Purists, Practicals And Hair Splitters

A lot of the target focus and discussion today around Hispanic segments are on what I like to refer as the “middle market.” I use this term to group all of the fancy definitions used for Hispanics that have a little (or a lot) of two cultures in them: American (or I should probably say Anglo) and Hispanic culture. The fancy words to define this middle market include: biculturals, ambiculturals, transculturals, Americanos, etc. I welcome my readers to suggest a few more; some of these are actually cool and creative.

With so much emphasis on this target, there is also the inevitable discussion about language and the fact that the middle market speaks some of both languages. There is also a lot to be said about what constitutes a bilingual speaker and, given that this is a grey area, let’s just say that what constitutes biligualism is someone who speaks both English and Spanish. If we want to keep it simple, I would apply a neat framework (or perhaps I should refer to it as the "Facebook doctrine"). Facebook (in their targeting) simply defines these targets as: if you speak 75% English and 25% Spanish, then you are English dominant and if it’s the opposite then you are Spanish dominant and "anything in between is bilingual." That’s simple, clean and how we’ll leave it for the purposes of today.



The question for those of us in the "marcom" business becomes: how should I "com" (communicate) with these folks, in English, Spanish or both? And if I use both, how should I mix the two? Lately, this has been getting quite a bit of attention as advertisers like AT&T and Tide are incorporating language "mixing" in their work. Now this is not new; this has been going on for a long time, especially in Texas, where the hybrid culture has been strong since independence. Beer companies and Tejano signers have been mixing language for many, many, many years. 

The mix can come in several forms, and how you apply this mix can vary by medium. What is perhaps even more interesting is that this can be quite controversial. There are those "purists” who condemn this approach and feel marcom should either be in Spanish or English but not both. Then on the other side, we have the “practicals," folks who believe that this middle market wants and desires that hybrid copy. But even among these practicals there are those who believe bilingual executions should not be "spanglish" ... wait, what? What’s the difference? Well, there are those who maintain that you should not mix Spanish and English in the same sentence but rather treat them independent of each other in different sentences and never ever "speak así." I call these folks "hair splitters" and I hope a Hispanic copy writer never has them as a client.

How we communicate is a reflection of our humanity and if we really want our brands to communicate with this middle market, we should just be natural about it. Our goal and energy should be focused on how natural the copy sounds (whether bilingual, Spanglish, English or Spanish) instead of trying to follow some rule over how much or how little English and Spanish we should use in a particular sentence. En otras palabras, is the copy reflective of how your target speaks about the category and brand? Not sure? Spend some time with them and do some ethnography, discover those code words or phrases they use when speaking about your category or product.

Find a way to leverage bilingualism to your advantage. It gives you an additional way in to the consumer’s mind. Whether it’s because they have more emotional attachment to one language or another or whether they appreciate that you are making an effort to better communicate with them, it’s an extra way to position your product, communicate your value or drive equity. It’s an option you may not have with a target that only speaks one language so use it to your advantage. Remember, though, make sure it sounds natural. 

I am not advocating for the always-on use of bilingualism but rather for the use of bilingualism when it makes sense and, more importantly, where it makes sense. Not all channels will be receptive to this and not all retailers may appreciate it. And, if your idea relies too heavily on bilingual copy, then what you have is not an idea but rather ... cute copy.

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