The Fundamentals of Communicating with Spanish-Speaking Audiences
A lot of people misuse the word â€œSpanish,â€ soÂ I will give you an abbreviated explanation of its correct usage.Â This mistake not only happens in everyday conversation, but also seeped into national advertising campaigns. Before delving into the most notable faux pas, it is important to understand a few things:
Spanish Language: There is generally little confusion about this one. Most people name 10 of Spanish speaking countries without thinking too hard. However, not all Spanish was created equal. One important note is that â€œCastilian Spanishâ€ is the Spanish originating from and spoken in Spain. This language arrived to the Americas in the 1400s and has evolved in unique ways on this ever since: accents, everyday jargon, and even some grammatical changes have occurred. Therefore, all Spanish-speaking people understand one another but can usually guess one anotherâ€™s country of origin based on these nuances.
Most prestigious high schools and colleges feel strongly about teaching Castilian Spanish in the classroom. Maybe this SAT-style analogy will help: British English is to American English as Castllian Spanish is to Latin Spanish. Due to its distance from the United States, Castilian Spanish has been much less Americanized than its Latin-American counterpart. For example, â€œcomputerâ€ in Castilian Spanish is â€œordenador.â€ No similarity to English there. In Mexico, â€œcomputerâ€ is translated as â€œcomputadora,â€ which is the English word plus the appropriate Spanish suffix.
People (and nouns in general)
- Spanish, Spaniards: mean people from Spain.
- I.e. Pablo Picasso, Salvador DalÃ, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Almodovar, Antonio Banderas
- Latino: Anyone from a Spanish-speaking country minus Spain. All of these countries are in Latin America, hence the name.
- I.e. Selma Hayek, Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, Carlos Santana, George Lopez, Pablo Neruda
- Hispanic: Technically, this is any Spanish-speaking person. However, “hispanic” is not a race. This term usually connotes Latin descent, but there is no linguistic reason for that. This word must be used with caution as it is easy to offend someone when using it. After asking many of my Hispanic friends, I learned that the nature of this word is the exact reason it doesnâ€™t sit well with people: lumping all Spanish-speaking people together under one umbrella term is frowned upon. Daena Ramos, a proud Latina, expressed her distaste for the word. She said, â€œI am Latina, not Hispanic,â€ she said emphatically. Several of my Spanish friends commented that it just makes the speaker look â€œuneducated,â€ since it conveys their â€œlack of geographical knowledge.â€
The difference between Spanish food and that of other Spanish-speaking countries is vast. Though every country has its own distinct gastronomy, cuisines from Latin American countries share certain common denominators. Spanish food, on the other hand, is notably different from any of them. These are the key differences:
- Spanish: Spaniards pride themselves in bringing out the natural flavors of ingredients. For that reason, they use very little sauces and dressings. Most of their dishes, including salads, are seasoned using olive oil and salt alone.
- Examples: tapas, prosciutto-like ham, Manchego cheese, Spanish omelet (sometimes Americans refer to these as a Spanish â€œtortillaâ€ since that is what it is called in Spain, but we have the tendency to think of the round burrito wrapping when we think â€œtortilla,â€ which would be a misnomer).
- Latin cuisine: Generally speaking, Latin food is dressed up with complex sauces (i.e. mole), herbs and seasonings. Spicy food is commonplace in latin cuisine but very rare in Spain.
- Examples guacamole, tamales, carne asada, tacos, fajitas, burritos, dulce de leche
Tostitos showed ignorance of these cultures in a recent ad. This commercial begins with flamenco guitar music, and flamenco is a traditional Spanish dance. A cartoon woman appears in typical flamenco garb, right down to the abÃ¡nico (hand-held fan) and colors of the Spanish flag. The colors were appropriate for the music, but again, showed no acknowledgment of their purely Latin American product.
Though the ad was generally well-received by the public and earned many accolades for its creativity, Tostitosâ€™ “confusion” did not go unnoticed. Consumers have reached across many platforms to point out Totitosâ€™ error:
It seems as though Tostitos was not targeting the Spanish-speaking community with this ad at all. It is unlikely that they were targeting Spanish-Americans because they just are not a big enough group to warrant just a costly, specialized ad. Latin-Americans, however, are over 50 million strong and the fastest growing minority group in the United States. Therefore, it would make more sense for Tostitos to market their Mexican-inspired product to this group, though if they were to do that they would not have highlighted flamenco dance so blatantly. The most likely explanation is that non-hispanics were the target for this. The Tostitos team probably thought that it was a beautiful concept and no one would really pick up on the incongruity. Unfortunately, they were right.
One underlying issue truly perplexed me about this: Are there no Hispanics on the Tostitos creative team, or anywhere in their agency for that matter? That would be rather surprising considering the Latin American nature of this FritoLay brand. If there are Hispanics on there team, did they speak up and were not listened to? Did they fear correcting upper management? There are so many red flags raised about the company by this one advertisement.
Do you think Tostitos sacrificed integrity for emotional draw or aesthetic appeal? Have you misused the term “Spanish” or heard someone else misuse it? Please share your thoughts and experiences!
UPDATE: Frito-Lay, the parent company of Tostitos, issued this statement to me in response to this article: “Salsa is so popular it crosses all cultures.Â So rather than representing two different cultures, we were trying to capture the passion people have for our product and we tried to show that through the dancer.Â We certainly did not intend to offend or be culturally insensitive.”Â Wrong again, Tostitos. In Spain, “salsa” means salad dressing or sauce. The type of salsa they are referring to would always be referred to as “salsa Mexicana” in part of Spain. Once again, it seems clear that they do not distinguish between different Hispanic cultures.