May 04, 2007

How do you get your clients excited and committed to your market? I have found the variety of approaches we multicultural marketing professionals take to sell our market to corporate America inspiring, amusing and at times, just flat out embarrassing. And while we have become more sophisticated in communicating our target's business value, it is fair to say that the most important step in marketing brands to Latinos starts with “marketing latinos” to brands.

Despite the growth of the Hispanic market, clients still continue to voice doubts regarding Hispanic marketing. When it comes to incremental budgets to speak in a different language and culture in our country, the mindset seems to be that a Hispanic initiative is ineffective or unnecessary until proven otherwise. We in the agencies and the media need to get on the same page and have a consistent and compelling discourse to engage the client.

We're all familiar with the basic approaches of selling our market, the most common being the data approach consisting of population growth and growing purchasing power. This is one of the tools that give us the most joy to showcase in snazzy PowerPoint presentations. Media companies are especially good at this. It's an indirect poke at what gives corporations their stability and identity based on calculated risks.

The Québec Lesson

One selling point that I and others have used is that Hispanics in the U.S. outnumber the Canadian population. And while I find this argument somewhat novel in that it compares the size of our market to a country, I must say that it's not necessarily the most strategic as Americans don't really seem to care much about Canadians. Simply put, Latinos should not aspire to the level of indifference our country seems to reserve for Canadians.

But there is something to this little Canadian nugget that has stuck with me. Perhaps it's my temporary childhood obsession with Canada through my television exposure, at the age of four, to the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Or maybe it has been my multiple summer visits in my teenage years to Montreal, where as a multilingual Cuban-American, Canada, and more specifically, Québec culture struck a chord.

I found reassuring Montreal and Québec's mix of Latin-French culture amidst an overwhelming Anglo environment. It was the little things that attracted me such as bilingualism of the youth in the subway as well as well as the marked local tone and humor. This clearly was not France, nor was it your typical North American setting.

Another key element was their identity definition as a healthy reaction to the more powerful English-speaking culture rooted in the rest of the continent. “Nous sommes tous Latins,” or “We're all Latins,” was something I heard a lot with certain Québécois trying to forge a connection with Latinos, who in their eyes, were a different breed of Americans, similar to their own status as Canadians.

This Québécoise mix of cultures was a nod to my being American despite speaking other languages and having lived in other places. So oddly enough, Canada and Montreal made it OK for me to be a U.S. Hispanic.

And while U.S. Hispanics and Québécois are not long lost siblings - although many would claim that Céline Dion and Gloria Estefan undoubtedly are- the two groups surely have more in common than any of them have probably bothered to consider. And we as marketers can learn a couple of lessons from their similarities for the next time we use the “more Hispanics in the U.S. than Canadians in Canada” argument.

The most obvious of the similarities is the status of both groups as linguistic minorities in a politically charged environment about language and identity, albeit the official language status of French in Canada is not the case with Spanish in the U.S. And both groups also support in-language cultural movements and media in the middle of the most dominant cultural force in history, American popular culture.

As it pertains to our industry, French Québec advertising nicely addresses one of the toughest questions Hispanic advertising professionals face. How do we create campaigns that are part of a broader brand story while addressing cultural differences? It's the global branding argument that many brand managers seem to believe is incompatible with U.S. Hispanic campaigns.

Successful branding in Québec addresses being a Canadian while showing the cultural uniqueness of being part of French Canada. As a result, Québécois advertising, besides the French language and its local flavor, also carries a dosage of the French continental preference for more subtle, less direct, or should I dare say - American - advertising.

Similar cultural sensitivities might resonate with Spanish dominant U.S. Hispanics reared with strong European influences. Examples of this can be found in the sensuality gap in advertising, with American women not as comfortable with sensuality as Europeans or Latinas.

The Québécois, like Latinos, also spend a great deal of time and resources on grooming. Looking your best and dressing to the nines seems to be another intra-cultural point of connection with our neighbors North. Another one is the strong iconic power of the flag. The blue fleur-de-lil flag is as commonplace in Québec as a Puerto Rican flag in New York or the Mexican flag in Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles. Yet we're all Canadians and Americans.

Another Québécois advertising lesson for U.S. Hispanic marketing is that dubbed or simply trasncreated spots from English-speaking Canada do not work in French Canada. This is a lesson that American brand managers have been a bit slower to catch on the multicultural side. Equally, the Québécois consumer would not accept spots straight from France in the same fashion that Latin American spots would not connect with Hispanics that live in the States. In both cases, it is about cultural sensitivity to local audiences, while still being part of the bigger culture: Canadian and American, respectively. Other key drivers applicable to both markets include, the importance of family and religion.


So what do we make of this interesting link between Québec and Latinos? The first lesson is that like in politics, all is local before it is global and that brands will not win internationally if we don't start doing a better job at speaking to the diverse groups we have at home. The Canadians have figured this out with a much smaller population, why haven't we?

And before skeptics of the new multiculturalism in the U.S. jump the gun and start equating U.S. Hispanics with the ongoing but until now unsuccessful secessionist movement in Québec, we must clarify that U.S. Hispanics clearly see themselves as Americans. Unlike the Québécois, U.S. Latinos have left their countries of origin looking for a better future, which is part of their notion of being an American. They are lining up to be citizens and learning English, while maintaining their ancestral ties.

What Latinos are doing is simply leveraging the uniqueness of our times and technology to have the best of both worlds and redefine what it is to be American. To a degree, they are leapfrogging their fellow native born citizens and becoming more like the rest of the world, multicultural and multilingual.

And this advantage, exemplified by their children and their seamless culture travels, is giving U.S. Latinos a unique voice. We should listen to them more and not ignore them as we unfortunately do with Canadians, as in them we can find not only a rich and loyal market but also the way to better understanding the rest of the world.

By Roberto Ramos, President/CEO & Co-Founder, Latinvox

Roberto Ramos is President/CEO and Co-Founder of Latinvox a full service Hispanic advertising agency as well as a co-founder of Orsa Consultants, an entity helping corporations and NGOs manage corporate social responsibility and cause-related marketing programs. He can be contacted at


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