When bad Hispanic advertising happens to good companies

Unfortunately, many companies miss the mark when advertising to Latinos. Usually it’s because corporate decision-makers are not paying close enough attention to their Hispanic marketing efforts. They simply don’t understand or carefully consider Hispanic cultural nuances when planning their outreach efforts.

Whether they are Spanish translation errors or subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) cultural misinterpretations, these marketing mishaps are a waste of advertising dollars, often requiring additional investment to “clean up the mess” and start fresh with a whole new campaign to reach this market segment.

Some classic gaffes from the past:

    When “translated” into Spanish, the Dairy Association’s astoundingly successful “Got Milk?” advertising campaign asked Latino consumers “Are you Lactating?”

    During the Pope’s visit to Miami, a local T-shirt company printed shirts that read, “I saw the Potato” because in Spanish the article “the” can be either masculine (el papa) or feminine (la papa); on the T-shirt they used the feminine, which describes the tuber rather than the head of the Catholic Church!

    In the late 1970’s Braniff Airlines tried to promote their all-leather interiors by translating the English slogan “Fly in leather.” Unfortunately, the literal translation invited Spanish-speaking passengers to “Fly Naked.”

Blunders from more recent years:

    1. Cincinnati Radio Station WLW – “The Big Juan” Billboard

    In early May 2007, Cincinnati’s WLW-AM launched a billboard campaign throughout the city featuring a man with a dark mustache dressed in a traditional Mexican outfit, complete with a Mexican flag and a donkey. The headline read “The Big Juan,” which was intended as a humorous play on the station’s branding as “The Big One.” Someone inside Clear Channel Communications (WLW’s owner) should have been sensitive to the fact that this campaign could offend the growing Hispanic population in town (which it did).

    2. Tecate’s “Cold Latina” Billboard

    Back in 2004, Labbat USA, the U.S. Distributor or Tecate Beer, came up with what they called a tongue-in-cheek billboard for Tecate, meant to publicize the fact that the beer was now sold in bottles, rather than only in cans. It showed a chilled, ready to drink, Tecate bottle along with the phrase, “Finally, A Cold Latina.”   

    This example illustrates the importance of truly understanding Hispanic culture before advertising to reach this demographic. Critics felt “the ad propagates negative stereotypes of Hispanic women as being loose and overly sexual,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Family is extremely important to Latinos and any offense to a family member is certainly not appreciated. As a son, husband, brother and father of Latino women I found it offensive that a company would imply that all Hispanic women are “hot.”

     Most Latinos understand that situations like this usually arise from a lack of knowledge, understanding and sensitivity, rather than an attempt to offend. Therefore, in general, we tend to cut these companies some slack. No, I won’t stop drinking Tecate beer because of this particular advertisement (I actually love a cold Tecate with salt and lime!), but I would not hesitate to try another brand if their advertising utilized sound research and insight in the development of their message… Hey, I could like it better than Tecate!

    3. Hershey’s “Hispanic Milk Candy”

    In 2004, Hispanic pop star Thalia Sodi (Mrs. Tommy Mottola for those of you who have no idea who she is) proudly branded a new Hershey’s line of “Hispanic Inspired” candy with her name. The new line included a candy bar naively called “Cajeta Elegancita.

    There wouldn’t be an issue if the product was being marketed in Thalia’s native Mexico, where the word “cajeta” has the G-rated meaning of milk candy (loosely translated). Unfortunately for Hershey’s, in parts of Latin America “cajeta” is also a derogatory slang term for a part of the female anatomy. So if an Argentinean residing in the United States ran into this product at the grocery store, best case scenario he would have a good laugh. Even if “cajeta” is the real and true name for the Mexican confection, it would have made better business sense to go with the still-in-the-ballpark name of “Dulce de Leche” milk candy, as other companies have opted when marketing this product in the United States.

The lesson businesses should take away from all these examples is clear – when looking for employees whose job responsibilities include serving the Hispanic community, make sure you find individuals who are truly bilingual and bi-cultural. The same goes for outsourcing your marketing and advertising efforts. It is not only knowledge of the language, it’s understanding the differences in meaning that are specific to a particular country or region.

Even more critical is a deep understanding of the culture: knowing what to take into consideration prior to developing a piece of communication, being aware of what could be offensive or otherwise misinterpreted, and having the cultural awareness to find alternative solutions.

Even if this represents a higher investment in personnel for your company, believe me, it will be more than worth it.

  • Gerardo

    Cajeta in Mexico , also means someone who has a pretty bad “temper”. Thank you ;)

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Juan Tornoe is the owner and Sr. Consultant at Hispanic Trending, the leading Latino marketing and advertising blog, and is a national and international consultant and public speaker. He has worked for more than 15 years on the media, agency and client sides of the marketing and advertising industry, with experience in copywriting, strategy development, media buying and consumer research.

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