The Hispanic population boom in the US has sent companies scrambling to win a piece of the lucrative pie.

According to the The Selig Center for Economic Growth, Hispanic buying power for 2002 totaled $580 billion, with a predicted compound annual growth rate of 8.7%. (The standard rate for non-Hispanics is 4.8%.)

The center's study predicts that by 2007 the dollar power of Hispanics will rise to $926.1 billion. The Hispanic community clearly holds a great deal of economic clout, which certainly explains why marketers are vying for its attention.

Unfortunately, many marketing campaigns are ineffective. Here are the top three reasons.

1. Advertising for Service-Related Products, But Not Educating

There are 39.9 million Hispanics in the US, and half of the adults among them are foreign-born. Obviously, many Hispanics in the US are native-born, but they are typically served by standard marketing campaigns in English.

The market segment that suffers from a tremendous void in services is the foreign-born Hispanics who have been in the US for five years or less. Often, they have limited or no English skills. Most significantly, they have a poor understanding of American systems in general. These immigrants rely on friends and family members to explain, or assist them to access, various services.

If your company is conducting a campaign in Spanish, this segment is most likely the one you are trying to reach. If so, simply translating your materials into English is a mistake.

For example, if you are a tax preparation company and are creating marketing materials for the average American, you would not waste print space explaining that Americans are required by law to file their taxes every year. You would not spend time explaining what a W-2 form is or that you need to bring it to the office when you file.

Americans already know these things. Americans want to hear how fast you can deliver their refund, or they want to hear that they won't have to wait long to get their taxes done. They want to hear that you are an expert in tax law and tax preparation.

But many recently arrived foreign-born Hispanics (and others) do not know that they must file taxes, and that they must do so with an Individual Tax Identification Number.

Therefore, standard English-language advertising, even if translated into Spanish, simply will not work. Such ads might read, "Let us prepare your tax returns. We can get you a fast refund, and we are specialists in tax preparation." Since such information has no relevance, the message is ignored.

Instead, the tax preparation company must launch an educational initiative that explains tax preparation in America, along with the filer's rights and responsibilities. For example, you would need to provide answers to questions such as "What is a W-2?" and "What do I bring to the tax office?"

2. Translating Accurately—but Not in a Culturally Appropriate Way

Of course, it goes without saying that you should never use a free Internet translation service. Often, however, translations by professional translators or companies are also ineffective.

The reason is that you are usually paying them to accurately translate your materials. You are not paying them to tell you how your message will impact Hispanic consumers.

For example, a national company with the word "Liberty" in its name launched a campaign using a takeoff of expression from US history: "Give me liberty, or give me death." The words were accurately translated into Spanish, but they caused only confusion with many Hispanics who were unfamiliar with its origins.

It's not always easy to see through the eyes of someone who did not grow up with our history, expressions and cultural norms.

3. Marketing Without Bilingual or Bicultural Staff

Many companies are taking advantage of new advertising outlets such as the Spanish yellow pages, newspapers and television to advertise their products.

The Hispanic community assumes that if you are advertising in one of those forums your company has Spanish speakers. Too often, though, that is not the case.

It does no good to advertise your brand of computers or cell phones if there is no one to explain how to use them or what the terms of service are. And written information is not sufficient.

English-speaking employees also need cultural training in order to inspire trust and not unintentionally offend the Hispanic consumer. For example, crooking your finger to beckon someone is considered extremely offensive in most Hispanic communities.

In Closing

Marketing campaigns designed to target the Hispanic community have a holistic approach, including relationships, education and cultural sensitivity. As in many communities, word-of-mouth is an incredible force. Your company's reputation will quickly make the rounds—for better or for worse.

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image of Blaire Borthayre

Blaire Borthayre is a Mexican-American consultant in the field of Hispanic marketing and CEO of Hispanic Marketing Resources (