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Hispanic Marketing: Pay attention to the words

Marketing to Hispanics has in the last 20 years become a real focus for companies. Unfortunately the focus has been very unfocused. If your reaction is "huh" then read on.

Marketers and businesses have acknowledged that the Hispanic Market is growing in size and purchasing power. Their strategy has been generally to translate there slogans and advertisements into Spanish and then running them in Spanish language newspapers, periodicals, and TV.

This poorly thought-through strategy has resulted in some notable failures and embarrassing situations. There have been some high profile blunders such as the often cited example from Chevrolet Cars, the Chevy Nova. The word nova when said as two words in Spanish (no va) translates to no go or doesn't go. Not too appealing a feature for a car. Another one is the toothpaste Colgate. Again when pronounced in Spanish it means 'hang yourself'. Come on marketers! Did you not have an extra couple of dollars in your budget to ask for a simple review? Another controversial and little know example is the company (can't disclose for legal reasons as I was in the know) that spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign that of all things included the word embarrassing. When the word embarrassing was converted (not translated) to Spanish the word 'embarazada' was used. Kind of sounds the same wouldn't you agree. However the meaning of 'embarazada' is pregnant. Now how embarrassing is that?

Marketers and business people in addition to a simple review of the translation, you need to do research. Do you know that some words in one Spanish speaking country may have a negative or vulgar meaning or no meaning at all in another Spanish speaking country? Want to waste your money and time? Then launch a product or service into Latin America without doing your research and without taking into account the differences amongst Spanish speaking countries.

This is part of a series of posts on Marketing to Hispanics so come back soon or subscribe.


  1. This is a very, very important message for marketers. I've worked internally with companies that were extremely interested in serving the Hispanic market, but with one small shortcut produced messaging that was either confusing or just made these companies look like they didn't know what they were doing! After investing millions in the perfect media spend, this is not a happy ending. And it certainly isn't the way to build trust or make friends.

    In one of these cases the companies hired professional translation agencies to translate approved English copy into Spanish, which can work in certain situations if performed correctly. However in this case there was a last-minute change to the English, and someone internally, outside of the Hispanic marketing group, worked their magic on the Spanish. They apparently knew just enough to be dangerous and the mistake was featured in the national Marketing y Medios magazine! Ouch.

    Something we just ran across last week at Conexión Marketing: We were interviewing Latinos by phone, and working from a contact list. This contact list was provided by a research firm which confirmed it had screened the candidates to ensure they fit this research.

    Well, in this case the screener itself was mis-translated, and now they have to rush to find candidates who actually fit the true screener, and pay for additional interviews to meet their quota.

    The moral of the story? Please rely on language professionals at *every* stage of the game!

  2. You couldn't be more correct. When you take shortcuts you tend to miss the most important thing.

  3. I've always been puzzled by the example of Colgate. I know that "colgate" means, in Spanish, "hang yourself," yet it seems to be the only toothpaste brand that's recognized and purchased by most hispanics--in my area of the country at least. It is heavily marketed on Spanish-language television and is even featured weekly during the very successful program "Sabado Gigante."

  4. Your observation is very interesting and accurate. Colgate as well as some of the other classic examples (ie car named Nova) have had pockets of success. However research has shown some initial resistance and slow starts to product growth. The success in your market and Colgate's eventual success can be attributed the big marketing dollars of the Colgate-Palmolive Company. A different name could have brought a quicker return-on-investment and a reduced advertsising budget.

    Also the sustained loyalty that you point out is a result of product recall. The name though not very attractive initially is easily remembered.

    David what area of the country are you in?

    Thanks for your post. Your feedback has spurred a couple of thoughts for a future blog topic--loyalty of the Hispanic Market.