Now that advertising agencies, PR firms and marketing firms have finally noticed that the Hispanic market is the fastest growing consumer market in the United States, they are more aggressively targeting this population. However, sometimes agencies are moving too fast and firing before they aim; think of it as a metaphorical Dick Cheney incident.
Case in point: the Volkswagen debacle which was recently featured in Wall Street Journal. Volkswagen’s ad agency, CreativeOndemanD, came up with the slogan "Turbo-Cojones" for VW’s new GTI 2006 model that was placed on billboards in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Although Americans use "cojones" colloquially to mean "gutsy," the literal translation from Spanish to English is "testicles." And, according to Luis Perez Tolon, an instructor at Miami-Dade College who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, "In English, Turbo-Balls might not sound so offensive. But in the Spanish-speaking community, it will always have a vulgar connotation."
How did VW react: they took down the billboards.
How can a Miami-based agency not be in tune with what translations resonate well and which do not work at all with the Hispanic population? How can any ad agency, PR firm or marketing firm, for that matter, which says it wants to target the Hispanic market not do their homework? And, it’s not just the Hispanic market. According to the article, a few Asian countries banned Australia’s new tourist slogan "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?"
Agencies and corporations must both be accountable and conduct the appropriate due diligence before trying to influence a specific market or culture. By not doing so, they are demonstrating to other populations just how ignorant they are and how much they do not care about the population’s culture. Why, then, should the targeted population care?
One misstep could result in months or years of trying to earn back the trust of the now alienated population.
Corporations are so concerned today about how to manage their reputations in the digital world of blogs and message boards. They need to be equally concerned about their reputation when focusing on traditional advertising, PR and marketing.
In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss….it’s "bloody hell" for the corporation, not to mention the agency.