These 3 cultural truths are the key to Hispanic healthcare marketing

Different communities have their own languages of choice, agency and trust.

Campaigns need to do much better to break through with Hispanic audiences. (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Campaigns need to do much better to break through with Hispanic audiences. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Dear white marketers: you’re getting inclusion wrong, and people are dying because of it. 

I’ve been leading healthcare marketing campaigns for the Hispanic market for 30 years. Here is what I know: from the tokenism of the 90s to the “woke washing” of the 2000s, trying really hard is rarely enough. Even when your intentions are the best, the budget and talent aligned and the campaign flawlessly purpose-driven, you can fail miserably. 

I’ve sat in so many meetings to ensure that the “diversity” box is checked. Are we depicting Brown people? Are they happy? Do we have bright, primary colors? Hell, let’s throw some food on the table – Latinos are always eating, right? 

My favorite is the language topic. Healthcare is complicated enough in English, and we’re worried about translating government compliant, legalese jargon into Spanish? Who are we kidding? 

More than half (55%) of Hispanics consider themselves bi-cultural, with English as their dominant language. For instance, I’m Cuban-American, born in Miami and I always check the Hispanic box. That makes marketing to Hispanic audiences complicated. Healthcare marketing is even more so, because brands don’t understand the audience.

Why aren’t Hispanics getting vaccinated?

Efforts to market vaccines are the latest, most urgent example of how healthcare marketers are getting the Hispanic audience wrong. Campaigns are failing and, as a result, Hispanics are dying because urgent messages about public health are getting lost.

Representation works both ways, especially for Hispanic communities. We are overrepresented as frontline workers by at least three times our percentage of the U.S. population. As caretakers of those with COVID-19, we are also its most frequent victims: Hispanic frontline workers are dying of COVID-19 faster and in higher numbers than any other group. 

Yet Hispanics, along with Black people, are the least likely to be vaccinated. Our culture remains underrepresented as advertisers continue to refer to us as a “minority demographic” and struggle to mimic an authentic perspective. Healthcare marketing typically “targets” rather than engages  – and this is precisely why it often does not work. 

Put simply, there is an underlying lack of trust. It’s not what we’re saying; it’s how we’re saying it. Most of the time, healthcare companies use the wrong language (I mean layman’s terms, not Español) at the wrong literacy level. That leads to lots of questions and misinformation. So we go to our families, peers and worse — social media — to understand.

Here are three cultural truths you must accept to market healthcare to Hispanics.

1. It’s not about language. 

We are speaking different languages, and I don’t mean Spanish and English. 

In Latin culture, family comes first. For women, that means before everything, including their own health. Latin families are connected deeply to their tradition of resilience, which is tied to self-help, traditional remedies and family cohesiveness. Older generations and their views are revered, rather than dismissed, and their input weighs heavily in family decision-making. 

Healthcare marketing disrespects these traditions. It tells us to ignore advice from our aunts and uncles. It shames mothers for giving sugary drinks to their kids. It tells us that Abuelita’s cooking is bad for us. (Even if it is, who’s gonna tell Abuelita that?) Marketing only works when it respects culture and tradition.

2. It’s about trust.

Healthcare marketing requires trust. And Hispanics have lots of reasons not to trust the government — or marketers. 

Traditional Hispanic families, especially those helmed by older generations, may view government-mandated or encouraged procedures with suspicion. This is not the product of ignorance, but the complex history of government mandates reminding Latino people of revolution, communism or dictatorships in their home countries. 

To make it worse, The US isn’t very “pro-immigrant” now. We’re being told to get vaccinated by the very same government that spewed anti-immigrant rhetoric for four years. Many Hispanic families have mixed legal status and worry that getting vaccinated will jeopardize a family member. 

3. It’s also about showing up

Don’t just spend on TV and digital campaigns. Be part of the Hispanic community. Show up for them.

Marketers approach Hispanic communities with “facts” about their health, expecting them to take our messages at face value. I’ve seen lots of media dollars spent but very few healthcare brands authentically connect with Hispanic communities. 

Go beyond logo placement during Hispanic Heritage Month. I mean true connection: Offering a helping hand, educating about prevention and chronic illness, understanding values around family, church and connection to where they came from. 

This is hard. Even I struggle with the right balance. But different communities have their own languages of choice, agency and trust. 

Get those right, and you may even save some lives. 

Diana Brooks is CEO of The 3rd Eye.

This column first appeared on campaignlive.com. 

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