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Are Hispanics creatures from Mars?

February 2, 2010

I recently ran into an article published by Adweek. The title of the article was: “AOL: Spanish-Language Web Ads Miss Target.” The publication revealed the research results obtained by AOL in a recent study that, apparently, sought to understand Hispanic market segmentation for online advertising purposes.

There was something surprising about the research findings. According to AOL executives the research showed that, “…gauging Hispanics’ attitudes and language preferences only by their level of acculturation is insufficient, given the size and richness of the online Hispanic universe.” The article continued with something that AOL executives recommended: “…brands should segment Hispanics by life stage, such as their age and whether they have children.”

Size and richness of the Hispanic community is an indisputable fact. Hispanics have a variety of subcultures. A Latino on the East is different from a Hispanic on the West. But, what is surprising to me is that a company with such a strong tradition in the online marketing community may have been targeting Hispanics the wrong way — or at least that is what is implied in the research findings.

Targeting the Hispanic market by levels of Acculturation only, is a fundamental mistake that should never cross any marketer’s mind, I believe. An approach based on how a Latino has adapted to the American culture ignores the very basic principles of segmentation such as demographics, geographics and lifestyle. There is no reason to put those principles on the side when profiling Latinos.

This issue reminds me of a group discussion that I once participated in when developing the creative strategy for a TV spot of a major corporation. The spot was going to air in some of the key Hispanic cities in the U.S. The discussion was focused, as you can imagine, on Hispanic consumer insights and segmentation. Well, after almost an hour, the meeting got so intense that one of the team members expressed with disappointment, “why are we thinking so hard about this? We (Hispanics) are not martians after all.” The discussion took a different direction after that.

The point that my colleague was trying to make is that the same variables that marketers use to understand all other markets should be used to understand Latinos. Yes, we need to take Acculturation into account but that should not be the only focus in your target market rationale. At the end of the day, Latinos are part this community with the same basic needs as everybody else.

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