Today, the Dallas based pizza franchise Pizza Patrón will launch a one-day marketing effort to connect with its burgeoning Latino consumer base. For a three-hour period, Pizza Patrón will give away free pizza pies to customers who order in Spanish. This seemingly low-key promotion tactic has actually sparked controversy for the pizza chain–mainly from critics who feel rewarding those who order in Spanish is discriminatory. Good or bad, controversy surrounding the marketing stunt has given Pizza Patrón plenty of publicity. Is there a place for controversy in marketing campaigns, even those that reference Latinos?
I remember listening to popular music as a teenager. Sometimes the way lyrics were sung gave much leeway to misinterpretations. Some of the most famous misinterpretations have become almost legendary and many can be found on the website www.kissthisguy.com. The site is named after the popular Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze in which the lyrics “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” have often been misinterpreted as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”. Kind of funny. What happens, though, when the layer of a second language defines how an individual interprets the letras of a song? The results can be amusing, if not somewhat clever.
In 2005, during my sabbatical in Mexico, I spent a period of time working in a Querétaro marketing firm as a designer. I decided to lend my expertise in exchange for the opportunity to experience day-to-day life in a Spanish-speaking work environment. One day, I was working on an assignment for a real estate client, developing layouts for a promotional print ad. As I had done many times before, I scoured stock photography websites for good images. I found one particular photo of a smiling young couple enjoying their recently purchased home. The couple in the photo happened to be of African heritage. I later reviewed the new designs with the agency’s director. When we came to the layout with the young couple, he pointed to the image and said, “I’m sorry, but here in Mexico we cannot feature images of dark complected people.”
Spending time with family this past summer, I was made aware of how multilingual Latino individuals can be. My mother-in-law came to visit from Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and we all gathered for a cookout one day. It was interesting to see the various ways everyone would communicate and interact. My mother-in-law practically spoke all in Spanish. My wife, who grew up both in Puerto Rico and the U.S., easily toggled between English and Spanish. The younger generations, who spoke primarily in English, would occasionally try their hand at Spanish with our visiting matriarch. Yet, despite our various levels of bilingualism, we all able to share together as a family. Assuming our family is just as common as many other Latino families, to what extent should language determine how companies and organizations connect to Hispanics in the U.S.?
Last year while on route to Puerto Rico, my flight itinerary stopped in Miami for a layover. Sitting in the airport terminal, I overheard pieces of a conversation by two young Latinas. They spoke toggling back and forth between English and Spanish with ease. It was a great example of “Spanglish” being spoken fluidly between two completely bilingual and bicultural individuals. A conversation in Spanglish often ebbs and flows with little grammatical rules and few predictable guidelines as to when one tongue should be spoken versus the other. This creates a unique challenge for marketing professionals seeking to connect with Hispanic audiences. Although Spanglish is used frequently among many young Latinos, is it really possible for brand messages to communicate in this dialect?
Powered by the 2010 Census results, there has been some buzz around the Hispanic marketing arena about what the rapid growth among U.S. Hispanic populations will mean for the future of marketing to Latinos. Traditionally, Hispanic advertising has been seen as a niche-marketing specialty. It was primarily driven by a need to customize brand messages to an under-represented Latino population that spoke Spanish. However, recent insights are now challenging this concept as well as the whole idea of demographic based marketing in itself. One popular fact to emerge from the Census found that over half of all children under two are non-whites. This generation will fuel tremendous growth and change in the U.S. population over the next thirty to forty years. Recent reports also indicate that younger Latinos are language neutral – having neither a preference for Spanish or English. They do, however, value bi-culturalism and being both parts U.S. and Latin American. If Latinos are set to become such an integrated part of the U.S. population, regardless of language, should they really be referred to as a niche market?
West Michigan attorney Michael Gardiner shakes hands with a family from Guanajuato, Mexico and then invites them into his office for a consultation meeting. Before delving into business, he spends a few minutes asking about the family’s hometown and shares his experiences of living in Mexico. Although Michael speaks fluent Spanish, a connection is made with the new clients that transcends language.
People like Robert and Michael represent what I refer to as “honorary Latinos”. They are individuals that live or work and have earned significant credibility within Hispanic communities even though they are both… well… non-Latino Caucasians. While their situations may not seem all that unique, some may find it unusual considering the perception of a cultural disconnect between Caucasians and populations that are commonly referred to as “people of color”. Earning credibility, I believe, is only a part of their stories.