Language and Advertising to the Hispanic Community

By David Luna

The complexities of the term "Hispanic" extend to the issue of language. Researchers have tried to figure out whether it is better to create ads in English or in Spanish, or whether to mix languages in the same ad, mimicking Spanglish.

"Over the last decade, my colleagues and I have studied the bilingual segment of the Hispanic population in the U.S. and how those individuals process language in marketing communications. We have approached the topic from a cognitive perspective. That means that we have looked at how a bilingual consumer's mind operates when it comes to processing information coded in words.

Over the years, we have worked in multiple projects, each investigating different aspects of language processing by bilinguals. One of the lessons to be learned is that, when we target Hispanic bilinguals who can speak both Spanish and English but whose most proficient language is Spanish, and we want to create memorable ads, it is fine to do so in English. However, we should carefully craft our ads so they have visuals that clearly support the text. In a later study, we found that those findings had to be somewhat qualified: in some cases, consumers are so highly motivated to process the information in the ad that even when the ad is in their least proficient language (L2) and it does not have a high degree of agreement picture-text, they will remember it as much as when the ad is in their most proficient language (L1). In other words, if Hispanic bilinguals who are most proficient in Spanish want a product badly enough, they will remember ads in English as much as ads in Spanish, regardless of what the ads' pictures look like.

In another set of studies, we looked at the role of Spanglish in advertising. Spanglish is the popular term for mixing Spanish and English in speech or text. This doesn't happen only with those two languages, though. Chinese and English can be mixed in "Chinglish", or, as frequently happens in Singapore, Malay, Chinese, and English can be mixed in "Singlish." The generic linguistic term for mixing languages is code-switching. There are different ways to code-switch. One could start in English, switch completely at some point in the conversation and continue in Spanish, or just switch one word or short phrase to Spanish, or insert common Spanish idioms into English speech. The resulting text or speech is fluid and sometimes incomprehensible for the non-bilingual, but always interesting.

Advertisers targeting bilingual Hispanics have been using code-switching for some time. Latina magazine masterfully uses both languages in its articles. The ads included in the magazine often reflect this hybrid state of existence.

In conclusion, there is a lot to think about when designing campaigns to target bilingual Hispanics. One of them is language. A successful campaign should take into consideration how bilingual consumers process language and craft its creative strategy around it.

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