Tacos or rice and beans? Understanding local flavor is crucial when marketing to diverse groups of Hispanics
A Connecticut social agency was on a mission to help Hispanics using food assistance programs to purchase more healthy foods to boost their family’s nutrition.
Normally such a job can be accomplished quickly with stock photos of kitchens, food and people eating. But when we looked for Hispanic or Spanish food and kitchens, we found a lot of tortillas, chili peppers, and fiesta-style gatherings.
Nothing wrong with that! Mexican food is popular everywhere, but in Connecticut, the population is primarily Puerto Ricans and the culture and food is vastly different than Mexican.
So, we reshot some photos, with a more Caribbean flavor — showing fruit, cilantro, rice and beans. It was yet another lesson in how diversity within the U.S. Hispanic population is important to understand, and how a specially tailored marketing message if often vital to a successful campaign.
Most Latinos in the U.S. are still of Mexican descent — still well over 60 percent — which is why national marketing campaigns tend to skew Mexican. But, that can be a real problem if your goal is to connect with Hispanics outside of states like Texas and California, like in Florida or New York, for example. Both state’s Hispanic populations include large Cuban and Puerto Rican communities.
And, that is only the start of the diversity considerations among Hispanics that might need to be dealt with, depending on your goal.
Hispanic is an ethnicity and not a race, and they can be of any race. The majority of Hispanic people in the United States identify as white, according to 2016 Census data.
Next, about 14.5 million Hispanics in the U.S. identify as “some other race” while over one million identify as Black, and another half a million identify as American Indian or Native Alaskan.
If that’s not complicated enough, consider this: Approximately ten percent of the current Mexican-American population are descended from the early colonial settlers who became U.S. citizens in 1848 via the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican–American War.
Those origins are part of why Florida’s Hispanic population has significant differences from Texas. According to Pew, in Texas, 46% prefer the term Hispanic, while just
8% say they prefer the term Latino. But in Florida, 17% prefer “Latino.” Also, Spanish is spoken in different dialects in the U.S.
There are also big generational differences. Most Hispanics in the US are millennials or younger. But older immigrants are considered “traditionalists” who may not speak
Some Hispanic populations still tend to use of the more formal “usted” in many public situations, whereas younger Puerto Ricans often don’t require such formality, and they may respond better to the use of the word “tu” for you.
The website SpeakingLatino.com has a great illustration of language pitfalls, via the work for drinking straw. It seems almost every nation in Latin America has a different word for it.
A post on the website says: One night out, a girl from Colombia asked her new Puerto Rican friends for a pitillo for her soda. They were shocked; it turns out, pitillo is the word used in Colombia for drinking straw, but in Puerto Rico is a cigarette, often of marijuana.
As the website says, “Make a note to avoid an embarrassing moment. Such innocent words in one country can have more vulgar meanings in other countries.”
The examples of such diversity among Hispanics can go on and on, and people are often quite serious about their reactions. Ask Jennifer Lopez, the beloved Puerto Rican-American entertainer, about reaction she got when cast as Mexican-American icon Selena Quintanilla-Pérez; strong pushback eventually gave way to acclaim for the performance.
You may have heard of another famous example, regarding the Chevrolet Nova car being introduced into Mexico. For a while, there was a rumor that the car didn’t sell well at first and Chevy was forced to change its name from Nova — which if made into two words, “no va” means literally ‘doesn’t go.’ Although that story has been debunked as untrue (Chevy apparently did sell Novas successfully in Mexico and Venezuela using the name) it’s still an interesting illustration of how brands can mean other things in other cultures.
And even though we have used the words Hispanic or Latino in this article, one of the most interesting aspects of marketing to such groups is their preference to be addressed by their nation of origin, rather than the broader labels. Many have joked that they didn’t encounter either term much until they moved to the U.S.
At Camelo Communication, we have a diverse staff from different regions of Central and South America. Even among ourselves, we often ask each other: Would this make sense in your home? Would this be effective if your parents heard it?
Let our diverse group of Hispanic professionals help you to make your message as sharp and effective as possible.