July 20, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    Most companies deal with segmentation on a relatively superficial level. Consumers are not one dimensional but consummately multi-dimensional. Geoscape offers “Hispanicity™” as one important dimension of consumer segmentation, but there are a myriad of characteristics that may factor prominently into the behavior set of a consumer. Further, each company and product type requires its own special treatment. That is why we employ “Ground-Truth™ Segmentation” that links a company’s strategy and products into a framework that deals with trade-offs and customer touch points that enables actionable intelligence from broadcast to inside the rooftop. It's not a question of if acculturation is right, wrong or old, it's really a question of which combination of characteristics best suits a company's business strategy and tactical execution. Ground-Truth Segmentation is a serious alternative for consumer segmentation which incorporates demographic, economic, behavioral, attitudinal, spatial, category and intra-company consumer data—not just for Hispanics but for all consumer types. Please contact me if you'd like to see how this can apply to your objectives.

  8. Lucia Matthews from DIALOGO, July 23, 2009 at 5:45 p.m.

    I applaud you for your Beyond Acculturation artcile. Marketing models that target Hispanics based on acculturation are flawed for two primary reasons. First, the assumption is that Spanish language marketing is the way to reach most of the market. But language is just one part of the cultural definition of the U.S. Hispanic-market. The English speaking, Hispanic market is a culturally diverse segment.

    The other false assumption is that Hispanics are language static. But a Pew Study found that while only 23% of first generation Hispanics are English fluent, the number almost quadruples by the second generation to 88% and to 94% by the third. According to the Pew study co-author D’Vera Cohn, English is the ultimate goal of every Hispanic upon arrival, "because it's how people get a job, talk to their neighbor, talk to their child's teacher and fit in generally". Hispanics are language and culturally fluid.

    The Pew Center Study refutes the language-centric view used by many marketers to communicate to Hispanics. Instead, a more sophisticated, integrated and relevant approach is evolving to dialogue with the various Hispanic segments.

    Addressing Hispanic consumers with culturally relevant, versus the language-centric communications, is the answer to provide the subtle nuances that make the dialogue have resonance.

  9. Sebastian Aroca from Hispanic Market Advisors, July 25, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

    The author makes a good point with this article for it’s true that consumers are neither one dimensional nor language-centric. However, as explained on this article < >, we cannot ignore the fact that people speaking the same language show an inclination to form their own online community no matter what country they happen to live in so for those businesses that are serious about reaching the entire spectrum of the US Hispanic community, then, marketing to a sub-segment of Hispanics in Spanish can be an integral part of the overall Hispanic marketing strategy.

  10. Mayrah Rocafort-mercado from Hispanic DM Solutions, August 5, 2009 at 8:40 p.m.

    In the world of direct marketing this is known as "differential marketing." According to Garth Hallberg, author of Differential Marketing, "as consumer reach different levels of sophistication, enjoy less leisure time and earn a higher income, their purchasing is driven by personal needs and choices. Hence, consumers start to act more and more like individuals and less often as groups or units."

    Albeit in his book Mr. Hallberg was not speaking about the Hispanic market specifically, the basic philosophy applies to this audience as well. Eventhough the book was published several years ago it is a timely read for Hispanic marketers that want to "walk away" from the usual and engage in more data mining and lifestyle, life-stage clustering strategies to segment these audience.

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