We have spoken frequently on this topic but Jose Cancela has written a good article summarizing the issue.

We all use the same dictionary.


By Jose Cancela

More often than not, when people start talking about what it takes to create a National Marketing Campaign targeting U.S. Latinos, one of the first things they say is, "Well, you know, when you're dealing with the West Coast and the East Coast you have to use different dialects.They're wrong.The truth is, we all use the same dictionary.

Think about it: They don't make a different "CSI" for Boston and Alabama, another for Texas and yet another for Seattle. They don't have to. The viewers in Atlanta may speak with a different drawl than the viewers in Brooklyn, but they all understand the same English.

English-language television tend to use a very vanilla, middle-of-the-road, could-be-from-anywhere way of talking. They want the most acceptance from the most people.

Spanish works the same way. We share a common language understood by Latinos in Dallas, L.A., New York and Miami. We call it "Walter Cronkite Spanish."The Spanish-language television networks use it whether a show is produced in Mexico, Venezuela, L.A. or Miami. And everyone understands.

For years, one of the most popular Spanish-Language television shows has been Sabado Gigante. Sabado is hosted by a gentleman named Mario Kreutzberger, not exactly your typical Latino last name. Mario who uses the stage name of Don Francisco was born in Chile and was a household name there when his show went on the air here in the states. Many thought his Chilean accent would bury the show, how wrong they were.

As a matter of fact, the differences between the Spanish in one place and what's spoken in another may be more pronounced to a non-Spanish speaker's ear than they are to ours.

A woman in a grocery store made that startlingly clear to me one day while I was living in Phoenix, running the Univision station there.I was with a friend, talking, in Spanish. Suddenly, a non-Hispanic woman stopped us."Are you Italian?" She asked."No," I said.She looked puzzled."But," she asked, "What's that language you're speaking?""Spanish," I said.Now she looked really puzzled. She lowered her voice.

"But it's not Mexican Spanish is it?" she asked.

The funny thing is, by the time that happened; I had already been living in Phoenix for a while. I knew my Cuban accent sounded different from most of the people there. So did they. But the first person to make a big deal about it was a non-Hispanic.

That's because Latinos know it's really all the same language, that we all work from the same dictionary.Oh, sure, there are regional variations. And they're important to keep in mind.They can even be useful, in certain applications. You might want to use them in a local-local, targeted or grassroots-level marketing campaign.A local merchant who wants to differentiate himself from a national chain by playing up the "I'm your neighbor" angle might want to use the local lingo.But you should not let the pundits (and there are plenty of them) hijack your ideas and reduce them into East vs West.


But trying to use those local idioms can cause more trouble than it prevents. Just ask the folks at Hershey's.They launched a new line of flavors aimed at Latinos last year, and wound up earning the dubious distinction of making CNNMoney's list of "101 Dumbest Moments in Business."Instead of using the generally recognizable term for sweet, condensed milk - dulce de leche - the Hershey's ads used a particularly Mexican word, cajeta. Unfortunately, most non-Mexicans don't recognize that word. Worse, for many of the ones who do, the word is a lewd reference to a woman's, well, womanhood.

The moral: don't make it harder than it has to be.You don't need to build a rocket ship to get to the corner market; your own two feet will do.


Even your product or brand name can cause cajeta-style problems as it makes its way from one language to another. When Mitsubishi introduced the car most of us in the United States know as the Montero, it was known as the Pajero. It still is in Japan and most of Europe. You'll see it entered, and often winning, under that name in the grueling off-road Paris-Dakar Rally. But sturdy and capable as the vehicle is, Mitsubishi quickly learned that the name wasn't going to help its sales in Latin America or to U.S. Hispanics. It might even hurt. Because to a significant portion of Spanish-speakers, the word pajero means "a man who masturbates."

One version of the car model bore the designation Pajero iO. The name, a company press release stated, was meant to convey the sense of the Italian word io, which means I or me. In short, "I, masturbator."

The carmaker correctly realized that television commercial images of a rugged man or a smiling father and suburban family spilling out of the car take on a whole new connotation when paired with the label, "Pajero."

Mitsubishi did the smart thing. In Spain and the Americas, it released the car under the name we recognize in the United States. The new name, Montero, means "mountain man," conveying an image of handsome ruggedness better suited to the four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle.


The same is true of Spanish. It doesn't have to be complicated. The keys to a successful slogan are the same in any language. You want it to reach your market. You want it to motivate people to do something: to buy, take action - something. It helps if it's memorable.

Those principles apply in English or Spanish. The target market changes. The language changes. The principles don't.That doesn't mean everything that works in English will work in Spanish. Some things may. Some may not. But that's a reflection of the message, not the language.

What's important is that you deliver your message in the language we're listening in. A "Walter Cronkite Spanish" reaches the broadest universe.

The fact is, they may play more country and western music on the radio in Nashville, and more hip hop in New York, but the Cadillac commercials you see are the same in both places.

In the same way, you may find more norteño playing in San Diego and more merengue in New York, but the bottom line is this: it's the Spanish that's music to our ears.

By Jose Cancela


A Full Service Hispanic Market Consulting Firm