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Project Finds Spanish Does Not Hispanic Make

With the Hispanic segment the fastest-growing U.S. demographic, marketers have to be fluid when it comes to how they define "Hispanic," and consequently, how they craft and deliver messages. That might be obvious, but a study from a newly formed joint venture between Communispace and Starcom MediaVest Group Multicultural (SMG) suggests that the U.S. Latino market is linguistically fluid, anything but uniform, and populated by consumers who don't subscribe to labels like "Hispanic" or define themselves by race.

Communispace, an online customer insight community and SMG have developed a joint consumer insight community and are launching it with the study, "Me entiendes? ("Do you understand me?") -- Revisiting Acculturation," based on insights both from community members and panelists.

The study's main authors, Manila Austin and Josue Jansen, note that the "private insight" communities for clients, which comprise Hispanics defined by parameters like Spanish-language dominance, Spanish-language media consumption and duration of U.S. residency, are too narrow. They write that such demographic-based cohorts exclude a large number of self-identified Latinos. "We sense that a primarily demographic approach was narrow, one-dimensional and irrelevant to the very audience we were trying to reach," they write.

Thus, the companies based the study on research around how Hispanics define their own identity. The firm polled 638 self-identified female Hispanics in the U.S., 432 of whom were Communispace members, and 206 panelists. They were given a choice to participate in either English or Spanish.

Among the results, when respondents had to pick only one national ethic or racial label, few called themselves "white," "black" or "brown." Instead, the majority chose country of origin, followed by "Hispanic," then "Latina," "American" then "Lineage," with race and religion much further down the list.

"National pride transcends generations and remains centrally relevant even after decades of acculturation," say the report's authors. "If marketers want their products and messages to resonate, then targeting and tailoring to specific countries is imperative."

The authors also point out that while the current trend is for Latinos to retain Spanish while becoming English fluent, 70% of Latino youth use "Spanglish" with friends and family, "and the use of Spanglish in advertising -- when done well -- has been shown to be very effective with this group," write the authors. The study also found that English was the preferred choice for brand engagement. "We found that many Latinas actually preferred English when it came to participating in our online survey," they write.

The firm's report suggests that Latina moms also prefer some marketing materials written in English. They say, for instance, that coupons in English are easier to use, but that they should be explicitly labeled.

"Unless the business goal is to test Spanish-language advertising marketing initiatives, we needlessly shut out the majority of people who identify with being Latina or Hispanic when we limit our scope to those who prefer to participate in Spanish," they say. "In general, we are moving to a more fused culture where language is only a subset of a larger Latina cultural identity."


Karl Greenberg, Marketing Daily. April 7, 2011

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