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Why Marketers Usually Fail To Reach Bicultural Hispanics, Like Me

Posted by Maria Lopez-Knowles on June 4th, 2014 at 9:18 am

About 8 years ago while putting up groceries after returning from the supermarket, my late husband, Steve, remarked: "Do you ever buy the same brand of anything? I thought Hispanics were supposed to be brand loyal?"

I pondered the query for a while and responded: “No. I guess I don’t.”  That simple question led me on a different career path because he was right. I didn’t buy the same brand of practically anything, consistently.  Why wasn’t I brand loyal? And why by contrast was my mother so very brand loyal? Some brands were sacred to her: Goya; Café Bustelo; and Clorox.

As a U.S born, second-generation Hispanic, I tend to not be brand loyal because I don’t find a lot of brands going out of their way to connect with me. Truly connect with me.  Ads don’t resonate with me – they are either too reflective of first-generation Hispanic immigrants or too, well, American. And the reality is that as a U.S. born Cuban-Spanish American I live a plurality that few really understand. I’m 100% bicultural.  I take different aspects of my cultural multiplicity wherever I go.

What does that truly mean, to be bicultural? And what can marketers learn from it?

The departed Sam Huntington wrote a book years ago called Who Are We? (He’s also responsible for Clash of Civilizations – if that rings a bell.)  Who Are We is about who we are, as Americans. I didn’t agree with a lot of his opinions on Hispanics and immigration, but I did agree with his American ethos. Americans, he posited, are Morally Upright, employ a Protestant-Work ethic (very much informed by Calvinism), and value self-reliance. We are an individualistic society.

If I look at our Hispanic ethos, we share one commonality, but are different in other aspects. We too are Morally Upright, but that’s the only aspect of our cultures that is shared. We don’t practice a Protestant Work Ethic, because our work ethic isn’t informed by Calvinism, as much as it’s informed by Catholicism.  We employ a Balanced Work Ethic. This doesn’t mean we don’t work hard – which we do. What it means is that we make it a priority to set aside time for our family and friends. Because community over self is paramount –  even more so for less acculturated Hispanics.

We, as Hispanics, also value interdependence and interconnectedness, because at the end of the day, we are again, more community focused, or collectivist. That’s our ethos.

My conflicting ethoi: independence (my American side) and collectivism (my Hispanic side) is paramount to my being. This is the core of my biculturalism.

It took me years to realize this and to truly discern it’s impact in my own life.  I see it very clearly every day now.

Example: For my Hispanic family, I’ve very ‘American’ to many. And a little too self-reliant (which they confuse as being selfish).  I never call my parents ‘enough’ and they don’t understand why my 92-year old mother-in-law is living by herself, though she’s still healthy and incredibly self-reliant.

For my American friends and family, a little too collectivist at times (my social bubble is very tight) – hugging when saying hello and good-bye, and touching while speaking is more than okay – as is interrupting others in a conversation. It’s a communal dialogue, right?

And for my bilingual/bicultural friends and family, I’m absolutely normal.

Marketers who know me and my 2.0 brothers and sisters, know that we are a percentage of each of these cultures.

When you are coming up with a positioning or tagline, don’t assume that I will respond to one only informed by the American ethos (e.g. Take Care of Yourself ). That’s very individualistically focused. A better option for me: Take Care of Your Family and Yourself.  There’s a nuance here: not just family or not just yourself. But both, because I’m bicultural.

Discerning the key levels of acculturation when it comes to Hispanic marketing is the Holy Grail. Knowing them is imperative, but making them actionable will drive greater awareness, engagement and ultimately – advocacy.

3 Responses to “Why Marketers Usually Fail To Reach Bicultural Hispanics, Like Me”

  1. Papo Lopez says:

    Muy bueno Lula, te felicito

  2. maria e. monahan says:

    Great article and SO true, very insightful!

  3. Laurie LeBlanc says:

    Very good. Thanks for sharing.

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