Enough. Hispanics Are More Than Soccer, Abuelitas and Spanish

Let's go beyond the cues and generalized labels

When I started my career in Hispanic advertising as a strategist, it was fascinating to see how advertising defined my Hispanic experience. Experiences such as having a quinceañera, living with my abuelita, watching soccer and telenovelas were not my personal experiences growing up or defined my cultural experience.

My reality was a constant search for my own identity. I am the American-born daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, but I wasn't welcomed here or in their country. It wasn't until I started in advertising that I truly began to take note of the ways in which the entertainment industry and news media stereotyped and overgeneralized the Hispanic experience in the U.S.

Today, as we live in a world where a pandemic and social unrest have brought to light the injustices people of color have faced, we can't overlook the biases that exist in Hispanic advertising. The generalized labels and cues that marketers leverage to target this audience further constrain the diversity and inclusive representation of the Hispanic population.

The rise of Hispanic advertising in the mid-1960s presented an underlying opportunity for the marketing industry to challenge and reformulate Hispanic stereotypes. However, these agencies were pressured by Anglo corporate clients to provide "proof of authenticity" (Race & Ethnicity in Advertising).

This need for "proof" inadvertently established the Hispanic ads "must-haves": nationalism, nostalgia for a past left behind, ethnic pride and, most importantly, the multigenerational family. Based on my own context growing up and even today, these "must-haves" didn't really resonate for various reasons and felt as though they narrowed my experience to an immigrant narrative that wasn't mine.

Considering how much the Hispanic audience has changed in the U.S., you would think the "proof of authenticity" wouldn't continue to be a yardstick. Unfortunately it is; I have sat in meetings where my team and I shared creative work informed by unique insights that didn't follow the "must-haves" and were asked, "How is it Hispanic?"

This strategy begins to become problematic as society continues to group and define this audience that represents more than 20 countries—an issue which has plagued this population since the days of colonization. In homogenizing a very diverse audience, there is a missed opportunity for brands to tap into meaningful insights that drive emotive messaging and connections.

If you're still not convinced, think of the many labels used to group and/or categorize people from Spain, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and those born in the U.S. who cannot be easily defined (e.g., Hispanic, Latino, LatinX, Chicano, or national origin). This perfectly signals the need for marketers to invest the time and money to get to know us better.

Now is the time to end this antiquated thinking. If marketers choose to do what's comfortable for them, brands risk coming across as tone deaf to their audience's realities. Our marketer toolbox is vast and sophisticated enough to stop reaching the Hispanic audience like it's 1965. Today we can go beyond the labels to help stop division, alienation, generalization and stereotypes. 

We can stop leaning on Hispanic cues and generalized labels and start creating our vision of how we should market to Hispanic audiences. So with that in mind, here are some issues we should address:

Not everyone speaks Spanish. Seriously.

It seems silly to say this, but understand that language has its place. It isn't a strategy. Language isn't one-dimensional—it's complex in how it's used. How your target audience uses the language (if at all) to connect to their own identity and Hispanic experience is what the focus should be.

Let's be honest—we all have biases.

To help remove them, it is important to have people who represent this community assure relevant cultural insights are leveraged to inform the work. I have had the opportunity to see how the impact of removing bias can have on the work firsthand. The agency I worked with at the time made sure my involvement went beyond strategy. I was heavily involved throughout the development of the campaign—including production. This doesn't happen as often as it should. As the voice of the consumer, I helped inform casting decisions and made sure those cultural insights that informed the brief came to life in the creative. 

Remember you are not the target audience. And it's OK.

Even if you have been to several countries in Latin America or learned Spanish, being Hispanic in the U.S. is a totally different experience. I would say visit the barrios (post-pandemic) where your target lives for some context. However, taking this action doesn't replace the commitment marketers need to make to be better in identifying their Hispanic target audience. Investing the time, money and people can help to avoid the pitfalls of judging Hispanic strategy and creative based on the bias that Hispanic cues and generalized labels can create. 

Profile picture for user Dania Aguayo
Dania Aguayo
Dania Aguayo, director of integrated strategy at Campbell Ewald, is passionate about cultural understanding and asks brands to stop serving up the empanadas and margaritas as if all Hispanics/Latinos consume them with their abuelitas.

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