It’s not a simple question of Spanish vs. English. Marketers must understand levels of acculturation – and who the influencers are.
Maria Lopez-Knowles, CMO of Entravision, has seen some marketers shy away from speaking to bilingual audiences in Spanish out of concern it might be misinterpreted or be unwelcome. In focus groups across the country, she’s found, Spanish-dominant consumers will say they are okay with brands speaking primarily in Spanish with a few English words thrown in; that’s how they speak to their kids.
While the majority of Hispanic millennials say they’re bicultural, biliterate and bilingual, Lopez-Knowles says, “You have to be careful of how much you are putting in Spanish, because they may not understand it.”
Indeed, “bilingual” does not necessarily mean equally fluent in two languages. Gonzalo del Fa, president of GroupM Multicultural, says that for many workers, knowing enough English to operate at their jobs counts as bilingual. But this doesn’t mean that English marketing messages will resonate. “There’s not just one way of being bilingual.”
Even though the original tweets were in Spanish, language use among consumers responding was highly mixed, with people getting the message in one language and responding or retweeting in the other.
Finding the sweet spot
“Be aware that acculturation will drive language,” says Oscar Padilla, vice president of strategy for Luminar Insights, the Entravision-owned provider of data solutions for digital and traditional media.
Luminar likes to talk about Hispanic generational audiences on a scale of one to three. Hispanics 1.0 came to the United States as adults and are heavily Spanish-speaking. The 1.5 Hispanics immigrated to the U.S. as children, and very likely, both parents are Hispanic 1.0. The 2.0 generation was born here, and it’s likely that at least one parent was born in the United States.
Because the 1.5 and 2.0 generations are much more acculturated, Padilla says, “To reach them you would start reaching them in English with culturally relevant messaging.”
The other important thing about these generations is that they’re also often going online to do research or transactions for their Spanish-dominant parents. If 1.0 Hispanics are the marketer’s target, Padilla says, television is still the prime medium. The trigger to go online may be a TV spot that creates interest and directs viewers to a website. But the person who closes the loop on the transaction may not be the recipient of the original ad. “You have to find the optimal mix of offline and online media,” he says.
Lopez-Knowles notes that marketers who want to reach the general Hispanic market can use those more acculturated consumers as influencers. Moreover, because they spend so much time online, “You can use your general market assets and change a couple of words into Spanish. You do not have to start from the bottom up.”
There’s still another tricky thing: Even those highly acculturated 1.5 and 2.0 Hispanics may use both English and Spanish depending on the context. Using himself as an example, the Argentina-born del Fa says, “Soccer is in Spanish for me. My mindset is in Spanish and I curse, scream and enjoy it from a Latino angle. When I watch American football — which doesn’t’ make any sense in Spanish — I enjoy it and feel it and curse in English.”
A study of Hispanic women done by GroupM bore this out. In the multiethnic and multigenerational households of today, the majority of them spoke Spanish 50 percent of the time and English the other 50 percent.
For many workers, knowing enough English to operate at their jobs counts as bilingual. But this doesn’t mean that English marketing messages will resonate.
A case in point was a social media campaign that GroupM did for a client during the Latin Grammy Awards. The agency decided to do the campaign in Spanish because it aired on a Spanish network. It found that, even though the original tweets were in Spanish, language use among consumers responding was highly mixed, with people getting the message in one language and responding or retweeting in the other. Says del Fa, “That is the dynamic of the Hispanic consumer.”
Padilla insists that choosing the right language for social media campaigns is not that hard. “If you want to be part of the conversation, you have to do your homework and understand those channels. Social monitoring is a widely available practice to get a pulse on the content being consumed, whether it’s Spanish, English or a mix. It’s not much different from any other social media strategy.”