News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stereotypes posing as marketing advice

Unless you are just now emerging from the safe room you built in anticipation of the Y2K disaster, you probably know Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. That widespread fact has caught the eye of marketers across the country and many have rushed in to exploit this rich, untapped vein of consumers. Not surprisingly, this “gold fever” has spawned some ugly consequences. 

Let me offer just one example.  

A recent blog by a Hispanic marketing consultant offered some advice to mainstream advertisers that left me stunned – and offended. The marketer, a Latino himself, gave several “tips” to advertisers about communicating with Latinos at online social media sites. Most were demeaning oversimplifications, but the first tip was the most offensive. The gist of it was this:

“Discussions with Hispanics tend to be more emotional and less rational. Understanding this will allow you to build powerful messages. Try touching their hearts first, not their heads.”

The damage of perpetuating this kind of stereotype is severe – especially in these hard economic times. Imagine an employer with two qualified candidates for a job, one of them a Latino. Will the employer hire the one who will be “more emotional and less rational?”

When I pressed this marketing consultant for evidence to support his conclusions, he revealed it had come from monitoring Hispanic sports chat rooms online. Now ponder this for a minute. This consultant was basing his conclusions for all Hispanic online behavior from the chatter of sports fans. It’s hard to imagine a more irrational group – regardless of ethnicity.

How irrational can sports fans get? Listen to ESPN radio sometime, or visit any sports blog on the Internet. You’ll hear Non-Hispanic sports fans venting raw emotion 24/7. Just a few years back, someone threatened the life of an Ohio State football player after the nineteen-year-old student dropped a touchdown pass against Texas. Even the supposedly stiff-upper-lip English can get downright nasty when it comes to sports. English soccer fans have been banned from some foreign countries for their legendary rowdiness. So the claim that Latino sports fans are more emotional than Anglos is little more than prejudice posing as marketing savvy.

Ironically, despite our reputation for being a fiery bunch, most Latinos let offensive comments like this go unchallenged. But unless we raise our voices against these affronts, we can expect more of the same. My post criticizing the blatant stereotyping in this blog was assailed by several other Hispanic marketing consultants who obviously felt their meal tickets threatened. 

In the 1950s, Madison Avenue made millions creating stereotypical minority characters like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and, of course, the Frito Bandito. Sad to think that more than a half century later, some marketers are still trying to sell the same tired claptrap.  

Raul Ramos y Sanchez


Elenamary said...

I took a class at The Ohio State University a few years ago, it was a six hundred level class.
Our main book used was titled "The Hispanic Way" where we got to learn how Hispanics "are" one of my favorite lines from the books was “Hispanics tend to be verbose and to get sidetracked, often elaborating on topics extraneous to the subject at hand." Anyway, I love going to things to learn about marketing or talking to Hispanics...always get in a good laugh.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Thanks for sharing the academic side of Latino stereotypes, Elenamary. It seems marketers are not the only ones guilty.