No Sombreros Por Favor

By Ivonne Kinser

To effectively position a product or service in the Hispanic market, is mandatory that the message is clear and free of stereotypes, myths, preconceptions, and ambivalence. In other words, the message must be perceived by the target audience as if it was designed by them.
The portrayal of a Hispanic riding a burro or wearing a sombrero, is an example of poor cultural sensitivity and lack of factual information. The burros, the sombreros, and the mariachis may well communicate Mexico to a non-Hispanic audience, but not to a Mexican or to a Hispanic.
Even worse, anyone of Mexican descent will perceive this image as an indirect insult.

Hispanics, like most people, dislike been labeled. When a consumer perceives he's being stereotyped, his immediate response is that the message was not created or executed by someone like him. At that moment, the golden rule of successful advertising communication (the message must be perceived to have come "from someone like me"), would be broken.
In a matter of seconds the viewers' attention is diverted to the core message to the stereotyped image presented in the ad. As the viewer become trapped in a tangle of communication nuances, he is certain not only to miss the core message but also to walk away from the product and the sponsor.
Commonly, the symbols that are used in stereotypical messages, (images, music, slang, etc), are not the ones the people been stereotyped would use to define themselves.

You would think that in the multicultural society we all live, featuring a Mexican riding a burro, and wearing a sombrero to portrait a Hipanic person, is a communication mishap that today's adverting industry is mature enough not to make. Unfortunately, that is not the case and those mistakes are still made by some of the best-known agencies.
I witnessed it myself no long ago when a well-known advertising network was given the asigment of shooting a Hispanic TV spot. In the set, (a Hispanic little girl's room), all the toys were made of papier-mâché. Burros and other colorfull animals made of "paste", (like the ones you find in a souvenir store in Acapulco), were carefully displayed all over the little girl's room when the Mexican Client arrived to the set. Hispanics should be happy they didn't get to witness such lack of cultural sensitivity from the brand. On the other hand the Mexican Client, as you can imagine, was not so happy with the agency.

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