Has “Acculturation” reached its expiration date?

Acculturation has always played a central role in Hispanic marketing. In the early days, it helped marketers understand the basics of how Latinos were different from mainstream consumers. This led to the development of targeted initiatives that made great strides at penetrating this growing market. Today, acculturation continues to be the ‘segmentation of choice’ for most advertisers, and is helping them understand the diversity within the segment, especially as it relates to the use of the Spanish language and media.

However, in spite of its past and current triumphs, the future of acculturation seems less certain as the marketplace evolves. The fact that most of the growth of the Latino segment is primarily coming from the US-born population, for example, will certainly have a direct impact on acculturation’s perceived value. In many ways, this group is by definition ‘bicultural’. Their parents’ culture might have a strong influence in their lives, but having been born here implies that they are inevitably influenced by the local culture, too. Furthermore, as an integral part of the New Majority, Hispanics are influenced not only by White consumers, but also by African Americans, Asians, Arabs, and so on. So more than talking about ‘bicultural’ Hispanics, we should be talking about ‘multicultural’ Latinos.

Will acculturation continue to be equally relevant as these trends develop? I’ve got my money on ‘no’. It certainly won’t happen overnight given the strong roots the concept has in the industry, but the relevance of acculturation will certainly fade in the not-so-distant future. Progressive marketers have started to look at the Hispanic market from more holistic perspectives that include, but are not limited to acculturation. Some of these approaches involve lifestyles and other attitudinal variables that lead to much richer insights. As a result, their marketing programs…

  • Are not culturally biased. Strategies rooted in acculturation are likely to have ethnicity front and center. Consumers do not see the world that way, and react negatively to campaigns that force racial factors.
  • Are stereotype-free. Acculturation over-simplifies the segment’s diversity. Not all unacculturated Latinos are the same! By assuming so, acculturation-based strategies are more likely to fall into stereotypes.
  • Can be implemented via a wider range of media. Acculturation-based media plans limit the potential of targeting Latinos via mainstream media, when the vast majority of them actually consume both English and Spanish media.
  • Can be synergetic with mainstream programs. Acculturation over-emphasizes cultural differences between Hispanics and the mainstream. Holistic approaches that go beyond acculturation help uncover similarities that can be leveraged in cross-cultural initiatives.

Acculturation might not have reached its expiration date yet, but it is getting closer. To make the most out of it now, and probably extend its relevance into the future, the industry must get smarter in how it uses it. First, we have to start complementing it with other type of approaches. Remember – ethnicity or language are not the only factors that define Hispanic consumers.

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