It’s become somewhat of a talking point at marketing conferences that Latinos are not a single monolithic entity, but rather a diverse collection of people of different cultures, interests, and political persuasions. As syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda recently wrote, anyone hoping to reach Latinos needs to ask, “which Latinos? – there are so many different kinds.”
But another popular talking point – which on the surface might appear contradictory – is that Latinos tend to rally if approached the right way, or attacked the wrong way as pointed out here. So while it may be naïve to think of Latinos as a single tribe, it’s smart to think of us as a metatribe – a confederation of groups that sometimes come together, despite our differences.
Therein lies the opportunity – and the danger – for so many marketers. If you mess up, the consequences could be huge. We’re seeing this drama played out in several high-profile political campaigns – from the California gubernatorial election, to the U.S. Senator’s race in Nevada – where contestants may be paying the price for gaffes, flubs, and campaign rhetoric that compromised their standing with Latino voters. But it came as a surprise to many marketing insiders when a little known group called Latinos for Reform did something that was almost certain to rile Latinos. In a series of video and radio ad pieces, the group urged Latino voters to punish Democrats who allegedly failed to live up to their promises for immigration reform. How do voters punish Democrats? By not voting in the elections this Fall. (The group later claimed there was an un-aired version that also targeted Republicans.)
Before I go any further, let me be clear: I was among the many people that were outraged by the campaign. But I was more curious than angry. For me, the question was not “how could they?” The question was “why would they?” Why would anyone intentionally mess with the metatribe?
On the face of it, the Latinos for Reform campaign was not a success. Word of the campaign mobilized news outlets everywhere to swiftly condemn it. Latino groups across the political spectrum also weighed in negatively. And it didn’t stop there. Within days of the news, even conservatives began to distance themselves from the campaign, including Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee in the Nevada U.S. Senate race whom the ad seemed to support (though Democrats griped that her words came too late). But more damaging was the well-publicized decision at Univision – the Spanish-language media giant – to pull the ad. After that, Robert de Posada, the former director of Hispanic Affairs for the GOP, and man behind this campaign, conceded there was no point in continuing to place the ad. Univision owns his target market.