By Jose Villa,
This year’s Super Bowl ads brought to light the role advertising plays in our cultural discourse. As I discussed in a recent NPR interview on the controversy over Super Bowl ads from Budweiser and 84 Lumber, advertising is both a reflection of our culture and an influencer on the culture.
I am most concerned with advertising’s influence during this incredibly politically polarized time in our country’s history. We as advertisers have an important responsibility to influence the culture, particularly as it relates to Hispanics and how the general population views them.
Many people in this country are justifiably concerned about illegal immigration and the negative impact of low-skilled immigrant workers and cross-border trade with Mexico on jobs. Unfortunately, this concern is widening a chasm in our country and fueling negative views of Hispanics. My intention is not to criticize those who feel this way about Hispanics.
Instead, it’s a call to my fellow Hispanic marketers to take a step back, take the high road, and use this moment to answer a higher call to serve our community and country. We have an opportunity, together with the media and news organizations to shape the narrative and influence the culture in positive ways.
How do we do this? To start, we must make sure that we represent Hispanics in the most authentic way possible, avoiding stereotypes feeding the misconceptions at the heart of the political discourse. This is particularly important in mainstream, or so-called “Total Market” advertising featuring Hispanics. We need to show positive representations of Hispanics in ads.
Not as gardeners, day laborers, or maids. We also have a responsibility to show the contribution Hispanics — particularly immigrant Hispanics — are making to this country. The businesses they are starting, the jobs they are creating, the families they are raising, the products and services they are consuming.
Secondly, we must have a difficult and honest dialogue about assimilation, language and diversity. Few people have been pushing the importance of diversity more than I. I think we’ve pushed diversity and multiculturalism too far. Part of what is underlying the anti-immigrant rhetoric and nationalist sentiment in this country is that we, as advertisers and the media, have pushed and promoted our differences too much.
This is ironically what underpins the traditional ethnic-specific multicultural marketing of the last 30 years. We have focused on and promoted — either knowingly or not — the fact that many Hispanics are not acculturated (aka assimilated), that they prefer to speak Spanish. Unfortunately, this has created sentiment among non-Hispanics that Hispanic immigrants are not becoming Americans. Nothing can be further from the truth. However, we as advertisers play an important role in this and need to think about the narratives we are generating.
Advertising is a consequential endeavor. We as advertisers and marketers have a powerful opportunity and responsibility to influence culture.
Jose Villa is the founder and president of Sensis, a cross-cultural advertising agency with digital at its core.
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