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Latino Advertising Can Alienate Non-Latinos, Study Says

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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:

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