There is a tendency in marketing to see Hispanic consumers primarily as immigrants who are going through the acculturation process. It is an understandable assumption since 55 percent of adult Hispanics are foreign-born, but this assumption forgets two apparently contradictory facts:

While 55 percent of adult Hispanics here are foreign born, 55 percent of all Hispanics in the United States today are born Americans. These newer generations are born into a bi-cultural environment and are generally comfortable considering themselves both Hispanic and American. They expect others – including marketers – to do the same.

 Between 70-80 percent of all Hispanics consider themselves acculturated, (defined as adopting the general culture while preserving aspects of their country of origin culture),   and are comfortable considering themselves both Hispanic and American. This phenomenon is not unique to Hispanics, as the movie “Namesake,” about East Indians immigrating to America points out beautifully in its concluding dialogue about loving two-worlds. This message applies to Hispanics as well, whether their origins are Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba or elsewhere.

The reality is that acculturated Hispanics (non U.S. born) and bi-cultural Hispanics (US. born) seamlessly navigate between their worlds, picking and choosing behaviors, language preference and attitudes at will. The marketers’ job is to understand the behavioral nuances and brand relationships within these broad bi-cultural contexts.

Let’s examine some typical examples.  Tony, a Hispanic U.S.-born man in his early twenties, has been earning money working since teenage years. He currently works at a retail clothing store and attends college on a part-time basis. He’s fashion-conscious, techno-savvy, displays ‘urban’ attitudes, and has Hispanic and non-Hispanic friends. He spends most of his days speaking English, in a similar youth world as his non-Hispanic peers. And yet, Tony, comes home four or five days a week to have home-cooked meals and watch soap operas with his mother, as he did as a child. When evaluating buying his first car, who is going to influence more Tony’s choices: his Hispanic family (including extended family and the ‘expert’ in cars) or his peer friends?

Another example is Maria, a non-U.S. born adult Hispanic woman. Maria came to the U.S.  with her husband and no children. She manages to work in an office while raising a family with the support of her extended family. Maria faces the challenges of any working parent plus an additional deep-rooted responsibility to be the ultimate consummate and often sacrificial care-taker of the family. Although her children speak English, she and her husband insist in speaking Spanish to them at home and work hard to preserve Latino traditions. On Thanksgiving Day, if she’s Mexican, the whole family gets together and makes home-made tamales that become the star of the meal rather than the turkey, which may or may not be served that day. If she’s Puerto Rican or Cuban, she’ll make her criollo turkey adding chimichurri flavors to season the ‘desabrida’ (flavorless) turkey meat. The next day at work she’ll share with her peers about her holiday and may or may not brag about her garlic-flavored turkey depending on whether she feels ‘safe’ talking about a food that represents her culture.

These two examples show how, regardless of whether the Hispanic consumer is bicultural (born in the U.S.) or acculturated to the mainstream (non-US. born), they will tend to navigate with ease the different cultural experiences in the polychromatic world they live in. (We are excluding un-acculturated Hispanics from this discussion.).

An astute marketer may quickly conclude that it is most cost efficient to reach both Tony and Maria and other acculturated and bicultural Hispanics via general media campaigns, zeroing the “American” attitudes of these consumers.  Not so fast.

Communication cannot be accomplished without acknowledgement. Just as corporations are learning with African Americans and other consumer groups, Hispanics, regardless of the level of acculturation or place of birth, are more likely to listen if they feel acknowledged.  Having products and marketing programs that acknowledge, leverage and resonate with the Hispanic culture and language is the ‘price of entry’ into Hispanic consumer emotions.   McDonald’s multicultural marketing efforts recognize this fact by both luring Hispanic youth in English/bi-lingual advertising while tailoring other campaigns, such as the Spanish version of the McCafe launch or their museum-on-wheels show celebrating Latin heritage and culture.  Another company that is trying to reach both sides of the Hispanic consumer is General Mills. Elements that acknowledge the Latin culture values are clearly evident in their new campaigns for the Yoplait yogurt while addressing the needs of the new, contemporary Latina woman.

Finally, there are underlying currents that would indicate these behaviors will continue for the foreseeable future regardless of immigration patterns.

          Collectivistic decisionmaking:  Latino cultures tend to be collectivistic in nature and therefore decision-making for products and services are often group- (family-) driven. Regardless of level of acculturation, the core collectivistic tone of decision-making is likely to endure, which will include members at different levels of acculturation and who are both U.S. and non-U.S. born.

          Intergenerational sharing: Hispanic families are accustomed to mingling among age groups and generations. For example, at popular music concerts performed by 30-something singer Juanes, one can see 10-year old children to grandmas moving their hips to the musical rhythms. Since age categorizations are less important and respect for the “elderly” is deeply rooted in Hispanic traditions, marketers should try to understand and resonate with the interconnection between the age segments.

          Technology – in spite of the lack of Spanish Web content in the U.S. –the Internet is an enabler for preserving culture and language of heritage. A Mexican now in the U.S. can now spend hours via a computer video cam and the Internet chatting and relating to family in a remote corner of Jalisco, and even U.S. cell phone plans cover some Latin American countries. Another example is a young U.S. born-Hispanic adult who now wants to learn Spanish and gravitates to the Internet Spanish entertainment sites to ‘retro acculturate’ and try to fit in better with his Hispanic friends and family.

 As Giuseppe D’Alessandro, Vice President of Strategy at ConAgra Foods says: “Hispanics in America do not live in their own island. They are here studying, working, living with you and me as part of the fabric of the U.S. culture, while wanting to preserve and being recognized for their rich Latino heritage and values.”

 If these consumers tend to seamlessly incorporate behaviors of “American” and “Hispanic” cultures, shouldn’t your marketing strategy do the same?

By Loida Rosario, marketing faculty member, co-founder Multicultural Marketing Program and chair of the Into the Core Multicultural Marketing Summit, the first conference addressing multicultural marketing as integral part of business strategy conducted in June, 2009.  


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