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Dual and Dueling Ethos: The Bicultural Reality

February 13, 2020

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Today, the Hispanic market represents 20% of the population, includes 64 million members, and touts a GDP of $2.0 Trillion. Yet few brands understand that the difference between general market and the Hispanic market is MUCH more than just language – it’s also cultural. Even fewer brands truly understand the divisions within the Hispanic market’s generational cohorts and why it’s important to segment appropriately before launching a Hispanic market campaign.

One of the most important cultural differences that marketers need to navigate is the dueling ethos of collectivism and individualism.

Collective Ethos

In decades past, the Hispanic market was basically monolithic. It was comprised predominantly of Spanish-speaking immigrants of Mexican descent who embodied a collective ethos – a value system where the family and/or community takes precedence over all things, including the individual. ‘Sacrificing for the greater good’ is the over-riding narrative, and interdependence is reinforced day in and day out. Additionally, group cohesion is highly valued, family goals are prioritized over individual desires, and cooperation is the norm.

Individual Ethos

In contrast, the U.S. is a society built around the individual. Informed by the Protestant Work Ethic, individualism stresses the importance of self-reliance and acting independently. Things like hard work, discipline and frugality are paramount, and personal achievement is valued over group goals. In fact, being dependent on others is actually viewed as a negative.

That’s not to say that one ethos is better than the other. Both have strengths and weaknesses. But what’s important to understand is that they are often at odds with each other – and navigating these distinct ideals can be extremely challenging.

The Bicultural Reality

While I was growing up, I was being taught the ways of the collective in my Hispanic household, while being taught at school to act independently. But if I tried to act in a self-reliant fashion at home, it was negatively reinforced immediately. In fact, my mom would say that I was being egoista, or selfish. Acting independently was viewed as a negative.

What’s more, when I was in first grade, my sister told me that her friend was having a garage sale. It left me flabbergasted. I actually believed that when someone had a garage sale they were literally selling their garage. I laugh now, but the reality is that Hispanic families don’t typically have garage sales. They just donate their older or used goods to the next immigrant family in their community.

What Does This Mean for Brands?

When we talk about general market ads, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re talking about marketing that is created through the lens of an individualistic perspective. When we develop ads for the Spanish dominant Hispanic market, we do so in the context of a collectivist society.

Tips for Marketing to Spanish Language First (SLF)

When developing marketing aimed at a Spanish Language First (SLF) audience, we need to keep in mind the lessons of the collectivist ethos.

  1. Ads should be in Spanish ONLY
  2. Position products and services as ideal for families, when possible
  3. Use imagery of families engaging with each other and enjoying each other’s company
  4. Leverage humor. Be entertaining and informative
  5. Don’t assume that a general market positioning will work for a collectivist individual. For example, SLF dress for appearance over comfort (they want to look good for the collective), while those raised with an individualist ethos often dress for comfort and personal satisfaction.

Tips for Marketing to English Language First (EFL)

When developing marketing for the bilingual/bicultural English Language First (ELF) Hispanic (the largest sector of the Hispanic market), we need to understand that this audience is a hybrid of two conflicting ethos. Reaching and touching this individual is paramount to a brand’s TOTAL Hispanic market return on investment.

  1. Ads should be in English, primarily, with ‘winks’ in Spanish (winks are cultural/linguistic cues that can connect with the target without alienating others)
  2. Validate their hybrid nature in the ad’s narrative (character is working independently AND helping family members - code switching in the process)
  3. Leverage cultural cues that resonate with the target (e.g. Latin music, religious imagery, familial recipes)
  4. Depict hybridity in an authentic fashion (e.g. ELF dresses for comfort AND appearance).

Consumer X

As brands start to understand the buying and influencing power of the Hispanic market, the need to engage with these audiences in culturally and linguistically relevant ways becomes greater than ever. At Gravity, our Consumer X division works to understand these underserved audiences and helps brands connect with them in order to drive emotional brand connections that create lifelong fans and advocates. How can we help you?

Maria Twena

Maria Twena is a pioneer in multicultural marketing who leads Gravity's Consumer X expertise.

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