What Brands Can Learn From Target’s Approach to Hispanic Marketing

The following is a guest contributed post from Parker Morse, CEO and Founder of H Code Media.

Two years ago, Target launched a campaign they called #SinTraducción (“Without Translation”). The premise of the Spanish-only campaign was to use words that had no ready English equivalent – words such as “sobremesa” (a period of time after a meal spent conversing amongst friends and family) and “estrenar” (the act of using or wearing something for the first time). The goal was to create a conversation on social media, both between customers and the brand and between customers themselves. The #SinTraducción campaign marked Target’s first major marketing effort targeted directly at Hispanics – the first, but most emphatically not the last.

One of the reasons for Target’s decision to start marketing more consistently to the Hispanic audience was the realization that its core demographic had changed, from the suburban soccer moms who had previously been the focus of Target’s advertising to urban, Hispanic millennials. In the course of their research, the company discovered that Hispanic customers were more brand loyal and spent more than other demographics – which led to the brand stepping up their ad spend.

What can brands learn from Target’s approach to Hispanic marketing? Target’s experiences show the necessity of having campaigns geared specifically to the Hispanic audience; but more than that, it shows the importance of having campaigns that affirm the influence and relevance of the Spanish language in American culture, while also positioning the brand as one that understands and meets the needs of Hispanics.

One brand that has chosen to emphasize the everyday realities of Hispanic life, instead of relying on demographic cliches, is Honda. The auto company recently released an ad that was, in many ways, a rebuke of the manner in which many brands have courted Hispanic consumers. Instead of viewing the Hispanic audience as a group whose motivations and desires are unknowable (save with the help of many dollars poured into demographic research), the Honda ad presented Latinos going about their daily lives – getting groceries, going to watch a movie, and so on.

The president of the agency responsible for the ads, Andrew Orcí, said that the ad was born out of the sense that many brands see Hispanics as operating in specific categories or patterns, despite the fact that they (and every other demographic group) cannot be pigeonholed so easily. This is particularly the case with young Latinos, who “ping-pong between cultures, languages, interests and behaviors.” For Orcí, “not even a Latino can can define a Latino. They simply defy all expectations.”

Mazda too has taken an unconventional approach to marketing to Hispanics, airing ads “filled with Japanese language and imagery” in places such as Univision.com. The goal, according to Russell Wager, VP of Mazda North America, is to raise awareness of Mazda as a Japanese company, because of the “great affinity and trust” Hispanics generally have for Japanese brands. The campaign will start with ads highlighting Mazda’s Japanese roots and Japanese culture in general, before transitioning to more traditional Spanish-language advertisements. In the past, Mazda simply repurposed their ads for the general market; this campaign is the first one Mazda has produced specifically for Hispanic audiences, and surely won’t be the last, given that the company has tripled its investment in Hispanic marketing.

Earlier this year, Target CEO Brian Cornell called attention to a trend that had him and his industry worried: the fact that Hispanics are increasingly choosing to stay home, and going out to shop less often. It’s not hard to see why Cornell is concerned, given that Target has consistently pumped large amounts of money into advertising campaigns centered around reaching that key demographic. In fact, the company increased its Hispanic ad spend by 20% last year, and has pledged to maintain that level of spending this year. Target’s holiday campaign the previous year was focused mainly on reaching Hispanics and families with children – another sign of the centrality of Hispanics to Target’s marketing efforts.

It’s certainly possible that spending in border towns, which has traditionally been a boon to retailers, has fallen this year, contributing to Cornell’s pessimism. But the biggest problem that retailers such as Target face is losing their customers to Amazon. This is especially true as Amazon begins to take measures designed to attract Hispanic audiences, such as creating a Spanish-language version of its website and offering its Prime services in Mexico. That being said, the fact that Amazon’s Spanish-language website is resonating with audiences demonstrates the important role the Spanish language plays when marketing to Hispanics.

In order to combat the “Amazon effect”, brands that wish to appeal to Hispanic audiences have to make themselves more accessible to those customers, whether it’s by introducing a Spanish version of their site or by launching ad campaigns that are designed to appeal to Hispanics as they really are, and not as marketers imagine them to be.