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Engaging Hispanics for Mass Tort and Class Action Litigation

Mass tort marketers are interested in this segment of the consumer market for good reason. In 2014, approximately 54 million Hispanics will be living in the U.S.

By Leslie Inzunza.

No group has been tougher to engage for mass tort and class action litigation than Hispanics. In part, because mass tort marketers have relied primarily on Spanish-language television and radio to reach this population.

Meanwhile Hispanic media habits have changed significantly with smartphones and the internet.

Less obvious, but no less important, is that culture has been far underestimated in marketing to Hispanics. Culture influences how they perceive and respond to marketing messages, and thus far has worked against legal marketers. These cultural barriers are often misunderstood or ignored by marketers.

More affected in environmental and toxic torts litigation

Mass tort marketers are interested in this segment of the consumer market for good reason. In 2014, approximately 54 million Hispanics will be living in the U.S. On average, they have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. They also have the lowest health literacy of any minority, making them less likely to connect their injuries to a cause, and they are an easy target for aggressive drug and device marketers. Hispanics are also vulnerable population who are affected in disproportionately high numbers in environmental and toxic torts litigation.

“Hispanic market” is of course, not one market, but a collection of subgroups from more than 20 Spanish-speaking nations who share language and many cultural practices. Despite their differences, legal marketers can rest assured that U.S. Hispanics can be reached, not by segmented subgroups, but rather by “acculturation” or how well they navigate U.S. culture and where they fall on the “path” or phase of learning U.S. culture.

Both foreign born and U.S. born Hispanics may be fully acculturated but still engage in Latino cultural practices, speak Spanish and retain the beliefs and values of their Hispanic heritage. Others are recent arrivals who look to others with more experience, mostly family and friends, to help navigate U.S. culture and make decisions for them.

Why marketing mass torts to Hispanics is different

Both terms “Hispanic and Latino” are used more or less interchangeably, but no single term is universally embraced. A segment of the population rejects “Hispanic” considering it a term of the “establishment” created by the Reagan administration for the census. Others prefer “Latino” as it came from within the culture. And of course, the terms Hispanic and Latino aren’t used much outside of the U.S.—people are mostly referred to by their nation of origin: Honduran, Dominican or Mexican.

"Culture adds a complexity of differences in the way people communicate, specifically the way people interpret or process marketing messages."

Isn’t marketing mass torts to Hispanics the same as marketing to anyone? If all consumers, all people, have the same basic needs -- food, shelter, health, and safety -- wouldn’t they respond to an ad just like anyone else whose health has been harmed or whose safety is at risk?  No, because culture adds a complexity of differences in the way people communicate, specifically the way people interpret or process marketing messages. It also affects how we send and receive messages.

Culture determines how we think and how we behave, but most of us aren’t even aware of it. As marketers who craft messaging on issues concerning health and safety, life and death, shouldn’t we understand how our target audience thinks and feels about the major aspects of life?

How Hispanics differ

Hispanics differ culturally from general market consumers in several significant areas. First, they’re less likely to take control of situations. In fact, the common legal pitch “Have you or a loved one has experienced the following side effects from Avandia…Call Now!” asks them to do just that. In general, Hispanics believe that their fate is predetermined and that things are out of their control. Their perspectives may be colored by social and economic injustice. So, accidents and injuries just “happen.”

They have a deep mistrust of institutions and different perceptions of time. Government and banking institutions are not considered trustworthy. Not surprisingly, relatively high proportions of Hispanics make up the unbanked or the underbanked—terms that financial services marketers use to describe people who prefer to save money under their mattress than trust a bank. They can carry these beliefs with them throughout their lives.

Currently, a legal ad on television is making its pitch, recommending viewers to call now to some 888-vanity phone number to exercise their rights. Hispanic caution and skepticism is understandable. As for timing, filing a claim now for a possible reward somewhere in the near or distant future holds little appeal.

More family and group oriented

Their strong sense of interdependence means that group needs take priority over individual needs. Anyone who owns a television knows that Hispanics are generally more family and group oriented than non-Hispanic whites. American brands advertising in Spanish default to this and other Anglo-generated clichés, and legal marketers follow suit.

Group orientation or “collectivism” is a powerful motivating factor within Hispanic culture.  Given this, it would behoove marketers to acknowledge it in a more meaningful way. Marketers should explore messaging with this theme in mind, to appeal to Hispanics’ “other” orientation by emphasizing the collective nature of class action or mass tort litigation.

Hispanics in general, are risk averse. There is risk in being the “first” for anything. This is especially true for newer immigrants, who are just learning to navigate U.S. culture. They assume there is risk with leading the way and they want to know that others in their network have gone before them successfully.

Make no mistake, these are just a few beliefs and behaviors, among many others, that impact in one way or another how legal ads are received, how they are processed and whether or not they will be acted on.

A changing market

Gone are the days when firms could place a Spanish media buy and wait for the cases to come in. Several factors have made it more difficult to reach and engage Hispanics.

The subgroups in the U.S. are far more diverse than before. Growing bilingualism and a new media landscape has contributed as well. Not only has television changed from the network model to cable, but new media has fragmented our attention even further.

More than ever, Hispanic consumers are using the internet, social media like Facebook and communication tools like Skype. Legal marketers who are most comfortable with Spanish radio or television advertising would be wise to move away from these traditional media and move towards new media.

When to target Hispanics

First, ask: are Hispanics as likely as mainstream market to use the drug or device? Low-T ads in Spanish targeting Hispanic men don’t make economic sense. With the concept of “machismo,” that is, aggressive masculinity still so strong among second- and third-generation Hispanic men, significant numbers of them would not likely admit to low-T.

Second, ask: if Hispanics are using the drug or device, where are they in the process of acculturation? And finally, how likely are they to make the connection between their injuries and the defective drug or device? Lower health literacy can mean that Hispanics are less likely to attribute their injury to its true cause.

With growing bilingualism it makes sense to English in marketing messages when possible. That said, Spanish is still important because of its connection to culture and its significant emotional value.  With varying levels of bilingualism in one household, a good argument can be made for using both English and Spanish in the same ad. The question of which language to use requires careful consideration, and the answer is a very unsatisfying one: it depends!

Media and messaging that work

As legal marketers seeking to connect with Hispanics, we need to remind ourselves we are educating a new consumer base about group litigation. The typical 30- or 60-second TV or radio spot is a poor vehicle for accomplishing this. The messages in legal ads do not fit their existing schemata. Hispanics use their cultural framework to decode and process marketing messages—not the framework of mainstream consumers.

No matter which language is used, culturally relevant cues that tap into Hispanic cultural themes can be used to connect with them and inspire them to act. Equally important is addressing the beliefs that can impede any response. The default of resorting to clichés and stereotypes risks boring or alienating them. More care and consideration in creative and message development is needed to successfully connect with this audience.

Latinos have embraced digital technology and are avid social media users. Their lifelines—mobile phones— are used for more than just talking. New media present opportunities for legal marketers to reach them in more meaningful and efficient ways than ever. All that’s required is a little cultural knowledge and some creativity.

a href="">Leslie Inzunza is President of Inzunza Legal Marketing in New York. Fluent in Spanish, she advises legal industry clients on trends in U.S. Hispanic/Latino markets, developing Hispanic marketing strategy for Mass Tort clients.

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