Friday, September 07, 2007
Another perspective from under The Big Tent at AdAge.com, followed by actual responses posted at the blog…
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Spanish Language Draws Ire of a Few Consumers. Why?
By Alberto J. Ferrer
Some time ago, one of our clients shared with us an issue they had with their Hispanic marketing efforts. Specifically, the issue was with language in direct-mail communications targeting Hispanics.
It turns out that a few consumers were upset about receiving direct-mail communications with Spanish-language copy.
We used the most advanced algorithms available in the market to identify Hispanics from within the broader universe of the rented lists. Because the model used data to infer ethnicity, we knew it would never be 100% correct. Therefore, we crafted our communications using both Spanish- and English-language copy.
We did that, among other reasons, to (a) not offend anyone, (b) engage Hispanics who preferred English to Spanish in their marketing communications, and (c) be able to address any non-Hispanics who were incorrectly identified as Hispanics by the algorithm.
As seasoned direct marketers, our clients are used to occasional consumer complaints and well-versed in how to manage them. This was different, however, and it became a hot-enough topic that we were asked how to address the situation. What was different?
Well, the consumers who complained were what I can politely describe as Hispano-phobes. Less politely I could call them ignorant, racist, bigots. These individuals also knew how to get to higher ups at the client company.
They had called or written to the CEO and CMO, and one of them even left a voicemail message for our senior client that was so laced with loathing and disdain for Hispanics that it was scary. The actual content of the complaints was similar: How dare we send mail to them with Spanish-language text? They’re not “Spanish” (or “Mexican,” no one used the term Latino or Hispanic) and resent being identified as such.
Further, we’re helping establish these undocumented immigrants who are taking jobs away from hardworking Americans.
In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
I don’t know about you, but if I get a piece of mail targeting me as a Native American, for example, I simply assume it’s a mistake and discard it. Similarly, if I am watching television and see a commercial for denture cream that is clearly targeted at senior citizens, I just pay it no mind. Why were these folks so angry when they received a piece of communication with another language on it?
Is it because of Spanish? Would they react the same way if they received a mail piece written in English and French to target French Canadians? Why did these folks (from both red and blue states, by the way) feel compelled to contact the company? They could have simply thrown the mail piece in the nearest trashcan. Who are these people, anyway, and does our client really want them as customers? I’d love your thoughts on this.
Our recommendation to the client included purging these prospects from further mailings. Good riddance! However, the fact that in this day and age we still have reactions like that to something as innocuous as a direct-mail piece signals that we have a lot more work to do before we can call ourselves an inclusive society.
That incident was a reminder that, regardless of all that’s been done by my generation and those before it to make this country one of equality, a meritocracy open to those who work hard, the generation of my children and that of their children will have to keep at it.
I am one of those “racist” bigots who complain about Spanish direct mail (and other forms of Spanish advertising). I complain because I believe the encroachment of Spanish is a direct threat to our nation’s social unity and cultural heritage. Whenever I get direct mail in Spanish I take a big black Sharpie marker and scrawl “ENGLISH IS OUR LANGUAGE” across it and mail it back to the offending company. I also boycott any stores that feature bilingual signage, which means shopping at a lot of established Mom and Pop stores, which are more expensive and less convenient, but so what? My country’s cultural heritage means more to me than a few extra dollars.
This may come as a surprise to someone who seems to make his living out of helping to destroy our cultural heritage by encouraging the proliferation of Spanish, but there are many English-speaking Americans who feel the same way as I do, and our numbers are growing. Marketers are going to find out very quickly that they can no longer count on us English-speaking “bigots” to lie down and accept cultural obliteration without a fight. They can no longer take us for granted. Sure, go ahead and chase that Spanish-speaking dollar. But do it at the risk of losing the English-speaking dollar. In my case, you’ve lost a consumer from a household with a 200K annual income. —Mary Jessel, San Francisco, CA
Perhaps you’re getting this reaction because people feel that those living in this country should be able to read and speak English. Is that too much to ask? —Jim Mcginn, Bonita Springs, FL