Marketing in Spanish-Speaking Latin America: Why We Must Do Our Research

January 28, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Latin America spanishLatin America is that amazing region of the world that begins in Mexico, includes many Caribbean islands, and extends down to the tip of South America. As most people know, the dominant language spoken there is Spanish, with Brazilian Portuguese coming in second. What many people don’t realize, however is that one dialect of Spanish does not fit all of these countries.

If you grew up in the U.S. and studied Spanish, you probably learned more about Mexican Spanish than any other dialect. This is perfect for those who intend to focus on marketing in Mexico, but you definitely cannot take the same vocabulary and try to use it in a campaign in, say, Argentina. It would probably be understood, as most of the movies and shows there are dubbed in Mexican Spanish, but it wouldn’t get the results you want because there wouldn’t be anything to relate to.

Besides vocabulary issues, you have the touchy subject of using words or phrases that are actually inappropriate in some countries but not in others. If you only focus your research on one country and then decide to switch up your campaign, you will end up with problems like using words that do not mean what you want them to. Imagine you want to advertise caramel in Argentina, but the only word you know of for it is “cajeta”. That would be fine if it were any other country, but in Argentina and Uruguay, “cajeta” is a slang word used to refer to a certain body part and would not go over well if used in an advertising campaign for what Argentinians know as “dulce de leche”.

Using an inappropriate slang word in advertising is a problem, but even if that doesn’t happen and your advertisement is free of any possible offensive terms, you still might not get the response you want if you haven’t read up and researched the particular dialect spoken where your target audience lives. The response will most likely be something along the lines of “what are these people trying to do here, that is not how we say (insert word or phrase here)”. Though not as dramatic as the response you would get for using an offensive term by accident, this is still not at all what you are looking for. The idea is to get inside your target audience’s heads, and that includes knowing how they talk.

Probably the worst mistake you can make is assume that all Spanish speakers in Latin America speak the same dialect as Mexico, and have the same culture. This is where the research goes a bit further and dips into aspects of the culture not necessarily related to linguistics. The food in Mexico, for example. tends to be rather spicy, but it is a grave error to assume that in Buenos Aires people will want the spiciest food possible just because they, too, speak Spanish and are in Latin America. In fact, the food in Argentina (save for some of the northern provinces like Salta and Jujuy) is not spicy at all, and has a lot of Italian influences, since many Italian immigrants settled in Argentina.

Taking that extra step to learn about the culture as well as the dialect of Spanish spoken in a country will allow you to access a huge customer base that will be excited to see a new product that has been advertised in a way that makes sense and is relatable. This will allow for a successful campaign and act as a stepping stone for you to move on to the next country or region where you would like to advertise.

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Category: Business Translation

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