Multicultural Marketing

George Zwierko of Rumbo Marketing discusses the characteristics of Hispanic consumers and what influences their estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Hispanics make up around 18 percent of the total US population, yet there’s a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Multicultural marketing expert George Zwierko of Rumbo Marketing joins us to explain the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, and how they engage with advertising. We discuss popular misconceptions, dispel some urban legends, and identify what influences Hispanics’ estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Within the next couple of weeks, homes across the United States will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 census on April 1st – and on November 3rd, Americans will vote to decide who will become the next president of the United States. Census data suggests that people aged 18 to 45 years old will represent just under 40% of the eligible voters this year and it’s expected that more than 30% of them will be non-white. This reflects an increase in the numbers of voters identifying as African American, Hispanic, and Asian since the 2016 Presidential election. A report from Horowitz Research published late last year showed that diversity in advertising can have a positive impact on the purchase decisions of multicultural consumers. Ads that show mixed-race couples and families had a 31% net impact on brand perception. 38% of respondents said that advertisements that portray diverse multicultural people in them are reflecting the true essence of the United States. Although Asians are the fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics make up around 18% of the total US population and currently command an estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power. The amount that brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising over the past few years, but there’s still a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Adobe’s research found that 40% of Hispanic respondents have walked away from a brand for representing them in its advertising. The Hispanic market is clearly an important one for brands to engage with. To help us understand the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, what platforms they prefer, and how they consume branded content, I’m joined today by a pioneer and expert in multicultural advertising. George Zwierko is the Principal of Rumbo Marketing with offices in Tampa, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee. Since graduating with a degree in art direction from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York, George has had an illustrious career in advertising, holding senior creative positions in agencies. In 2005, George founded Grupo D, the Hispanic marketing division of the Dutcher group, the success of which led George to launch Rumbo in 2008 as an independent multicultural firm. With over 20 years as a creative professional in general market and multicultural marketing, George has garnered multiple local and national Addy awards in a variety of disciplines as well as several Telly awards. In 2018, George was recognized with the American Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal for advertising excellence and service on behalf of the advertising industry. George is also a partner with Three Chairs Productions, a video production and marketing company based in Tampa. Welcome to In Clear Focus, George.

George Zwierko: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant:  I mentioned during the introduction that the expansion of the Hispanic population accounts for almost half of America’s population growth since 2000. What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions brands have about Hispanic audiences?

George Zwierko: I think that there is a barrier that’s put up by certain advertisers because there’s just a lack of understanding of what the capability of these audiences have regarding spending or regarding usage. There needs to be a level of education when it comes to how we can best communicate and connect with diverse audiences. I think the misconception is that you might have a product, brand or service, and you feel that if I’m spending money and I’m targeting my general market audience that somehow, some way I’m going to touch my ethnic audiences, or that my ethnic audiences represents such a small population of the folks that would utilize our service or product, that to give it any weight regarding, let’s say a media spend or any creative execution is just not worth the effort.

Adrian Tennant: Twenty-six percent of all children in the US up to the age of nine are Hispanic and more than half of the Hispanic population is under the age of 29. How do you think the growing strength of this population will impact, , popular culture and by extension, the kinds of creative developed for advertisements?

George Zwierko: I think there’s an opportunity to look at our Hispanic audience and see that, um, a good majority of our audience is bicultural, bilingual, because they do skew young. I think there is a greater opportunity for us to create campaigns that are more relevant and are more relatable. The problem that we run into is that in the past a lot of brands and many advertisers would strictly translate their ads, and I think that was because of lack of understanding of the Hispanic audience as a whole. The problem in translation is that if we create advertisements that are meant to be funny, witty, clever, highly conceptual, and then you translate that, those things don’t always translate correctly. And then what we’re left with is just a very bland advertisement. But what we like to do is really hone in on what we can create, what type of creative can we do and original content could be made that still keeps the essence of the original messaging. 

Adrian Tennant: So brands should think less about translation and think more about transcreation?

George Zwierko: That’s correct. And transcreation is just what that is. It’s taking your message or your content, your visuals, everything that you put into your campaign. And then developing an execution that’s going to be relevant to this new audience.

Adrian Tennant: Now, the amount of total ad spend brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising in the past few years. But eMarketer has reported on the disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics that are actually living in the US. Why doesn’t the Hispanic audience receive its fair share of ad dollars, do you think?

George Zwierko: It’s sad to say, but think there’s a lack of understanding of the value these audiences bring to the table. I think many people in a variety of different positions just take a stance when it comes to communicating to other audiences, I don’t think they personally recognize the value. So therefore it won’t exist in any strategy moving forward. So I would say it’s narrow thinking or just missed opportunity. I do agree that the spend is going up incrementally. I don’t think it’s anywhere near where it needs to be. And I think there’s a great opportunity for us to just reevaluate what our spend does look like. And to us it’s a very simple formula: we’re doing a local campaign and we’re going to communicate it to our local audience. And we look at the local population as being a certain percentage of  non-Hispanic, a certain percentage Hispanic, and so on and so on down the line. And we look at those audiences. And we start to look at our customer profile within that population and we identify that, you know, within the non-Hispanic market, we’re going to be speaking to this demographic. But then a very similar demographic exists within our Hispanic population and in our African American population. So taking those new percentages, let’s reevaluate what our spend will be and then also look at what is going to be the best avenues and the best channels for consumption based on those consumer behaviors, based on what we know non-Hispanics do and, and Hispanics will do and African Americans will do and then target appropriately and spend appropriately. So that might mean that I’m not going to take 100% of my budget and throw it toward one audience and then hope that if I pepper in some folks that look Hispanic in my TV ad or I pepper in some people that look African American and my billboards, that I’m going to be effectively touching those audiences. We’re going to miss something, whether that’s going to be in the message or in the execution of the creative. Somehow, some way, we’re going to miss the mark. And what by missing the mark, we’re just doing an injustice to the brand. We’re not communicating that brand as effectively to other audiences as we did to our general audience

Adrian Tennant: Google has undertaken multicultural research and reported that more than half of Hispanic audiences are more likely to use English when conducting searches or consuming content online, even if they generally speak Spanish at home. So when you’re developing advertising designed to reach Hispanic audiences, how do you determine which language to reach them in?

George Zwierko: That’s a very interesting question and what we do is we understand that our Hispanic audience, because they skew young, more than likely a good percentage of that population is bilingual, bicultural. So that gives us a great opportunity to effectively reach this one audience on two sides of the fence, we could run English language ads, we can run Spanish language ads, because we know the consumption of this audience will be going back and forth. The ability to naturally go from English to Spanish is very fluid with a lot of Hispanic households. And we recognize that. Now that’s not to say that we don’t have an opportunity to just run Spanish ads. We might do that, but we’ve run campaigns that have been strictly English, strictly targeting a younger bilingual, bicultural household or audience. And we’ll run that ad in English, but we pepper in some cultural nuances, things that we know are relatable – that could be a phrase, it could be if we’re running a TV commercial, it’s a gesture. It’s just these little things that we know are culturally relevant and are relatable to the people that we’re speaking to. It just makes it more real to our audience. Even if it’s in English. It’s just a better reflection of how they live their lives. I think it really humanizes the message. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. I really like that idea. So the inclusion of some elements of Hispanic culture in advertising, even if an ad is in English makes audiences feel a little bit like the brand is understanding them with a kind of a cultural nod or wink?

George Zwierko: Correct.

Adrian Tennant: Right. While Hispanics own smartphones in similar proportions to the rest of the US population, our research suggests that they spend, on average, two hours more per week on their mobile devices, the non-Hispanic audiences. Why is this, George?

George Zwierko: It’s interesting. When it comes to smartphone usage, I think what we’re finding is that there’s, there’s two things. We have Hispanic households that could be multigenerational, you know, more folks in the household compared to non-Hispanics. So you look at just the devices someone would have on their home. So you have a desktop or you might not have a desktop. And so I think the access to the internet today with things like 4G, 5G, the affordability of wifi enables us to use our smartphones more as a way to consume and to gather information, and to live our lives online, than just being chained to a desk. So I think it’s the affordability of providing internet access to multiple people within a household, which I think lends it to the stat that more Hispanics are on their smartphones than non-Hispanics, for example.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That makes a lot of sense. A study from Viant in 2017 showed that Hispanic millennials – also known as Gen Y – is the cohort most likely to interact with brands on social media. And the study found that almost 50 percent of Hispanic millennials said they had talked about a brand online with others or use the brands hashtag compared to just 17% of non-Hispanics. So to cultivate brand loyalty, it seems like social media might be an even more important channel for Hispanics than say, for the general market. Do you agree?

George Zwierko: I agree, I think the opportunity to use social media to, to cultivate brand loyalty is across the board, I think you’re starting to see that uptick across multiple generations, everywhere from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. I think across the board, social media is just becoming more relevant in our lives and advertisers are beginning to realize that putting more money toward a social media platform just makes better sense for building brand loyalty or creating awareness. I think it’s identifying the social media channels also that are used with one generation over the other or one particular ethnic group over the other. I think you’ll find some stats that support that one platform gets more usage, when you start to look at certain demographics. I think there’s always going to be an opportunity for us to use social media to attract our younger Hispanic audience to create that loyalty. And I only think that that’s going to continue to grow. We’ve run many campaigns where we stay away from any advertising in the traditional sense and put more money into a digital space. Sometimes that’s 100% of our spend when it comes to targeting Hispanics. Just because we see the uptick in an online usage between Google searches and programmatic and retargeting. I mean, the numbers are just skewing so high. And, and that could go back to the last question we talked about when it comes to smartphone usage I think that where we’re identifying who has the most devices and the best way to talk that audience. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s switch gears a little bit. Can you explain how Rumbo typically works with partner agencies like ourselves to develop a multicultural campaign?

George Zwierko: Absolutely. You know, for us, partnering with ad agencies has been part of our model since our inception. It always made the most sense. It goes back to why, when we had our traditional agency, we created a Hispanic division, which was Grupo D, which you introduced earlier. It just makes sense for us to provide a multicultural service to agencies that don’t offer that. Now we can come and partner with agencies on multiple different levels and provide a variety of different services. For some agencies we come in on the creative side – but sometimes we come in as just purely as consultants and help guide their creative team or their strategy team or the accounts department just to kind of help them better understand or identify opportunities with their existing client base. And so we help clients identify the best clients on their list that would benefit from doing a multicultural campaign or developing a multicultural strategy. 

Adrian Tennant: So George, what does your process look like?

George Zwierko: Sure. So, for example, we do a lot of work with financial institutions. Over the years we’ve partnered with quite a few credit unions and banks. And with that relationship, the process always begins with us looking at their existing customer base or their member base. Usually we’ll launch with a campaign that communicates to their existing customers, showing that the credit union or the bank provides the types of services that our Hispanic customers are looking for when it comes to finances. I think the approach to how you sell bank products, financial products is a little different. There are certain nuances to the Hispanic audience that are very different from your English-speaking non-Hispanic customers. So what we do is we help the bank or credit union identify those things and actually see them. What we’ve known and what we’ve seen in the past is that you’ll have a Hispanic family come in and they want to speak to a teller who speaks Spanish. They would prefer to speak in their own language. And so the bank or credit union from an operational side may only have one teller available that speaks Spanish. And so that teller might be occupied and maybe the availability of that individual that they’re trying to reach, that person may not be available for about another 30, 40 minutes. But surprisingly, you’d find the Hispanic family will wait. They’ll wait 40 minutes, they’ll carve a lot of time out of their day because they really prefer to speak to this one individual and build a relationship with this one individual. And then every time this, this individual, this Hispanic individual or the family comes in, they’re always looking to talk to that one person. So from an operational side, you know, we’re advising credit unions and banks to staff up on Spanish speakers. So maybe then that graduates to a recruitment campaign, how do we staff appropriately to handle our Hispanic, Spanish-speaking customers? Then we also look at products. What products are you offering? What products resonate better with our Hispanic audience based on their financial needs? We notice that the financial needs might be different – certain products will resonate well with certain Hispanic households and others may not even be top of mind. But then how do we cross-sell those other products? And it’s always going to be a little different than you do your non-Hispanic audience. Even how you talk to these customers, your approach, we found that when it comes to talking about your finances, for many Hispanic families, it’s a very private, intimate thing. It’s something that’s not lightly shared. There’s a sense of privacy that needs to be taken into account so we have to be sensitive to those things.

Adrian Tennant: How have you seen really cringe-worthy, creative designed for a Hispanic audience that completely fell flat? 

George Zwierko: You know, that’s, that’s an interesting question because I think what we’re starting to see is that mistakes isn’t happening as often. And the reason it’s not happening as often as, because advertisers are getting wise to not relying on things like Google Translate or trying to ask their next door neighbor if they can help copywrite an ad. I think advertisers and agencies are starting to realize that they either need to hire professionals or bring in a professional to develop a messaging and strategies and copy and so forth. So a lot of the mistakes that were made are the ones that we’ve always heard in our marketing classes are really almost urban legends. Like the big one that was always talked about was Chevy’s Nova campaign where you take Nova and if you translate Nova in Spanish, it sounds like “No-va” – “doesn’t go,” but that campaign launched, they were selling Chevy Novas and in central America and Mexico and around the world without any problem. And actually there were upticks in car sales all over the country, all over South America, and central America. So there’s really no weight to this urban legend that that was an actual problem that consumers in those countries were looking at the brand name or the name of the product, Nova calling it “No-va” and then ridiculing the brand. And Chevy took a nosedive and sales that never actually happened, but yet it’s one of the sample examples that is used in multicultural classes and in classroom instruction to this day. I think what we can do to avoid, we can look at this, this story, even though it’s an urban legend and, and realize that what it really takes is us truly understanding our audience and not thinking that all Hispanics that make the Hispanic population are all pigeonholed into the same silo. I can’t assume that if I’m using cultural references that are very Mexican, that that’s going to appeal to every Hispanic in the population. Everyone comes from someplace else and there’s a variety of different traditions and cultures that accompany these populations. I think it’s just truly understanding, “who am I speaking to?” and, “how do I make it relevant to the people I’m talking to?” For example, if we’re running campaigns in Orlando there’s a large population of Puerto Ricans that live in Orlando, Kissimmee and that in Central Florida. So I’m going to rely on the cultural references that resonate with that audience. You know, what can we include in our messaging that is going to resonate with that particular group? But let’s say I’m in Houston in Texas where there’s a large percentage of Mexicans that make up the population, well then how am I going to address that audience? But if I live in a melting pot, like let’s say Tampa or New York, you know, there we’re going to take a different approach because we want to make sure that we can communicate across the board to our entire Hispanic population because they come from a variety of different countries. So I think we learn from these stories we hear about campaigns and brands that got it wrong. There was the “Got milk?” campaign that used the headline, “¿Tiene leche?” which can be understood as, “Are you lactating?”

Adrian Tennant: (Laughter)

George Zwierko: But that has never been proven to be true, you know, and a lot of promotional campaigns run locally. So sometimes it’s hard to prove if something was said wrong or if something was said right, but these are the stories that exist out there. And I think it’s just like any story, there’s a moral to be learned. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, George, I understand that your family has both Latin and European heritage. In what kinds of ways – if at all – did that influence you growing up? 

George Zwierko: That’s an excellent question because I grew up in a household where I was totally confused, I think! My mother was born in Puerto Rico and I grew up in the Bronx in New York, and we lived in a neighborhood that was – the majority of the folks in that neighborhood were a Spanish, Puerto Rican, Dominican. It was about 99% of our neighborhood. And my mother, which I always say was the head of household, regardless of what my father might think, we grew up in an environment where we lived on Spanish food. We listened to Spanish music. Spanish was spoken in the house. All our friends spoke Spanish. We just grew up in an environment where the influence was very Latin. And then my father, unfortunately, was the odd man out. He didn’t speak any Spanish – loved my mother to death. But I had very limited access to my dad’s side of the family. Occasionally we would do the family reunion thing or go visit my grandmother. And my dad being European, was born in Poland. There was a big Polish influence when we would go to those types of events. But it was interesting for me as a child just to see both sides and appreciate what both sides had to offer. The language, the food, the traditions, the values, the superstitions were always really interesting too. There was always a little bit of similarity between the two. But then, you know, you’d find these major differences. And so I think growing up, it just made me aware of that, you know, we all come from different backgrounds and we all bring amazing things to the table.

Adrian Tennant: George, we have a very active and engaged internship program here at Bigeye. For students or young professionals just starting out in their careers, what advice would you give to help them apply a multicultural perspective in their work?

George Zwierko: I come from a general market background. Most of my career was in the general market side of things – full service, fully integrated agencies. And I chose to get into multicultural marketing. It’s not easy. I think multicultural – it’s almost like there’s a science to it. I always like to say that we’re kind of like anthropologists, we really enjoy being multicultural because we love learning about the essence of people. How do people think? And why do they think a certain way? And how do they behave a certain way? And what causes them to behave a certain way? Is there some type of traditional influence or some cultural influences that are steering them in a direction to make a decision to purchase or use something? And how does that make them tick? And that fascination is what drives us to be on the multicultural side of things. But it’s a lot of work, but I think if you’re interested in learning about people or you have an interest in understanding people and the psychology that goes into consumer behavior, I really do think multicultural is the place to be.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s great advice, thank you. If listeners are interested in learning more about developing multicultural marketing strategies or your work at Rumbo, where can they find resources?

George Zwierko: Well, you could always start at our website, which is I think if you go online and just Google “multicultural marketing,” you get to see some amazing national international work. And then I know a lot of the universities are offering or beginning to offer classes on diversity inclusion, multicultural marketing. I think that’s becoming more relevant and at the university level just because we’re watching the landscape of this country completely change and just globally how we’re starting to become more interconnected. And the planet is much smaller than it used to be. 

Adrian Tennant: George, thank you very much for being with us today on IN CLEAR FOCUS and thank you for sharing your insights into this really dynamic market.

George Zwierko: Absolutely. It’s been my pleasure. This has been fantastic. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, George Zwierko, Principal of Rumbo Marketing. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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