Hispanic Identity and Marketing

02 Mar 2006|Felipe Korzenny

It has been seen throughout history that every human being needs a sense of belongingness in the society. Society as a whole is a complex set of different groups in which people associate themselves to use as a reference. Therefore, people tend to identify themselves with these groups according to why they think that they belong to it, or may identify with such groups without belonging to them.

This is a contribution by Vivian Fong, a Graduate student at Florida State University studying Hispanic Marketing Communication. Continue reading…

It is not a simple process, as we need to look at ourselves and first of all determine who we think are, and then choose a reference group. The label that Hispanic people use to identify themselves is said to represent their cultural identity. Each person’s perceptions of their own identity will also depend on who asks the question as they might tell a non-Hispanic person that they are Hispanics, but tell a Hispanic person which country they are from (or their heritage). It gets really complicated for Hispanic Americans, for example, because they have to go back and forth between being one or the other, Hispanic or American (except for the people who have labeled themselves as Chicanos, who claim that they are not one or the other, but both).

Sometimes the environment around the person will also determine what the answer to the question of “who we are” is. This means that for example, sometimes Hispanic people would try to say that they are for instance, from Panama, and get the following question in response: “In what part of Mexico is Panama?” Hispanics, therefore, have learned to choose to simply say that they are Hispanics rather than trying to teach the geography of the American continent to all of their acquaintances.

Also, it is know that from the time of the Spanish colonies, with the emergence of the mestizos (white/Indian), and mulattos (white/black), and the later appearance of the Chinese workers that were brought and exploited to build roads and railways in this region, Latin America has become a diverse continent. Together with Spanish, Arabs, Jews, Japanese, Chinese, and others who have made their homes throughout Latin America in the past one hundred years, Latin Americans reflect the whole spectrum of race-white, brown, black, yellow and every combination thereof-oftentimes among the members of a single family. (Quinones-Rosado, 1998) Due to this, some Hispanics might have the cultural crash between what they look like, and what they feel inside. Descendants of immigrants from other countries to Latin America, and then to the United States might be very confused. They might be Black/Hispanics/Americans, Asian/Hispanics/Americans, or even Arabs/Hispanics/Americans but in order to avoid confusion they might just choose two out of their three options, giving the marketers an even broader and more diverse audience to deal with.

The answer for our quest for identity and usage of groups as references will then come from our socialization patterns. For example, individuals who become socialized in rural, isolated, or socially segregated societies are more likely than others to have an almost exclusive reference group. (Korzenny and Korzenny, 2005) But, on most of the cases, individuals that live in the city might have different groups in which they belong to, namely their church, where they work, the neighborhood where they live in, and other extracurricular social group they might be active in (non-profit organizations, sports clubs, different societies, and others). Each one of their groups might be totally different to one another, thus creating a wide range of reference groups from where to choose from.

Hispanics’ sense of belongingness to a certain group, or the use of such group as a reference will depend on the circumstances or the task on hand. Consumer behavior is affected by all of this identity issues discussed earlier and the possibility of the multiple combinations of group affiliations. Edson and Bettman argue that Hispanic Americans by nature are going to be more interdependent in their self-construal than Anglos. (2005) In terms of the principles of similarity and homophily, Hispanics are going to identify themselves with other Hispanics who are interdependent as well. This means that Hispanics would preferably look for other Hispanics when they need advise on consumerism of different products and services.

Hispanic consumers are more likely to go shopping, send instant messages on their phones, and download music from the Internet, according to several new research studies on Hispanic consumer behavior. Hispanics surveyed said they spent on average $1,992 on clothing and accessories in the last 12 months, for instance, compared to $1,153 for general market consumers. (Wentz, 2005) Therefore, Hispanics will use their Hispanic friends as reference groups, due to the shared tastes.

A study by Advo Inc. shows that Hispanics spend an average of $71 a week eating out or having food delivered, while non-Hispanics spend only $59. Although Hispanics and non-Hispanics view cleanliness, taste and value as the most important attributes when choosing a restaurant, Hispanics consider certain “family-oriented” attributes more important than general-market consumers do, according to the study. (Cebrzynski, 2005) This means that for certain important things, such as eating and choosing where to eat, Hispanics might refer to their Hispanic friends for advice on good restaurants since they think similar to them in attributing the importance they place on food and the fact that there are more family members to feed. Furthermore, the study showed that advertising is best done in a bilingual format because, “When you’re targeting into these areas it’s not necessarily 100 percent Hispanic or 100 percent non-Hispanic,” said Joella Roy, senior manager of marketing research for Windsor, Conn.-based Advo, the nation’s largest directmail company. (Cebrzynski, 2005)
In some cases, however, Hispanics might choose a different reference group, one that they look up to. This concept is reinforced by the expertise and successful models. According to Korzenny and Korzenny (2005), individuals will emulate behaviors of people they admire, such as their bosses, neighbors, schoolmates, and others not necessarily Hispanics because of the expertise and successful models. Since these people are successful, Hispanics will turn to them for advice and/or will use them as role models therefore affecting their behavior as consumers. For example, Hispanics look up to Anglos because they are perceived and proven as being successful. An immigrant Hispanic will therefore use Anglos as role models for certain things as choosing an insurance company or a bank. Marketers therefore, in this case, need to come up with a campaign that would attract both consumers (Hispanics and Anglos).

The dimensions and the degree of success/expertise and homophily/similarity are likely to determine which reference group is used in specific consumer decision-making. It all depends on the level of importance they assign to each dimension. For example, for something very important as buying a house, Hispanics might want to ask their fellow Hispanics for advice on where to ask for a loan, since not every institution will be willing to give it to them. The fact that their Hispanic friends have gone through that makes them a more credible source of information on that matter. However, the same Hispanic person would want to ask a non-Hispanic co-worker, preferably Anglo, for advice on home purchasing because they appear to be successful in doing so.

Brand usage, as part of consumer behavior was studied and results published by the Journal of Advertising Research (1992) have demonstrated congruency between group membership and brand usage. Language or ethnic identification is found to have a significant effect on the information search patterns associated with advertising, reference groups, and in-store research, and brand usage in consumer decision making. While reference group usage of a brand provides meaning via the associations consumers hold regarding that group, the meaning and value of a brand is not just its ability to express the self, but also its role in helping consumers create and build their self-identities. (Edson and Bettman, 2005) Thus, questioning two contrasting facts of, first, reference group chosen by a person dictating what brand to use and second, the brand a person uses creating their belongingness to a certain reference group.

Individuals do not necessarily hold only one cultural identity. The extent to which different reference groups become salient in different circumstances of consumer behavior has to do with the emotionally perceived links between the situation and the reference group. (Korzenny and Korzenny, 2005) The advantage of being Hispanic-American then, is the ability to use different reference groups for different situations, take advice coming either from Hispanics back home in Latin America, Anglos from the United States, and other Hispanic-Americans, and then use it to their discretion. It is the task of marketers to calibrate the degree in which the Hispanic-American individual is going to use this advice for consumer behavior.

By Vivian Fong
Graduate Student
Florida State University

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