By: Cassandra Whisenant
We consume thousands of messages daily. Messages we receive from other people, from our environments, and from the media. When I was little, I watched Univision with my grandmother. I do not speak Spanish, but I still understood the TV shows and the ad spots between programs. These messages told stories of beautiful women in vibrant colors falling into the arms of strong, smiling men. Stories built on machismo and defined gender roles.
As a female Latinx advertising student, I believe it’s more important than ever to remember that ads tell stories and those stories have the power to shape us. It’s easy for advertisers to employ stereotypes and use them to reach communities they don’t fully understand (Kelleher, 2019), such as the common use of machismo in ad campaigns targeting Latinx communities. Machismo is defined as “an attitude, quality, or way of behaving that agrees with traditional ideas about men being very strong and aggressive (Merriam-Webster.com, 2021).”
As communications professionals, and storytellers, we need to look beyond what the current messages say about a community and look at what the community has to say about itself. One of my favorite examples of this is the 2014 McDonald’s TV commercial “First Customer (AlmaAgency, 2014).” It’s a humorous story about a young Latino teen’s first day working at McDonald’s. His parents show up to take pictures of him at work and his boss comments, “it’s okay. Mine took video.” This is a great example of advertisers going beyond the stereotypes of a community, and instead, showing an almost universal experience (your parents taking pictures of everything) while also showing a cultural experience (Latinx parents being overly excited and overly loud in your place of work). It reminds me of my first job at a coffee shop and my grandmother coming in to show all of her friends that I was a working woman.
Marketing to Latinx audiences isn’t a one-and-done experience (Hyder, 2020). While some values are more generally held in Latinx communities, such as close-knit family ties and good food, others are based on individual nationalities. The most common mistakes communications professionals make when trying to reach Latinx audiences is assuming all Latinx people are the same.
One of those mistakes is forgetting to distinguish whether the target audience hails from Latin America or one of the islands in the Caribbean. Much like in the US, people from different places are attracted to different things. For example, you would not use the same ad to reach a community in the Midwest as you would in the Northeast. The same is to be said for trying to reach Latinx communities.
For example, Caribbean-based Latinx communities are less traditional while Latin American countries are often steeped in tradition. There are distinct religious differences as well. Caribbean Islands have high numbers of charismatic Protestants while Catholicism remains the dominant religion of Latin America. There are also different attitudes towards nationalism, involvement in community, and relationship/task-oriented business practices according to different Latinx countries.
As communication efforts become less generalized and more specialized, it’s important for communication professionals to remember who the audience is, where they’re from, and what they value. Through research and understanding the complex diversity within an audience, we can help break stereotypical representation and create a new era of industry. An era with respect for persons, representation for minorities, and ingenious campaign strategies.