When it comes to advertising to multicultural groups, I’m afraid many brands are behind the times. Not only are they adhering to outdated notions of what it means to be Hispanic, but they are also falling into the “total market” trap — the idea that, by appealing to a certain Hispanic archetype, they will be able to capture the interest of the Hispanic market as a whole.
In addition to showcasing a general ignorance of the market, marketers who go this route risk making caricatures out of Hispanics, and deprive themselves of a meaningful opportunity to reach out to new audiences.
The first thing that brands should be aware of is that the term “Hispanic” can be applied to an incredibly diverse group of people. Some define it simply as “a Spanish-speaking person living in the US, especially one of Latin American descent”; others, like Merriam-Webster, go deeper and define Hispanic as “of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent and especially of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin living in the U.S.”
As the latter definition shows, the general conception of Hispanics tends not to make any distinctions among countries of origin, making it easier to lump them under one generic umbrella.
In fact, some who fit the dictionary definition of being Hispanic dislike the term, and choose to identify as Latino instead, and vice versa.
I have also seen brands place an undue emphasis on the Spanish language, figuring the best way to advertise to Hispanics is in Spanish, often in Spanish-language outlets. The implication that the target group might be more comfortable speaking in what is perceived to be their “native language” is one that is sharply different from the truth.
Indeed, the proportion of Hispanics who speak English proficiently or as their primary language has grown steadily over the past decade, according to Pew Research, while the number of those who speak Spanish has actually declined.
One of the most important divisions within the Hispanic community is the division between first-generation immigrants, and second or later generations who have spent their entire lives in the United States. In addition to having different language preferences, they also have vastly different experiences in the U.S..
In the case of the former, they might have more connections to their home country, which in turn might cause them to retain the affinities and cultural touchpoints of their previous lives. Second-generation Hispanics, on the other hand, with more exposure to the local language, culture, and interests, are more likely to fold those into their greater cultural attitudes. Even those who grow up in the most isolated of households still have the opportunity to assimilate through schooling, television, radio, and the connective powers of the internet.
Another important fact to keep in mind is that, as Pew reports, U.S.-born Hispanics currently outnumber foreign-born Hispanics “by nearly two-to-one… and [make] up a growing share (65%) of the nation’s Hispanic audience.” And, as immigration from Latin America continues to decline, the proportion of U.S.-born Hispanics will only increase in the coming years, which means that marketers have to figure out ways in which to appeal to this specific audience.
There is no one Hispanic experience. Hispanics of Dominican descent who grow up in New York City have a very different conception of their identity when compared to, say, Chilean immigrants who live in Fargo, North Dakota.
Consequently, marketers can no longer traffic in generalizations. They have to know their target audience — first-generation, Spanish-dominant Hispanics vs. second-generation, culturally assimilated Hispanic millennials - in order to come up with a successful marketing plan. Understand the nuances, and you will understand the audience.