The Paradox of Being (Named) Latino

The other day, I received a curious e-mail from a colleague. He was kind of uncomfortable because I had added him to my Hispanic Marketers list in Twitter. He thought that being “tagged” as a Hispanic market professional could limit his future opportunities. My first reaction was total surprise. I normally tend to organize my social media contacts with tags, lists, groups, etc. using my personal criteria, and never had a problem with that.

I understood his concern: a single tag could be misleading, showing a part and not the whole.

But I couldn’t also help but wonder, why are we proud of our Latino origin but hate when we are labeled by others?

Latinos vs. Hispanic – the Origin of a Tag

Hispanic is a term selected by the government to group and track the needs of Spanish-speaking people in the country. Latino is seen as a term that originated within the community, more progressive than the other term, which is more formal and imposing. Today both terms are used interchangeably.

The origin of the Hispanic term had a huge impact, not only starting what is now called Hispanic marketing, but also creating another term (label) for the American Whites, now renamed as non-Hispanic Whites.

Tags Hide More Than They Reveal

As with my colleague, labels create different reactions when used in isolation.

Latino has a positive connotation when linked to culture (MTV Latino, Latin Grammys, etc.) as it’s associated to a lifestyle, music, and aesthetic that are not only more appealing but also affect the mainstream.

The same word, used in a socio-political context, can be a synonym of “social handicap,” implying lower income, school dropouts, and many other characteristics that – though present among some Hispanic groups – don’t represent the whole of this segment nor its essence.

The Paradox Between Being Latino and Being Tagged as Latino

“Are Hispanics more loyal?” “What’s Hispanic in this new campaign?” “Are Latinos connected to their culture or are they becoming more assimilated?”

I always hear these kinds of questions from clients who are trying to find a black and white approach to understanding Latino consumers.

The reality is that the Hispanic segment is full of logical contradictions, and understanding those paradoxes can lead to leverageble, useful insights (I will cover that in future posts).

Let’s take a couple of examples:

  • Less than 0.13 percent of U.S. Hispanics are from Chilean descent. Yet, the day that the Chilean miners were rescued was one of the most popular events in the Latino Twittersphere ever. Even those who don’t want to be labeled as Hispanics contributed to Univision’s online record.
  • Only 37 percent of Latinas blog mostly about their ethnicity; most Latinas don’t mention or rarely bring up that they are Latinas. Yet, more than 70 percent agree that their Hispanic origin has contributed to increase their readership.
  • When it comes to family, Hispanics rule, and everyone knows that for them, “familia” (family) also includes extended members. Yet around 30 percent of all Hispanic moms are single moms.

We Must Move Beyond Labels

  • We use labels as marketers to group our audiences, that doesn’t mean that the audience uses the same labels to define themselves.
  • As the Hispanic community continues to grow and play a bigger role in society, you need to have a holistic and inclusive approach.
  • No one wants to be labeled, that doesn’t mean that they won’t stand up and support a cause under a specific label.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Targeting Latinos is not about making it all Latino. You don’t need to fill your spots with salsa music or Mexican hats to make it appealing. You get the point.
  • Pull the right (emotional) trigger; let the audience embrace your message. The less in your face, the better.
  • Build a relationship; gain their trust before trying to make your brand as one of them.
  • Hispanic digital strategy should not be the Spanish version of the mainstream one. Create social presence and conversations based on relevant insights and topics.
  • Don’t try to act Latino to gain their favor. It’s like Spanglish: many Latinos use it, but very rarely a brand that uses Spanglish gets positive reactions.
  • When the movement comes from the inside, it’s more credible. For example, Latism organization has been very effective in motivating Latinos to raise their voices by voting, using the hashtag #yaeshora (the time is now).

Back to my colleague, there’s something I forgot to mention. As I said before, I normally use more than one tag or list for the same person, and that was the case with my friend too. But in his e-mail, he didn’t complain about being part of my other groups…

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