Must Use Spanish, Verdad? Not Necessarily!

The role of culture in brand-building is indisputable, and language is naturally a significant component of this. However, this may not necessarily be applicable across the board, for all age groups.

America is a melting pot and polyglot of fresh talent, the foundation of the nation is built on the sweat, tears, and hard work of immigrants, who bring with them not only their talent, skill-set, and abilities, but also their language, customs and distinctive cultural behavior. This is what makes America great, and it is a tradition that continues to this day.

So it's logical to think of the importance of using Spanish when communicating with and engaging the U.S. Hispanic market. But this simple approach does not work across all age groups. It has to do with fitting in, and not standing out.

We know first-hand the value of fitting in. As children, we were accustomed to moving around across different countries, cultures and languages. The first thing any kid wants at school (and, most importantly, on the playground) is to be accepted as part of the group. The first "weapon of choice" is always the mastery of the language, replete with all the slang and colloquial expressions. The consequence of humiliation is well-known in any kid's mind. It may be okay to look and dress differently, but the common denominator that brings everyone together is language.



For the young Hispanic, this translates to mastering the English language at an early age, and fitting in. This is the young ones' symbolic value, and this is what becoming American means to them. It also comes, unfortunately, with the rejection of their Latin identity.

Consequently, they are creating a new identity, where language becomes a tool of expression that is on-code with the hybrid new culture of this new generation of first-born Americans.

As generations of immigrants before them, this transformation and metamorphosis phase are common, as seen in the wave of Italians, Germans, Eastern European Jews, Greeks, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Armenians, Lebanese and Syrians before them.

So while the option of having "Español" buttons and "Español" call centers may be treasured by plenty of Hispanics, the vast majority might not care that much.

Some assume that Hispanics don't speak or want to speak English, which is false. Acculturated Hispanics, those who have incorporated American cultural codes, including language, feel comfortable enough to use English. These individuals are usually referred to as the "second or third U.S.-born generation" and, for many of them, mainly when they are teens, speaking Spanish is a sign of inferiority, they don't want to go "back" from where their parents came. They want to be American not Hispanic.

As they mature, however, they will find a need to know their roots (this is a reptilian act) and within that search, many will regret not speaking Español anymore.

And all this is without talking about the type of Español brands need to address. Mexican-Americans and, by definition, "wherever you come from" Americans have developed a new symbolic language, creating new words and expression that blend their mother tongue with English.

3 comments about "Must Use Spanish, Verdad? Not Necessarily!".
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  1. Jesus Grana from Independent, July 15, 2010 at 11:13 a.m.

    While I prefer to transact in English - the existence of the EspaƱol option in call centers is good as the waiting cues are often shorter. Great to have the option.

  2. Sebastian Aroca from Hispanic Market Advisors, July 17, 2010 at 12:23 a.m.

    Both English and Spanish content should be tested to see which combination of the two is better for converting surfing into sales and maximizing revenues. US Hispanics also come from a wide variety of geographic regions: the content that acts as an entry page for a person with Latin American roots will be substantively different than that enticing someone whose family was from the Caribbean.

    And like all consumers, Hispanic consumers will respond to outreach cues depending upon where they are in their own life cycle. A marketing blitz targeting younger consumers, and second and third generation of Hispanics might do best to focus resources on bilingual campaigns, social media and music sites while one aimed at seniors and first generation of Hispanics -- whose primary language is more likely to be Spanish -- might see better results with more traditional media like Spanish language newspapers and websites, radio and television placements.

  3. Mark Lopez, July 20, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    Language is a very powerful vehicle to cultivate customer relationships in the US. There is a special bond for all of us Latinos when we speak our "mother tongue" whether you are in a family setting or making a business transaction through a call center. Just simply stating that Hispanics do not care for customized in-language options missed a smart opportunity to get closer to a very important segment of Hispanic consumers. Language is not everything (agreed) but it is still and will be a very powerful marketing tool. Please use it wisely!

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