Well-known in the Hispanic community for his love ballads and salsa numbers, Marc Anthony is asking Latinos to do more than just dance these days. "The president has our back, so it's time to let him know that we have his," Anthony says in an advertisement for the Obama campaign aimed at English-dominant Latino voters. Other Hispanic notables, including actress Eva Longoria and "Hispanic Oprah" Cristina Saralegui, have recorded English-language ads for President Barack Obama with similar messages.
Many marketers say these ads are smart, because they appeal to Latino voters who primarily speak English, a growing demographic in battleground states. However, as candidates release Spanish and English-language ads geared towards Latinos, emerging research indicates that some non-Latinos may feel turned off by them.
Black and white test subjects showed decreased support for a candidate after watching an English-language advertisement that features a Latino endorser, according to Ricardo Ramirez, a Notre Dame professor who was part of the team that conducted the study. The same occurred when black and white subjects watched an advertisement with a non-Latino endorser who used Spanish phrases, Ramirez said. The experiment, which surveyed over 4,500 Los Angeles residents, was conducted during the 2008 race between Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and the academic paper will be published in coming months.
Obama and McCain supporters alike demonstrated the same decreased enthusiasm for a candidate after watching the Latino-aimed ad, Ramirez noted. Bucking the trend, Asians were more likely to like a candidate after watching ads targeted towards Latinos.
While the reason black and white voters reacted negatively was not identified in the study, Matt Barreto, another researcher who worked on the study, has a guess.
"Some voters see this advertising as sort of threatening," said Barreto, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington who focuses on Latino voting behavior. "They think, 'Where is my group? Why aren't they talking to me?"
Candidates must therefore navigate the quintessential political game of appealing to one kind of voter without alienating another. The key may be ensuring non-Latino voters don't see the ads intended for Latino voters, Barreto said. One of the ways for candidates to do this is to avoid English-language ads and stick to Spanish-language television.
"Unless someone has a fetish for Sabado Gigante or something, non-Latinos aren't typically watching Univision or Telemundo," Gary Segura, a Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford University said in an interview. Univision's longest-running program, Sabado Gigante is a popular variety show that has helped the network repeatedly outperform major English-language networks.
The Romney campaign, it seems, is lagging in the chase for the Spanish-speaking Latino voter. Most polls show Obama leading Romney in key battleground states, and increasingly so after he announced that he'd halt some deportations and grant work permits to some undocumented youth.
While the Obama campaign spent more than $2 million on Spanish-language ads since mid-April, Romney has spent only about $110,000 in the same period, according to Politico estimates. Furthermore, Spanish-language versions of Romney's English-language ads "Day One" and "Doing Fine" have come under attack for being poorly translated.
Critics say "Day One" should have been translated to "El primer día" rather than "Día Uno," and "Doing Fine?" is more accurately translated to "Las cosas están bien?" than "Van Bien?" In addition, the titles throughout the ad "Día Uno" are capitalized according to English grammar rules rather than Spanish grammar rules, which require only the first letter of a title to be capitalized.
A Romney spokesperson wrote to The Huffington Post that there are native Spanish speakers on the campaign's advertising team and that the accusation of mistranslation originated from a "a Democratic operative." Although consultant Melisa Diaz, who has worked for the Democratic National Committee, made the original accusation in an LA Times piece, others have echoed the point that the translation could have been better.
One of those people is Liliana Gil, a Hispanic market strategist and Co-founder of XL Alliance, a Cultural Marketing firm. Gil, who blogs for HuffPost LatinoVoices and Fox News Latino, says that Romney should focus his efforts on creating a message tailored to the Latino community, rather than just translating an English message. Romney "ruined his first impression" with the Latino community with a flawed Spanish-language ad campaign, Gil argues.
"On a first date, you try to look your best, and tell your story in a compelling way, and take your date to a nice restaurant. He's not doing any of that," Gil said. "We feel like an afterthought. He really missed an opportunity here."
Both candidates would do well to improve and increase their advertising efforts geared toward Hispanics, Gil believes -- even if that means turning away a few non-Latino voters in the process.
"You can be super sensitive and not advertise to Latinos to avoid upsetting some kind of conservative base," Gil said. "Or you can do the smart thing and get your message out to the right people."
Here are some more politicians trying their best to speak to the Latino community:
On his recent campaign stop in Miami, Herman Cain took some time to try some Latino cuisine, and offend a few Latinos along the way. After biting into a croqueta at Miami's famed Versailles Cafe, Cain asks, "How do you say delicious in Cuban?" Cuban, as many know, is not a language. In Spanish, however, delicious is <em>delicioso.</em>
"I was born in an island and I understand that food, gas and everything else, is more expensive. Puerto Rico has the right for a better future. My plan offers new incentives to restore the 40,000 job which have been lost and invests in the education of Puerto Rican kids. This coming July, it would be an honor to count with your vote." Obama is really pushing for the Puerto Rican vote. He visited the island in June of 2011. The first president to visit Puerto since John F. Kennedy in 1961,<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/us/politics/10rico.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"> according to NYTimes. </a> Keep your eyes and ears open for the next spanish speech by Obama.
"Dear Friends, this is the wife of John F. Kennedy, candidate in the U.S. presidential election... When world peace is threatened by communism, it's necessary to have a leader in The White House who is able to guide our destinies with a firm hand... Long Live Kennedy!" 1. No need for introduction. As if the entire world didn't know who Jackie Kennedy is. 2. It's nice to see she's friendly with latinos and 3. Given the Trade Embargo with Cuba has been firm since 1962, we're guessing that Miss Kennedy's spanish speech wasn't exactly detrimental to her husband's campaign.
Oh yes, that day Bloomberg so kindly "summarized for the spanish speaking audience" the city's plan to clean up after Irene and inspired one of the best twitter accounts of all times: @ElBloombito. The twitter account mocking Bloomberg's spanish has over 25,000 followers. The hilarious spanish-speaking alter ego was created by Rachel-Figuero Levin. "The Spanish is just so blatantly hilarious,"<a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/128711298.html" target="_hplink"> she said to NBC New York.</a> "It's the diction. It's the pronunciation. It's the accent." To @ElBloombito account, Bloomberg responded from his personal Twitter account "It's hard to learn a new language at age 69", according to NBC New York. Follow <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/ElBloombito" target="_hplink">@ElBloombito </a>here.
"Si Se PuedA!" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, got her protest chant a little mixed up. "Si Se Puede!" ("Yes It Can Be Done") was the motivating slogan first popularized by Cesar Chavez back in the 1960's when referring to social change for immigrant workers.
"This diverse community with energy with, uh, uh, great potential and possibility of advancing our country, is going to be the one that decides the elections. And if we fall behind because we dont do the effort and or we're being irrespecutful, or whatever, then, that's lack of common sense." So, essentially, you need the latino vote Jeb?
In Mitt Romney's ninth spanish-language television ad, his son Craig spoke to Latino audiences about his father's beliefs and origins. "I would like to tell you how my father, Mitt Romney, thinks," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/craig-romney-mitt-mexican-ad_n_1682238.html#slide=1165327" target="_hplink">Craig Romney says in the ad, translated to English by the campaign.</a> "He values very much that we are a nation of immigrants. My grandfather George was born in Mexico. For our family the greatness of the United States is how we respect and help each other, regardless of where we come from."
Just a week after announcing his decision to halt deportation for some undocumented young people, President Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/22/obama-naleo-speech-immigration_n_1619126.html" target="_hplink">spoke at the NALEO conference</a> and schmoozed away with the Latino audience. "Que placer estar aqui con tanto amigos!" ("what a pleasure being here with all these friends") said Obama at the beginning of his speech.