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Awkward: Showing up on time to a Puerto Rican party

June 24, 2011 1 Comment »

Following my last entry, I’m going to start off with some shocking and/or interesting statistics of the ever changing fabric of our American quilt.  While there are many demographics of immigrants and non-native English speakers in the US, this entry will focus primarily on the rapidly growing population in the US.

  • Young people 24 and under represent 35% of all Hispanic online users.  (Emarketer)
  • The US Hispanic market that is online has grown from 15.7 million to 20.9 million in the last 5 years alone.  (Emarketer)
  • “The 47 million-plus Hispanic population in the U.S. accounts for 15% of the total U.S. population and have spending power of $850 billion. (University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth)
  • From 2000 to 2006, Hispanic purchasing power in the US climbed more than 63%, to $798 billion. (University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth)
  • Latinos and other minorities were responsible for 85% of US population in the last 10 years (Adage)

It’s clear to see that the Hispanic market in the US is nothing to ignore.  There is an ever growing percentage of Americans that are looking for your messages, your products, and your services: in Spanish.  Making this connection isn’t easy, but it’s not as hard as you might think; it’s a learning process.

However, if we’re learning anything at all, it’s that Google translate isn’t going to get us there.  A is not just a ; reaching out to the Hispanic market takes more.  It means understanding cultural nuances, sensitivities, humor and colloquialisms. In addition, Spanish phrases and idiomatic expressions are not consistent among all Spanish speaking countries.

Esther Novak, CEO, VanguardComm hits the nail on the head here when she says “Those who are anxious to tap the market but inexperienced at reaching it must not make the easy mistake of “selling to the Hispanic bloc” — the assumption that a Cuban thinks like a Mexican thinks like a Puerto Rican. Each of the 22 Latino nationalities has its own cultural nuances, idioms and assimilation. Businesses need to understand these factors, which include a connection to home country; multi-generational households; mistrust of institutions; a belief in fate; respect for the elderly; the influence of community leaders; the role of faith; and the upholding of tradition, celebrations, humor and cultural icons.”

Here I have a couple examples of a good and bad way to approach the situation:

Here’s a failed attempt by AT&T.

The telecommunications giant AT&T created a series of marketing ads in Puerto Rico where a wife tells her husband to go downstairs and call Mary because they are running late.   Seems innocent enough, right? Oh no!  In Puerto Rico this behavior was seen as offensive, as many wives would never order their husbands in this way nor would they think it’s necessary to call regarding their late arrival.

This campaign proved to be ineffective and failed to resonate with the consumer on a personal and cultural level.   It did not draw on cultural experiences nor connect with the consumer.  Instead the poor translation became distracting and was merely an advertisement gone awry.

Here’s a successful approach by The Home Depot.

When I say successful, I mean excellent.  The Home Depot has successfully integrated a variety of ways to approach the Hispanic population.  They have shown a strong commitment by providing bilingual signage on all of their products, offering bilingual workshops and how-to-clinics, as well as tips and tools on Spanish directed Youtube site.  What’s more, they sponsor Major League Soccer as well as the Mexican National soccer club.  They clearly understand the cultural importance of soccer to their Hispanic clients and show their loyalty by supporting their teams.  By taking this multi-faceted approach The Home Depot is able to connect with their customers not only in Spanish but also to their cultural needs and wants.

Bottom line is this: It is important to address this rapidly growing and changing market in the correct way; not only in their own language but also within the context of their local culture.  Working with a translation agency is an excellent way to bring your message full circle by providing cultural understanding.  They can work with you directly to understand what you are trying to do and figuring out the best ways to approach your translation. Concisely expressing your message in the tone and voice of a native speaker is priceless.


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