July 1, 2012

Stop the Presses! Latino ad consultants say Romney and Obama should spend more on Latino ads

Here's the most prominently featured article on LATimes.com today, one that exemplifies a number of my old themes:
Presidential campaigns missing the mark in advertising to Latinos 
President Obama and Mitt Romney have yet to adopt a nuanced approach to targeting the country's 21.3 million Latino voters, Spanish-language media experts say. 

We all ought to know by now that a huge amount of journalism consists of reporters synthesizing materials provided by paid PR flacks. Obviously, reporters appreciate this. They don't mention it because they don't want to offend the folks who do much of the work for them by pointing out that the "experts" who return their messages so promptly with cut and paste talking points have glaring financial conflicts of interest. So, readers must keep this in mind.

But, how obvious is all this to readers? How obvious is it to reporters, even? I've read thousands of articles over the years that quote these Latino political consultants as objective experts, and maybe a half dozen articles pointing out their financial interestedness. There is very little evidence whatsoever that mainstream media understands what it doesn't mention. Here's a rule of the long-term effect of self-censorship in public discourse: What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought.
Both political parties agree that the country's 21.3 million registered Latino voters could make a crucial difference in this year's presidential election. 
Yet in a race defined by massive spending on television ads, fast-response Internet videos and sophisticated social media efforts, both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have fallen short thus far when it comes to targeting Latino voters electronically, according to some Spanish-language media experts. 
Republican candidate Romney trails Obama badly among Latinos, according to polls released last week, and isn't counting on them to propel him to victory. Even so, his Spanish-language advertising has been minimal and clumsy, the experts said. 
Some of his ads are simply translated versions of his English-language commercials — a particular no-no when trying to reach Latino consumers. 

Are there many people voting who don't speak English? If so, why?

Furthermore, from an honest government perspective, why is it a good thing for a candidate to say one thing in one language and something else in another language? If Romney is going to advertise in languages other than English, I am least reassured to learn that he's trying to say the same thing in all languages.
Obama has spent more heavily, and created more effective ads than his rival, but some experts said that so far he has failed to craft a campaign that keeps pace with the rapidly increasing size and sophistication of the Latino population, which climbed to 50.5 million in the 2010 census, from 35.3 million a decade earlier.

Those experts would say that, wouldn't they?
Neither campaign has adopted the approach honed over the years by businesses targeting Spanish speakers — one that not only depicts Latinos in positive settings, but also reflects attention to cultural nuance. A truck ad in the Midwest, for example, will show American flags and beer-drinking men, while an ad for the same truck in Arizona will depict Latino men hauling construction equipment and managing their farms.
"In the TV world, there's incredible sensitivity to trying to get Latinos excited; there's tons of money spent on 'how do we get this demographic to like our product?'" said Matt Barreto, a prominent Latino pollster at the University of Washington. "The political world has been very slow to change." 

A more subtle point is the merger over time of the sympathies of journalists and marketers. In Ben Hecht's day, reporters tended to be cynical wiseacres, but today they tend to view marketing campaigns the way movie fanboys view marketing campaigns for summer blockbusters: as enthusiasts, as admirers of the arts of trailer trickery, whose only objection is that they think they, personally, could do an even more awesome job.
Some marketing experts say Romney's Spanish-language efforts suggest he's abandoned hope altogether of reaching the Latino community. Polls indicate the same — an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll showed Obama led Romney 66% to 26% among Latino voters. 
Romney's campaign has released two Spanish-language video ads so far — "Día Uno" and "Van Bien?" — but both are directly translated from identical ads in English, a blunder in Spanish-language marketing, said Glenn Llopis, founder of the Center for Hispanic Leadership. 
"You can't just translate these things," Llopis said. "That's where a lot of these marketing things go wrong. They need to be customized, form-fitted. If the Hispanic community thinks you're just translating and not creating a campaign that speaks to them, they'll just shut off."

Glenn Llopis could no doubt provide the Romney campaign with a list of friends and relatives of his they could hire.
The ads also don't talk about issues such as healthcare and education that are important to Latino voters, many of whom are uninsured and benefit from policies such as Obama's healthcare law.

Obviously, Romney should hire a whole bunch of Hispanic marketing experts who, at vast expense, would come up with a brilliant marketing plan of some sort to delude Hispanics into voting against their rational self-interests.

Seriously, having looked at countless polls of Latino voters over the years, they strike me as far more sensibly straight-forward voters than white people. The majority of Hispanics vote for the tax and spend / affirmative action party because they net benefit from the Democrats' tax and spend and affirmative action policies. Further, Hispanic voters seem relatively immune to the complex semi-self-deluded meta-reasons that white voters are prone to, which makes whites such fascinating prey for political marketers.
What's more, some of the phrases in those ads are awkwardly translated, said Melisa Diaz, a Latino media consultant based inWashington, D.C., who has worked for the Democratic National Committee. 
"Doing Fine?" would be more accurately translated as "Las cosas están bien?" Diaz said, while the proper phrase to convey "the right direction" would be "la dirección correcta," not "la buena dirección," as used in the ads. And the English idiom "Day One" would be better if phrased "El Primer Día," not "Día Uno," Diaz said. 
"These kind of mistakes would not happen in an English-language ad," she said. "You can tell that the ads were not proofed by a native speaker."

Like, say, Melisa Diaz.
"In every way, he's not really courting the Latino vote," Barreto said. "He's doing as little as possible." 
That includes spending — Romney spent just $33,000 on Spanish-language ads between mid-April and mid-June in the battleground states of North Carolina and Ohio, while Obama spent $1.7 million over the same period, according to SMG-Delta. 

Maybe, I'm out of date on business arrangements, but the traditional way it worked was that political consultants also own agencies that bought advertising space in the media. Indeed, a main source of compensation was for them to pocket 15% of the ad budget in return for placing the ad buys. Not surprisingly, that gives these "experts" an incentive to advocate spending more on ads.

Here's a more interesting part of the article:
Perhaps the Romney campaign is paying close attention to studies that show advertising in Spanish can turn off white and black voters. When white and black audiences saw ads with a Latino endorsement or in Spanish, their support for a candidate dropped, said Ricardo Ramirez, a professor of political science at Notre Dame. 
"We know that appearing more inclusive by outreaching toward Latinos seems to work well for immigrants, but it seems to have a negative impact on blacks and whites," he said.

Who make up close to 7/8ths of the voters.


Glossy said...

"If Romney is going to advertise in languages other than English, I am least reassured to learn that he's trying to say the same thing in all languages."

Steve, I think you meant "...I am least reassured to learn that he's trying to say different things in different languages."

Or "...I am least worried to learn that he's trying to say the same thing in all languages."

William Boot said...

I'd be interested in a post on whether you think there's any chance for a strong "no more unskilled immigration" to appeal to a big chunk of black and hispanic voters and thus take away a good bit of Obama's base.

Logically, it would seem that the people who'd benefit most from no more low IQ unskilled immigrants would be low IQ unskilled citizens. It would slash their unemployment rates, raise their wages, leave more welfare/medicaid/etc. for them (because there'd be fewer of them for functional Americans to support) and give more extra help for their kids.

Against all of that — making life way better for me and my family — is racial solidarity (for hispanics) and, what?, NAM solidarity for blacks?

Why don't politicians who want to stop low skill immigration ever make that case aggressively?

I'd end the message with "Do what's best for you and yours. You can still claim you voted Democrat afterward."

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many states Romney could win if he read part of the article to the audience, looked into the camera and said, "Go to hell, you race hustlers."

Anonymous said...

Why should Obama pay for what he can get for free? Why should Romney pay for something that comes with no rewards?

RKU said...

Obviously, Romney should hire a whole bunch of Hispanic marketing experts who, at vast expense, would come up with a brilliant marketing plan of some sort to delude Hispanics into voting against their rational self-interests.

Why not? Why should Hispanics be treated any differently than all other categories of American voters?

Harry Baldwin said...

Are there many people voting who don't speak English? If so, why?

Good question? Aren't we assured that you have to be able to speak English before you can get citizenship? Isn't that one of the conditions that amnesty-pushers insist they will impose on aliens?

irishman said...

I have lost all hope in the possibility that Mitt Romney is a human being.

I don't think I've ever seen a politician who is so out of touch with the world in my life. Waffling on about high skilled immigration! Who does he think he's fooling? He is just such a weakling.

Vincent Whiteshadow said...

Our only hope for survival, short of Covintonism, is to force the GOP into the Sailer Strategy.

FredR said...

"as admirers of the arts of trailer trickery"

I liked this analogy. I love movie trailers.

Anonymous said...

Latinos should donate more to politics.

Anonymous said...

Obama 2012.

Dad said...

"What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought."
Well said, and apparently unthought until now. Google shows this pithy nugget to be entirely original.

Simon in London said...

"sophistication of the Latino population"


The last point in the orginal article is the only good one. Non-Hispanics DO NOT LIKE seeing American presidential candidates pandering in an alien language. They want the pandering in English, the language of America.

The reason is simple - if you're pandering in an alien language, you're pandering to aliens, ergo you come across as an unpatriotic alien-lover. So why vote for you?

Obama needs a reasonable Hispanic turn-out, but not at the price of alienating black men from bothering to turn out and vote (black women will vote, regardless). Romney cannot win among Hispanics, and any attempt to do so would lower his crucial white vote; the best he can do is lower the Hispanic turnout by effectively ignoring them, which seems to be his strategy.

Anonymous said...

"What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought."

Yes, but unfortunately the converse is not true.

Gilbert Pinfold.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the Mormon Church spend quite a bit on proselyting the Western Hemisphere south of the Rio Grande? You'd think they'd have some tricks up their sleeve they could lend a homeboy.

Anonymous said...

If Romney had nuts he would tailor Spanish-language ads to the fears of the Hispanic community, implying Obama/Holder are soft on black urban crime: the beer summit, "if I had a son," the Black Panthers etc.

Obama 2012: 4 more years of flash mobs!

Anonymous said...

Translating from Spanish to English is quite possibly the easiest translation job on the planet. The idiomatic gap between the two languages is quite small. Don't trust anyone who tells you that Spanish/English translation needs expert, nuanced knowledge. Just look at that example: "Los cosas estan bien?" In English, "Things are good?" Or, "Are things okay?" Translating from English to German or French is a thousand times more difficult.

NOTA said...

There is a difference between high priced hispanic ad consultants and having a competent translation done in your ads. It can't be that hard for him to get a native speaker to help him translate and rephrase his ads, and not doing so looks pretty dumb to me.

The line about things you can't say becoming thngs you can't think is very true. Even if you can privately think about them, any attempt to think clearly about them leaves you without a vocabulary and without the insights you get by having multiple people think things through.

Noam Chomsky made a nice point about this in a talk I saw awhile back, pointing out that the reason those political talking head shows can't explore any ideas in depth is that there isn't enough time to say anything not right in the middle of the mainstream. Imagine trying to explain hbd in that format--you'll still be trying to explain the difference between a distribution and an individual from that distaribution, or between means and outliers, or race as an extended partly-inbred family, when the show is over and the audience is convinced you wear a swastika on your arm and goose-step in your spare time.

Beecher Asbury said...

Why is it that the Spanish editions of newspapers are not just translations of the main paper into Spanish? It would seem that the reason for the Spanish edition is to help non-natives keep up with local news and events. Yet when I viewed the Spanish editions of the Miami Herald [English, Spanish] and Arizona Republic [English, Spanish], it appears they are completely different in language and content.

Why is this so? I think if more people knew about this, they'd really frown on this practice because it seems to me that it will lead to a distinct community within our midst that doesn't care about our culture, nor we theirs.

Anonymous said...



Vinteuil said...

Seconding Dad - "What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought" is a brilliant aphorism. Lapidary, really.

Nick B Steves said...

In other news, iSteve research suggests that both campaigns could benefit by purchasing full page adds on Steve Sailer's blog.

NOTA said...


Indeed, I think at the end of the campaign, the number of regular iSteve readers who plan to vote for Obama could well double or even triple!

Anonymous said...

"I am [at] least reassured to learn that he's trying to say the same thing in all languages."

Anonymous said...



ebert follows my advice

Anonymous said...

I think Romney understands (however dimly) the drawbacks of even bringing it up. If he makes any pandering reference to Mexamericans, the left-agitprop major media will take it as a fresh chance bring up his polygamist grandfather from the old country, and the bitchier segments of the right [sort of like the "alternative right" except w/ actual numbers] will start jeering about amnesty -> Davos -> Pinch Sulzberger's girlfriend, etc. Although it's a loss for voters as well as the republic generally, more politically astute for him to give non-answers and treat the issue as non-existent.

Norville Rogers said...

"Nick B Steves said...
In other news, iSteve research suggests that both campaigns could benefit by purchasing full page adds on Steve Sailer's blog."

Do a search on "think thank." He already has a standing call to any reclusive Koch/Friess/Scaife billionaire to invest, say, low 6 figures in the blog. "Better ROI than your state school football team" is more or less in the tenor of the usual pitch.

not the Facebook guy who bought The New Republic said...

Here's the classic on-behalf-of-my-colleague version:

And it often seems to tie in somehow with the name "Haim Saiban"--another handy query term