The power of cultural nuances: How to create authentic marketing campaigns for diverse communities

By Danny Alvarez

Posted on 09-21-2020

In contemplating a headline for my upcoming Adobe MAX session, America in Spanish is America, my mind was drawn to American communities and the idea of America itself. Despite being a child of two cultures, I had never really considered that America is spelled exactly the same in both English and Spanish. It is the same and not the same. America is symbolic. It is powerful. The promise of America draws people to it from every culture. And yet, we interpret it in different ways.

In my work as an executive creative director for Republica Havas, I strive to consider the subtle nuances of language and culture, both in the advertising we create and the stories we tell. Those nuances are key when it comes to developing creative concepts and then connecting those ideas to the communities for whom we’re creating. Uncovering the diverse cultural nuances across all the different Hispanic communities allows us to connect with them in meaningful ways that ultimately result in a powerful business advantage, when done right.

The Hispanic community is romantic, vibrant, and loud. There are a multitude of degrees in the passion that is felt, and how things are communicated. It’s a whole mentality and way of life. As marketers and creators, we have to find a way to capture their hearts so we can start building a relationship between brand and consumer. This is something that many agencies continue to struggle with. To win the fast-growing Hispanic American marketplace, you need to understand the nuances, the similarities and differences are as multi-dimensional as the word America itself.

How do we tap into the Hispanic American market authentically? It can’t just be an ad. It has to be a conversation.

The mindset of U.S. Hispanic youth is transforming. They have different motivations and drivers than their parents. Hispanics currently account for 25 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 25. That means Hispanics make up one-fourth of a critical consumer group. Our campaigns need to speak to them, so we need to understand what’s important to them and where they come from. So, how do we tap into the Hispanic American market authentically? It can’t just be an ad. It has to be a conversation. From a brand perspective, we need to figure out how to start a conversation and engage with them, making them want to stop and pay attention to what we are saying.

Speaking their language: Understanding the diverse array of Hispanic communities in the U.S.

We can’t talk about Hispanic demographics without taking into consideration the language that they speak and where they are from. There are different dialects, different slangs, even different usages of the same words. When it comes to the Spanish language, each culture or country puts its own spin on it to make it uniquely theirs, which makes it challenging to create advertising for the Hispanic population. How and when do we speak to these communities and come across as legit, real and authentic?

A lot of this comes down to internal diversity and inclusion. To create an impactful ad or campaign, you need to hear and pay attention to the voices that have the insights. That’s why it’s important to have different backgrounds represented on your team, from creatives to strategists to the account team members. Listening to real people with real experiences and anecdotes will make your ads real. You need to be able to identify cultural insights that resonate and speak to your audience in a way that is authentic and not stereotypical.

At Republica Havas, we are fortunate to already have an organically diverse office environment with many different cultures represented, which allows us to work effectively across the broad Latino community. To me, this provides us with a unique advantage. As the leading multicultural partner for Havas, we work with agencies throughout the network to ensure brands are properly representing this important demographic and that their visuals, copy and context are correct and meaningful.

What does “Hispanic American” really look like, anyway?

Finding the right way to market to such a diverse group of people is not an easy task. Everything from languages to visuals is key in terms of authenticity. In Spanish, the same word can have two different meanings depending on what country you’re from, and while we have to navigate these linguistic differences, identifying the right visual representation is just as important. After all, Latinos come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and while that’s the beauty of our culture, visual resources that represent the full spectrum can be very limited.

We shouldn’t be basing our marketing on skin tones or stereotypical features. Yet, that’s generally all we have to work with when it comes to stock photos. Recently, I had a client approving some animatics and they asked, “Is that really a Hispanic household?” And I was thinking in my head, well, what is a Hispanic household? I mean, do we need to have crazy wallpaper in the background? Do the couches need to be orange? The truth is, a Latino household will be representative of the influences and design-eye of that particular Hispanic. There doesn’t always have to be a saint’s statue in the corner or classic children’s communion photo in the background.

Consider search terms as an example. When you type in the words “Hispanic female,” what pops up? Looking through stock images, you have to ask yourself, is she really Hispanic? Where is she from? What is her culture? Have I met a person like that? Could she belong to this community? What’s her story? There is no right and wrong, so the question really becomes: does this make sense for the specific community we’re trying to speak to?

A depiction of a group of diverse individuals

Image source: Adobe Stock/elanabsl.

Turning to Adobe Stock and “undiscovered content” to avoid clichéd or overused Hispanic imagery

The goal is authenticity and reality when it comes to effective marketing, so traditional stock imagery won’t cut it. There’s nothing worse than seeing the same model throughout three different campaigns for three different companies that have nothing to do with one another.

There’s this one particular image that has become stock famous from the Hispanic search filters. I’m a middle-age Latina with gray hair. It’s an amazing photo, and its part of a huge series, but I’ve now seen her in banking, pharma, and CPG ads. I’ve seen her image used in so many different places that I don’t want to use her. To me, this image defines inauthenticity. As amazing as she is, we have to be able to offer more than just this one Hispanic woman. Yet she pops up, without fail, as soon as you type “Hispanic” into the search filter.

This is one of the reasons my team uses Adobe Stock, to help us avoid these overused images. Adobe Stock has an “undiscovered” search feature that allows you to see footage and images that are rarely used or not shown in traditional searches. It’s a great way to bring new faces into the mix; faces like mine, and yours. By using this undiscovered content, we create more relatable ads that feel more real — images of people that feel familiar, not because you’ve seen them in ads before but because they look like people who are part of your community.

Latin American themed cartoon doodles.

Image source: Adobe Stock/balabolka.

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American brands need to reinvent themselves and embrace Hispanic communities

There is no one-size-fits-all campaign that is unanimously accepted across all cultures. What works for one demographic may not translate well for another group, quite literally. “America” in Spanish is América, but the meaning isn’t exactly the same — understanding people and their complexities is crucial for effective advertising. To develop compelling, creative concepts, we need to understand and truly speak to these cultural nuances.

As the Latino population in the U.S. continues to grow, brands and the agencies that serve them will need to reinvent themselves to communicate and connect with this group of people, and this will only be achieved by genuinely getting to know them. This reinvention is going to be critical for agencies to succeed with their marketing and storytelling efforts within these communities. Testing, insights, and empathy are the strategies of tomorrow that will define who wins — and loses.

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