Crossover Advertising: Spanish Ads in English Media

Introduction by Louis E. Perego Moreno (a.k.a. Tio Louie)

On Sept, 26, 2011 the following comment was posted on the Internet: "Did anyone else see that episode of The Family Guy the other night - that Adult Swim broadcast in Spanish? Then during Breaking Bad tonight there were a couple of commercials in Spanish? Is this going to become a new standard?"
Do I perceive sheer terror or a relatively new phenomenon in mainstream media that will take some a little adjusting? Then again, by virtue of Latinos comprising the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., I believe this country is a bilingual nation where English and Spanish are the dominant languages not dissimilar to the bilingual model set in our neighboring Canada of English and French. Yet, with the U.S. Senate passing legislation in 2006 making English the "national language" to "preserve and enhance" the role of English, this will certainly give license to some in the U.S. who firmly believe, "This is America, speak English!"
However, this is a country that's been founded on religious, cultural and linguistic tolerance. Acculturated Latinos who are now part of a "mainstream" market seamlessly navigate between two languages, whether fluent in Spanish or not. But for many Latinos, there is something heartwarming and comforting to hear the language they heard their parents or grandparents speak at home. If the Latino market and its $1 trillion buying power demand it, you can rest assured that advertisers will deliver. This has clearly been evidenced in the work by New York Latino Director, Manolo Celi whose Spanish-language advertising campaigns are subtitled and include major national brands ranging from Walgreens to State Farm.

What started off as "bilingual television ads" in 2004 with Target running an Alejandro Sanz song with Spanish lyrics and a Toyota ad in Spanish with no subtitles during a 2006 Super Bowl game, today we embrace as a legitimate genre called "Crossover Advertising."

"It’s a Crossover - Spanish Ads in English Media" by Alex Levine, PACO Communications

Imagine you’re coming home from a long day of work. You relax for a bit and sit down to watch your favorite TV show. All of a sudden, you hear a dialogue in Spanish. You watch a commercial promoting a product in Spanish with English subtitles sprinkled around. No, you didn’t accidentally switch the channel but that was certainly a Spanish commercial in an English language network. Can this be right? Yes, yes it can. These are called crossover ads.

Crossover ads are no new trend. In fact, these types of ads have been around as early as the 1990s with brands like Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Sears, Pepsi and Coca-Cola taking the lead, running spots in mainstream television networks.

With Census findings confirming the more than 50 million Hispanics make up 16% of the estimated U.S. population, Hispanics are a significantly big portion of the general audience. Though they can be a niche market, they are becoming the general market. For this reason, more brands are starting to create crossover ads made completely in Spanish with English subtitles.  Not only do they reach their Hispanic audience but placing them in mainstream media helps reach the general audience as well.

There is a major force that’s driving this trend: It’s the large amount of acculturated, bilingual Hispanics in the U.S. According to a report released by Scarborough Research (a consumer research firm), bilingual Hispanics make up 82% of the Hispanic population. Add to that their acculturation, or the absorption and mixture of more than one culture from birth, and you’ve got a group of Hispanics who can not only feel comfortable living in American culture and their Hispanic roots but can easily weave in and out of conversations in both English and Spanish.

Back in 2003, Crest ran a 30-second spot where a couple was getting ready for work. When the husband kisses his wife goodbye and tries to leave, he comes back for more of her kisses. The whole dialogue is in Spanish but has the tagline, “White teeth and fresh breath. In any language,” in English. This commercial not only aired in a mainstream network but did so during the Grammy Awards.

Yet, not all of these campaigns have met success. Taking a Spanish language ad and running it in mainstream media has brought back the debate for the preference of English as the only language of communication in America. In 1999, Chevron test marketed an animated television spot in L.A. In the spot, a car was singing in a mariachi style and had English subtitles. Though it only ran for a week in general market media, the ad took the heat from viewers who argued, “This is America, speak English.” The ad might have also offended some Hispanic audiences by using a cliché part of Hispanic culture.

So how do you decide whether or not to take the crossover approach? That very well depends on a number of factors, including how acculturated your Hispanic audience is, their mix of American culture, values, tradition as well as those from other cultures that surround them (Asians, African Americans, Arabs, etc.). Chances are that those more acculturated will not only be tuning in to Spanish media but English as well. Because acculturated Hispanics will likely be bilingual (or multilingual), there are more choices of how you take the crossover approach, either Spanish language in English media or explore the option of English language ads in Spanish media. However, ethnicity and language are not the only deciding factors for effectively reaching your Hispanic audience. Lifestyles, values and overall the way they experience their Latino identity are essential in creating an effective message. The key point: it must resonate with your designated audience.

How do you feel about crossover ads? Are there any that you’ve seen? Do you think they’re effective? Why or why not? Share with us your thoughts.