Dear White Marketers: You get the inclusion wrong and people are dying because of it.
I have been leading health marketing campaigns for the Hispanic market for 30 years. Here’s what I know: From 90s symbolism to 2000s woke washing, it’s rarely enough to try really hard. Even when your intentions are the best, budget and talent aligned, and the campaign perfectly focused on goals, you can fail miserably.
I’ve been to so many meetings to make sure the “diversity” box is checked. Do we represent brown people? Are they happy? Do we have bright primary colors? Damn, let’s throw food on the table – Latinos always eat, right?
My favorite is the subject of language. Healthcare is complicated enough in English, and we’re worried about translating government-compliant legalese into Spanish? Who are we laughing at ?
More than half (55%) of Hispanics consider themselves bi-cultural, with English as the dominant language. For example, I’m Cuban-American, born in Miami, and I always check the Hispanic box. This complicates marketing to Hispanic audiences. Healthcare marketing is even more so because brands don’t understand the audience.
Why don’t Hispanics get vaccinated?
Vaccine marketing efforts are the latest and most urgent example of how health marketers are mistaking the Hispanic audience. Campaigns are failing and as a result, Hispanics are dying because urgent public health messages are getting lost.
Representation works both ways, especially for Hispanic communities. We are overrepresented as frontline workers by at least thrice our percentage of the American population. As caregivers of people with COVID-19, we are also its most frequent victims: Hispanic frontline workers are dying of COVID-19 faster and more than any other group.
Yet Hispanics, along with blacks, are the less likely be vaccinated. Our culture remains underrepresented as advertisers continue to refer to us as a “minority demographic” and struggle to emulate an authentic perspective. Health marketing generally “targets” rather than engages – and that’s precisely why it often doesn’t work.
Simply put, there is an underlying lack of trust. That’s not what we’re saying; that’s how we say it. Most of the time, healthcare companies use the wrong language (I mean lay terms, not Spanish) at the wrong level of literacy. This leads to a lot of questions and misinformation. So we’ll look to our families, our peers, and worse — social media — to figure it out.
Here are three cultural truths you need to embrace in order to market health care to Hispanics.
1. It’s not about language.
We speak different languages, and I don’t speak Spanish and English.
In Latin culture, family comes first. For women, this means above all, including their own health. Latin families are deeply connected to their tradition of resilience, which is linked to mutual aid, traditional remedies and family cohesion. Older generations and their views are revered, rather than rejected, and their input weighs heavily in family decision-making.
Health marketing does not respect these traditions. He tells us to ignore the advice of our aunts and uncles. It shames mothers to give sugary drinks to their children. He tells us that Abuelita’s cooking is bad for us. (Even if so, who’s going to tell Abuelita?) Marketing only works if it respects culture and tradition.
2. It’s a matter of trust.
Health marketing requires trust. And Hispanics have plenty of reasons not to trust the government or marketers.
Traditional Hispanic families, especially those led by older generations, may view government-mandated or encouraged procedures with suspicion. This is not the product of ignorance, but the complex history of government mandates reminding Latinos of revolution, communism or dictatorships in their home countries.
To make matters worse, the United States isn’t very “pro-immigrant” anymore. We are being told to get vaccinated by the same government that has been spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric for four years. Many Hispanic families have mixed legal status and fear that vaccination will endanger a family member.
3. It’s also about showing off
Don’t just spend on TV and digital campaigns. Be part of the Hispanic community. Show up for them.
Marketers approach Hispanic communities with “facts” about their health, expecting them to take our messages at face value. I’ve seen a lot of money spent in media, but very few healthcare brands authentically connect with Hispanic communities.
Go beyond logo placement during Hispanic Heritage Month. I mean real connection: offering a helping hand, educating about prevention and chronic disease, understanding the values around family, church and the connection to where they come from.
It’s hard. Even I struggle to find the right balance. But different communities have their own languages of choice, action and trust.
Do them right and you might even save lives.
Diana Brooks is the CEO of The 3rd Eye.
This column first appearance on campaignlive.com.