By Felipe Korzenny
I read in the Wall Street Journal (September 14 – 15, 2013*) that hugs are an issue now in the United States as many more people hug than ever before. My first reaction was that as tortillas overtake white bread and salsa overtakes ketchup, hugs overtake social distance. Is this the Latino influence? Now the WSJ article talks about how to defend yourself from huggers. That is a serious departure from the nature of hugging in Latin America and other “hugging” regions of the world where the hugging is seen as a welcome sharing of human warmth and reassures people of their relationship.
When I was young, in high-school and then in college in Mexico, every day, I had to hug and kiss many women, which I thought was nice, and hugged many men as well, which I felt were my dear friends. It was routine, the business of social life. You hug those you care for and those you want to keep as part of your circle of friends. Also, it felt good. It was reassuring. I felt I belonged.
Hugging feels good. It releases chemicals in our body that make us feel good. A most interesting substance is oxytocin which contributes to our social happiness and well being. It is known to be released when people touch and hug and helps people bond together. Hispanics are good at this. I believe this is an important contribution that Latinos and other “hugging” people are making to US society.
Chipotle, mango, salsa, papaya, tortillas, cilantro, yuca, and many other flavors are clearly now part of the mainstream. Also, Latin music and architecture have become part of the American mainstream. But that is only the part of the culture that is clearly observable. What about the less observable parts of the culture? What about the subjective culture composed of values, ideas, attitudes, and ways of thinking? Hugging is part of the subjective culture that is now influencing the United States. Subjective because it emanates from primitive impulses, beliefs, and values that take us back to our origins.
Marketers ought to consider that the most powerful insights come from those attitudes, beliefs, values, and perceptions that are transmitted via our cultural groups but that are hidden from view. Hugging is visible, but not its motives and consequences. Touching produces a different social structure. Marketers can capitalize on those motivations and the effects of touching and hugging (haptics) by establishing connections associated with their brands.
Human contact feels good and makes people happy. Clearly, it has to be appropriate, but Latin Americans don’t worry about that. They know when the toucher is a creep. In low contact cultures any contact can be misinterpreted. But in high contact cultures contact means care and affection. As we move into a more touch oriented society in the US, our ways of behaving, thinking, and feeling change as well.
Now that Latinos have influenced the US culture beyond imagination, it is not only with the material things of life where Hispanics are making a statement but also with emotions. While marketers have long thought that differences in culture are apparent in the numerous manifestations we observe, now we need to take notice of the more hidden aspects.
Marketers do not only capitalize on high contact cultures when understanding their motivations and bonding feelings, but they may now have a “total market” approach in their hands. Hugging will likely transcend cultural groups.
The author of the WSJ article was trying to help others with larger personal space needs to defend themselves from the rising tide of huggers. Well, another take on the trend is that it is good for you and potentially excellent for marketers who understand cultural patterns.
In Hispanic Heritage month let’s celebrate hugging and all that comes along with it.