Attention brands: Hispanics could ignite your next big reputation crisis

If companies alienate the country's largest minority group, their brands will suffer.

Pablo Miró
Pablo Miró

Companies have the freedom to meaningfully market to their consumers, to understand the preferences of each diverse segment, and to build lasting relationships with those groups that have the greatest influence over their brand’s success.

Yet the pressure for corporations to align with a new brand of political correctness – or incorrectness – can come dangerously close to pushing core consumers away for good.

For marketers, this change in climate poses a significant challenge. How can they reach out to Hispanics, a berated demographic, when a wave of anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism has made it seemingly permissible to be nasty to them? How can they connect with Hispanics without fearing they will disconnect from some of their white consumers?

Under Trump, Hispanics have become increasingly worried about their future in the U.S., as citizens and immigrants. In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C., nonpartisan fact-tank, 32% of those polled said their group’s situation worsened in 2017. This is more than double the 15% who said the same in 2013.

When somebody is down, it is easier to kick him or ignore his plight.

Marketers cannot afford to do this. The world has changed. We are living in a new era of hyper-connectivity, where people influence people; any individual has the power of driving mass support – for better or worse.

It is really an era of vulnerability for big brands. The bigger the brand, the more eyes it has on it, and therefore the more chances it has to be exposed to a crisis that will affect its reputation.

As investor Warren Buffett once said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."

Today, this could probably come down to just one tweet.

Ask United Airlines, Pepsi, or Samsung. They surely would have been able to control the knocks to their reputation in the past, but not anymore. When a crisis hits, it only takes a couple of hours for the world to punish them.

Companies run this risk with any influential group, and Hispanics are no exception.

If a company relies on homogeneous messages to reach Hispanics, or if their communications turn them off with cultural insensitivities, then this group could ignite the next crisis for their brand reputation.

Consider this:

  • Hispanics have reached the tipping point in terms of volume (50 million-plus), influence (in art, entertainment, politics, sports, and religion) and buying power (more than $1.5 trillion).

  • Latinos are big users of social media (80% versus 72% for non-Hispanic whites, according to figures from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project). Similarly, 68% of U.S. Hispanic adults said they use Facebook, Twitter, or similar platforms, compared to 58% for the U.S. population overall.

With brands, Hispanics want to know if they stand for or against what the U.S. has become: diverse, open, and multicultural.

Companies cannot waver on this issue. They must put themselves in their shoes, understand their mindset, and recognize their contribution.

And they must leave out the stereotypes. The outsider perspective and oversimplified idea of Latinos is what created the cultural misconception in the first place.

Brands must use well-crafted, insightful, and culturally appropriate messages to show they understand how difficult it is for Hispanics in America today – and could be for the next three-and-a-half years.

Pablo Miró is VP for the U.S. market at Newlink Group, a consultancy based in Miami.

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