I’ve been in the marketing and advertising business for over 23 years, specializing primarily in the U.S. Hispanic market. Although the U.S. Hispanic market is experiencing a significant shift that is transforming its new generations into bicultural and bilingual individuals a significant need for the use of the Spanish language remains for this segment of the population. Some may even argue that this need is increasing.
With over 320 million Spanish-speakers around the globe, the world’s largest companies are starting to see the tremendous impact and reach of their Spanish-language marketing initiatives. This is particularly true in websites, where at the click of a button one can, in theory, easily and dramatically transform the end user’s experience by converting content from one language to another.
In an ideal world, this transformation say, from English to Spanish, would be ‘magical.’ Language would be just the beginning. As a Spanish-dominant consumer, at the click of the “Español” button on that website, one would be immersed, without even knowing it, into a truly culturally-relevant world where the brand interacts with its visitor flawlessly through language, cultural cues, imagery, and even music. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Even realizing the tremendous growth of the U.S. Hispanic market, few companies have truly committed to creating marketing initiatives with culturally-relevant experiences for a market where there are 32.5 million Hispanic Internet users (as of May 2012) and over three-quarters of Hispanics use the mobile Internet, compared with 73% of African Americans and only 60% of whites (eMarketer, 2013).
Over the last decade or so a few brands have made mediocre efforts to try and capture a slice of the Hispanic market, ‘just to test the waters.’ Naturally, mediocre efforts lead to mediocre results, frustrating CMOs and disappointing their Spanish-dominant website visitors, who can smell a half-cooked website a mile away. Same goes for any other media, beyond websites.
With the sheer growth of the U.S. Hispanic market, America’s largest companies will eventually wake up to the enormous potential of this $1.2 trillion+ market, 76% of which are either Spanish-dominant (38%) or bilingual (38%), according to PewResearch (April 4, 2012). And as they do, they will likely have a ‘Spanish-language button’ or even a dedicated Spanish-language website for their brand. My hope is that whomever is in charge of this marketing initiative will take it seriously and not make the mistake that so many make, by looking at their English-language website and then screaming these 7 little dirty words with a look of sheer epiphany: “We’ll just translate it with Google Translate!” If there has ever been a marketing, cultural and linguistic faux pas, this is it. This single decision can instantly reduce a brand’s credibility in the eyes of Spanish-dominant consumers and demonstrate “0” knowledge and appreciation for the Hispanic consumer market. Google Translate is a great reference tool, but that is the extent of its capabilities. To prove this, do you remember Braniff Airlines’ infamous “Fly in Leather” campaign translation (1977), the one that in Spanish means “Fly Naked”? Well, go ahead and type it into Google Translate right now… Guess what will pop up promptly as you type it in?… “Vuele en cuero” or “Fly naked.” Oh, you can have all kinds of fun with this little algorithmic gadget that can certainly get you out of (or into) trouble in spoken language. But if you are serious about growing your share of this market and communicating with it in the language that Hispanics call “the language of the heart,” (2005 Yankelovich “MONITOR Multicultural Marketing Study.”) the language that over 56% of Hispanics speak at HOME, it is best to leave the Spanish-language copy to a professional. And by that, I don’t mean simply a ‘certified’ translator (You could throw a stone and hit three on good day…). I mean someone who truly understands the Hispanic culture, its nuances, the beauty of the Spanish language, its colorful expressions, and even its infinite non-verbal ways of communicating emotions and feelings.
As a marketer, if you are serious about capturing a share of the Hispanic market, your best bet is on a fully bilingual copywriter who will not only be able to truly understand your message, but also know what it means, how to properly interpret it culturally, with the right tone, manner, and color. And then, come right back to tell you, in your language, what it is that he or she crafted as a communication piece for your brand and why. In the end, you will be more knowledgeable about the Hispanic market. You will look like a hero to your boss. You will properly and proudly present your brand to the Hispanic market, and you will likely grow your brand faster than your competitors. It’s really that simple… y todos ganamos (you can plug this one into Google Translate).