Understanding acculturation is important to messaging

In this installment of a continuing series on the Latino market coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll explore some of the more nuanced aspects of winning in this rapidly growing demographic.

While the rate of growth in this population has slowed, the absolute numbers are still staggering. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that while 17% (55 million) of the population is Hispanic today, that figure will grow to 28.6% (about 106 million) by 2050, far exceeding any other major demographic.

But succeeding in today’s $1.5 trillion Latino market requires new, innovative approaches.

“I had always assumed that ‘Hispanic marketing’ meant Spanish,” Jared Fix, U.S. vice president and general manager for Mixables at Beam Suntory said in a thinkwithgoogle.com story, “but a vast majority of our Hispanic target is what we call ‘acculturated’ — they speak English, perhaps Spanish at home, and they consume media in both.”

Acculturated? Havi Goffan at Target Latino explains the concept. “To acculturate means to incorporate or acquire a new culture without foregoing another one,” explained Goffan. “Hispanics do not “assimilate”, they “acculturate”. They do not let go of customs and/or language”

In an analysis published by the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communications at Florida State University, student Laicelis Haro, combines Goffan’s work with research from Geoscape to examine 5 acculturation subgroups:


Hispanics in this segment are typically English dominant (nearly no Spanish); born in US and often 3rd+ generation; and engage in little-to-no Hispanic cultural practices

Nueva Latina

Typically English preferred (some Spanish); born in the US and typically 2nd generatio; does engage in some Hispanic cultural practices and often they make the active decision to rediscover their origin culture, [or] “retro-acculturate”.

Bi-Cultural Hispanics

Typically bilingual speakers who immigrated to the US as a child or young adult. Govan describes this group as predominately Latino home (where they also speak Spanish) and American at work or school (where they speak English).


Prefer to speak Spanish and immigrated to the US as an adult and have lived in the United States for more than 10 years, however, they continue to practice the Hispanic culture.


Those who recently immigrated to the US, and who have not experienced [much] acculturation [yet], speaking mostly Spanish only.

Sometimes it’s easiest to craft a definition of any given concept based on what something is not. Chevrolet’s foray into the Mexican market with a car whose name (Nova) literally translates to “doesn’t go” is pretty legendary when it comes to not thinking about your audience.

Now let’s look at a couple examples of companies that are using an acculturated model in reaching Hispanic markets, ones that go beyond the “just translate our existing stuff into Spanish” approach.

Check out this Heineken “No Kiss for You” ad and note how it captures an understanding of cultural underpinnings in an increasingly multi-cultural America.

Or watch the equally humorous Volkswagen Passat piece that speaks directly to the bicultural, bilingual Latino market.

Finding the right face to represent your message can also be a game-changer, as evidenced in this Burger King ad featuring TV’s highest paid actress, Sophia Vergara.

Okay, so maybe your budget doesn’t include the likes of Sophia Vergara, but you can still improve your reach in the Hispanic market by, first and foremost, demonstrating a culturally sensitive understanding of those you wish to persuade.

While the examples above paint a rather broad brush, the nitty gritty of cultural issues goes to the very heart of what is means to be Hispanic in America:

Individual versus Group

As opposed to the “rugged individualism” of the American ethos, Hispanic communities are more collectivist in that themes of family and “the group” often trump the individual. Many decisions, especially large purchases like a new car, are family decisions.


Family size is also important. According to a landmark study by New American dimension, as of 2008, 21.7% of Hispanic families had five or more members, compared to only 8.3% of the overall population. This means that they consume more, even after purchases are adjusted to account for income disparities. But those same disparities mean that price is comparatively more important in Hispanic households.

These are but a few, tip-of-the-iceberg nuances in an economy where culture is quickly becoming the new universal language in America. Business can no longer afford to make guesses and assumptions about their target audiences in this or any other market.

As the publishers of the Spanish/English-language weekly El Perico and the annual Directorio Latino, our team is … well, acculturated and uniquely positioned to guide you in understanding how you can best succeed in the Hispanic market. Let us take that guesswork out of your Hispanic marketing strategy.