Brands debate English vs. Spanish for Hispanic social media outreach

MIAMI: Marketers are taking advantage of opportunities to target Hispanic consumers with social media, relying on bloggers and brand advocates to tell their stories with authenticity.

Brands debate English vs. Spanish for Hispanic social media outreach

MIAMI: Marketers are taking advantage of opportunities to target Hispanic consumers with social media, relying on bloggers and brand advocates to tell their stories with authenticity.

However, marketers face a major challenge when determining whether to use English, Spanish, or a mix of the two in their social media campaigns, notes Manny Ruiz, creative director and organizer of Hispanicize 2012.

“Brands are figuring out how to target their outreach between acculturated Latinos, those who speak English or both English and Spanish, and un-acculturated Latinos, those who primarily speak Spanish,” he says.

Brands including Target, Pampers, Blackberry, and General Motors are among the sponsors at this year's edition of Hispanicize, a Miami conference that helps brands connect with the Latino community. He adds that the sponsor support – nearly triple that of last year – is indicative that brands see an opportunity to reach Hispanic consumers through social media.

Most Hispanic Americans are native-born citizens, according to the 2010 US Census, and only 37% identified themselves as immigrants.

Brands can reach both segments of the Hispanic population by turning bloggers and online influencers into advocates for a client, explains Mike Valdes-Fauli, president of JeffreyGroup, an agency just hired by Target to handle the retailer's Hispanic PR. Some bloggers in the Latino community have strong followings in both languages and therefore can tell a client story with authenticity, he adds.

That strategy proved successful in promoting water-filter company Brita's sponsorship of the Univision reality series Dale Con Ganas.

“We reached out to bloggers and Web influencers, and also had Twitter parties,” says Valdes-Fauli.

Yet despite the fact that a majority of Hispanic consumers are fluent in English, many brands are committed only to Spanish for their social media communications.

In June 2010, Time Warner Cable launched Mi Cultura, a Spanish-language Facebook page where consumers can talk about entertainment. By the end of last year, it saw more than 300% growth in fans compared with the previous year, fueled by young Hispanic consumers, says Carlos De Castro, senior manager of social media for Time Warner.

“At first, we thought the page would be more adult-driven, but social lends itself to young people and they wanted to be part of the conversation,” he explains. To appeal to that younger crowd, Time Warner Cable dabbled in “Spanglish,” but quickly reverted back to Spanish.

“Young people, too, really want to talk in Spanish,” says De Castro.

Edelman's multicultural unit also helps to manage Mi Cultura for Time Warner. The firm's SVP Audrey Ponzio says brands should be wary of industry chatter that suggests English will become the dominant language among Hispanics.

“Young people don't want to lose their connection to language,” she explains. “You see that reflected in the strength of Spanish-language programming.”

The 2010 Census also reinforces the sheer size and buying power of the Hispanic population. Latinos account for one of every six Americans, or more than 50 million people.

Roxana Lissa, president and founder of RL Public Relations, tells PRWeek that forward-thinking clients are recognizing the mainstream market is becoming more multicultural.

In fact, some clients no longer separately hire RLPR to adapt general market execution for Hispanic consumers. Some brands craft the general market and Hispanic communications strategy at the same time.

“This allows us to be more involved,” says Lissa. “We can be more creative and discuss a wider range of messaging options. We're no longer as dictated by general-market strategy.”

That is especially the case in terms of digital marketing, given that consumer targeting is based not only on demographics but passion points, says Javier Farfan, senior director of cultural branding at PepsiCo.

He explains that the ethnic lines blur often, so the brand's mass-market and Hispanic divisions work together “with the same messages” while taking cultural nuances into account.

For example, PepsiCo launched a campaign for its Sierra Mist lemon-lime soft drink brand featuring Aaron Sanchez of the Food Network's Chopped and Heat Seakers. The effort promoted Latin-inspired food and drink recipes.

Recognizing Sanchez's crossover appeal, and that a general-market audience also enjoys Latin food, the campaign featured videos of Sanchez in English and Spanish in which he addresses each language group differently. The brand also created a Facebook tab in both languages.

“We give the consumers the power to consume and share our content in whatever language they want,” says Farfan.

Patricia Taylor, group director for PR at The Vox Collective, says clients such as PepsiCo and GM that take an integrated approach “make our PR jobs easier.”

“It's not about English or Spanish,” she says. “There are spaces where mainstream and Hispanic coincide.”

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