Commentary

The Advantages of Bilingual Advertising

For decades, the rule of thumb was that advertising on English-language TV needed to be in English, and advertising on Spanish-language TV needed to be in Spanish. But does that rule of thumb still hold? 


Spanish-language media remains critically important for the Hispanic audience and for brands that hope to resonate with them. In Horowitz Research’s recent State of Consumer Engagement 2018 study,  six in 10 Latinos say they like it “when a brand or product advertises in Hispanic media.” This is highest among bilingual Latinos.

Advertising in Hispanic media sends a signal that the brand is interested in speaking to the Latino community, even Latinos who speak Spanish and English.

The majority of Latinos watch TV in English and Spanish, including six in 10 Spanish-dominant, more than eight in 10 bilingual Latinos, and one-third of English-oriented Latinos. This audience is exposed to advertising on English-language and Spanish-language networks, so brands must deliver an authentic message across media. 

Innovative advertisers like Verizon, McDonald's, Bud Light, and Xfinity, as well as networks ABC and Telemundo, are increasingly willing to experiment with new approaches to engage Hispanic consumers in Spanish and English media environments, by running Spanish-language ads on English TV, English ads on Spanish TV, or bilingual ads in either. Which of these tactics are most likely to resonate with consumers, and which might be a turn-off?

The study tackled this issue surveying consumers about how appealing these approaches to advertising language are.

Advertising in Spanish in English-language media appeals to six in 10 Latinos, while Spanish-dominant and bilingual Latinos are especially likely to consider it appealing. On the other hand, one in 10 Latinos say it would be a turnoff to see a Spanish language ad in English media while English-oriented Latinos are most likely to say it is a turn-off. 

Similarly, advertising in English on Spanish-language media appeals to two-thirds of Latinos, and would be a turnoff to about one in 10. 

So what of bilingual ads?

Smart bilingual advertising creative has the potential to capture the cultural as well as linguistic “code-switching” that is intimately familiar to Latinos who are constantly navigating two languages, two cultures, and two worldviews. Audiences are increasingly exposed to code-switching, such as the CW’s successful Jane the Virgin, ABC’s long-running hit Modern Family, and Netflix’s One Day at a Time, whose recent cancellation caused an uproar among Hispanic fans. 

But is the audience — and the industry — ready for bilingual ads? Horowitz’s data suggests the answer is yes.

Seven in ten Latinos say that it would be appealing to see a bilingual ad on Spanish-language TV, and over half would find a bilingual ad on English-language TV appealing.

Importantly, the appeal of bilingual ads in both Spanish and English media is driven by bilingual, bicultural Latinos who are engaged in cultural and linguistic code-switching daily, and who form the fastest-growing segment of the Hispanic market. 

Of course, the audience for mainstream, English-language TV is broader than Hispanics.  Is there potential for backlash from non-Hispanic audiences exposed to bilingual (Spanish-English) ads on mainstream TV? 

The answer is nuanced. Older, 50+ audiences are more than twice as likely to say they would find bilingual ads a turnoff (39%) than they would find them appealing (15%). Younger audiences, however, are almost three times as likely to say bilingual ads would appeal than say it would turn them off (among 18- to-34-year-olds, 41% say it would appeal, 15% say it would turn them off; among 35- to-49-year-olds, 44% versus 17%). 

Beyond bilingual ads, there is a growing appetite for ads reflecting America’s diversity. Consumers surveyed are over four times as likely to say they would find “ads with people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, sexuality, and family styles” appealing (49%) than a turnoff (11%). Younger and diverse audiences are the most likely to find such advertising appealing.

Of course, it all comes down to the creative execution. Diverse audiences are savvy about authenticity. They can tell when the creative and the message is honest and when it feels like pandering.

This includes bilingual creative, which is not just about throwing Spanish words into an English ad or vice-versa. It’s about understanding how linguistic and cultural code-switching are intertwined and how they manifest in everyday communications.

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