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Art & Commerce

Pledge of Allegiance

Advertisers can shatter the myth of Latino brand loyalty

by Dr. Inés Poza

June 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ADWEEK. All rights reserved.

Say you're walking around in a foreign country, you're hungry, and you've got the equivalent of a few dollars in your pocket. You're tired and don't feel like tackling a foreign menu and ordering something you might not like. Suddenly, in the distance, you see the Golden Arches. You never eat at McDonald's at home, but suddenly it looks pretty good. Why is that? Is it because you feel loyalty to McDonald's?

Marketing consultants tout Latino brand loyalty as a truism. But I contend it is nothing more than what happens when consumers have lim ited information available to them in a language they understand.

Without that information, or a recommendation from someone you trust, you're willing to buy something that is at least a known product of acceptable quality and cost. With limited choices, however, you can hardly define repeat business as loyalty.

Let's go back to the travel example. On your way to McDonald's, you see a restaurant with a menu in your language, with pictures of the entrées and the prices clearly marked. Suddenly you have a choice. And that could make all the difference.

Currently, total annual U.S. ad expenditures are approximately $300 billion. Less than 1 percent of that goes to Spanish-language advertising. And yet nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population is Latino, with about 70 percent of these consumers receiving the bulk of their information in Spanish. This suggests that U.S. Latinos receive significantly less information about a narrower range of products from fewer categories.

This puts a related myth in perspective as well—the one that says Latinos rely on word-of-mouth from friends and family more than general-market consumers do. Given the relative paucity of information in Spanish, what other resources do they have? Where do you turn when you can't find information on a product?

Twenty years ago, Procter & Gamble was practically the only major U.S. company advertising or packaging in Spanish, and its products are the object of much of this so-called brand loyalty. But while there may be some cultural differences in the degree to which we feel loyalty to anything, it's foolish to think one culture is more likely than another to swear an oath of loyalty to a bar of soap or a box of cereal.

I've found that Latino consumers in the U.S. often are more willing to try new brands than general-market consumers are. The average Latino works more hours for less pay, and has to find ways to stretch limited resources. Who would be more receptive to switching brands if it might mean saving time or money?

Most likely the myth of Latino brand loyalty will evaporate once more companies advertise in Spanish. I see signs of this in every focus group and every interview I conduct.

A recent interview with a Spanish-speaking, U.S. Latino wife and mother illustrates this point and provides an implicit call to action on the part of advertisers: "I work. I have a household to run, a child to raise and a budget to stick to. I look at ads and clip coupons. If someone says they can do it better and for the same price or less, I'll try it. But unless you tell me [in Spanish], how will I know?"

--- Dr. Inés Poza is the founder of Poza Consulting Services in Santa Monica, Calif.

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