Language Preferences: Spanglish In Advertisement

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Method
  4. Discussion/Limitations/Future Research


The Hispanic segment is the fastest growing minority with an estimated 57.5 million living in the United States (Facts for Features, 2017). Due to a growing population and increasing purchasing power, advertisers are constantly looking at how to better appeal to this audience (Rodriguez, 2015), however Hispanics are not a homogenous group even though many advertisers take them to be (Burton & Yang, 2014).

When advertisers look at challenges they face in communicating with Hispanics, one specific factor stands out: language. There has been an ongoing debate of whether it is more effective to reach Hispanic consumers in English, Spanish or a combination of both, referred to as Spanglish (Callow & McDonald, 2005). Different studies have contradicting results as to which is better, especially when it comes to advertising to different generations of Hispanics (Alvarez, 2017). Preferences are a result of numerous factors including acculturation, ethnic identification, media vehicle and other consumer characteristics (Burton & Yang, 2014). It’s important to know that due to the diversity of the group, there will probably never be one set answer because factors are everchanging. Advertisers continue to use trial and error in researching what will resonate best with this audience. Callow and McDonald (2005) reaffirm that further research is needed in order to determine whether Hispanic audiences respond differently to Spanish language versus English language advertisements depending on media vehicle used. There is extensive research for language preference when it comes to traditional media, such as print advertising and television (Alvarez et al, 2017; Burton and Yang, 2014 and 2016; Callow and McDonald, 2005; Chavez, 2006), but research on language preferences in the digital realm is not so extensive and requires further research.

This research aims to discover if the Spanish language, English language or the mixture of both, known as Spanglish, is better received by Hispanic consumers through digital music streaming services. This study would be an important extension of existing research that aims to discover more about language preferences within a medium that has little to no existing research.

Literature Review

The audience for this research is categorized as Hispanic, referring to United States residents whose ethnicity can be traced to either Spain or a Spanish-speaking country of Latin American (Callow & McDonald, 2005). This will include all of Latin American, in addition to the country of Spain but excludes the country of Brazil because the primary language of the country is Portuguese, not Spanish. Hispanics are often categorized as a homogeneous group, although many physical, cultural and social differences exist (Palumbo, 2005). All of the previously mentioned differences play important roles in consumer behavior.

It’s important to note the recent increased popularity of Spanglish. Spanglish has come about as a mixture of Spanish and English while speaking, reading and writing (Callow & McDonald, 2005). Spanglish is often perceived to be used when a person forgets a word and substitutes it in the other language, but that is often not the case (Callow & McDonald, 2005). Spanglish speakers do use the mixture of languages to make up for forgetting words, but they also intentionally use both to put emphasis on certain words, to clarify a point or to use new words that have come about from mixing the languages. Therefore, the use of the mixed language is not always accidental or due to laziness, but many times a conscious choice to incorporate a cultural component into conversations. Chavez (2006) found in his “Spanglish in Persuasive Communications” study that some words when used in a particular language, have more meaning to the listener or reader and can cause a strong cultural connection. For example, he found that using English phrases with words that were described as closer to cultural values, such as food, heritage background, family, etc., were better received in Spanish and overall the Spanglish phrases were more effective with Hispanics.

Research by Cong et al (2013) took this a step further, not only focusing on the language of the advertisements, but also found that certain brands are more cultural than others. Brands are recognized as cultural icons that also embody cultural meaning (Cong et al, 2013). This research concluded that Hispanics do perceive some brands to have more ‘brand ethnicity’ than other, either due to their origin in Latin American countries or their long-time presence in the Hispanic community (Cong et al, 2013). Brand ethnicity will be added into the research along with language preference to explore if advertising in Spanish or Spanglish might be better received if the brand is perceived as a ‘Hispanic brand.’

One consumer characteristic is undebatable for Hispanics: they are very heavy users of digital media, even more so than other ethnicities in certain areas (Deploying Digital Strategies, 2010).Within the digital age, mobile is an up-and-coming channel [for Hispanics] (Deploying Digital Strategies, 2010) and research shows that Hispanics have higher engagement with wireless devices in various activities versus non-Hispanics (Digital Media Usage, 2008). It’s no surprise that retailers are changing their advertising strategies to coincide with the way Hispanics consume media (Rodriguez, 2015). Burton and Yang (2016) state that new media technologies are beginning to provide advertisers with new promotion and branding opportunities, particularly among consumers who are rapidly adopting the technologies into their daily lives. As part of digital changes, come changes to how people listen to music. A new option for consumers is digital music streaming services, increasing in popularity because they offer greater diversity in listening options compared to other media (Glantz, 2016). As this medium increases in popularity, advertising opportunities will continue to increase, providing advertisers opportunities to reach various market segments (Glantz, 2016).

Hispanics are a large target audience in the United States. Nearly one in six U.S. residents are Hispanic (Fulgoni & Lella, 2014), so it’s no wonder why advertisers seek to find the best practices on effectively communicating with that audience. Along with a large population and increasing buying power, a lower median age of 28 (Flores, 2017) is also of interest for this particular segment. Having a younger skewed population gives way to growth in mobile and digital consumption in Hispanics (Deploying Digital Strategies, 2010) along with a desire to keep up with new trends (Digital Media Usage, 2008). A lower median age for Hispanics is important because a large portion of the population has stronger digital tendencies compared to other non-Hispanics. This means that an online marketing strategy for Hispanics is imperative (Fulgoni & Lella, 2014).

The belief that language is an important factor in advertising directed to the Hispanic community has been largely studied in recent decades with researchers agreeing on the importance of it but disagreeing on which approach is best. Palumbo reaffirms the importance of language while at the same time taking other factors, such as acculturation levels, values, etc. when deciding which language to use, or using a combination of both. Acculturation refers to the level of culture retention of a person while simultaneously learning to live in the United States (Palumbo, 2005). This measures how much of the culture is retained and how much of the American culture is adapted. Acculturation is a high determining factor and has vast differences between different generations of Hispanics. Generally, acculturation is higher in younger audiences and those that are first- or second-generation Hispanics versus those that are immigrants. Palumbo (2005), Chavez (2006), Alvarez et al (2017) and other previous studies affirm that persons with higher levels of acculturation have a tendency to prefer the English language, but do not entirely reject the Spanish language. It’s also important to know that there are only English-speaking Hispanics that are still in touch with their heritage roots (Fulgoni & Lella, 2014). Hence, language preferences are particularly interesting to advertisers in order to determine to what extent each language is most effective when engaging with different groups of that audience.

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Although it is a segment, the younger Hispanics, do not immediately have a large buying power, they will in the near future and it's important to do research to better understand that segment. There’s also another benefit to advertising to younger Hispanics: brand loyalty. When compared to other groups, Hispanics tend to have a higher brand loyalty than others (Rodriguez, 2015) If advertisers are savvy, they will advertiser to a younger demographic now, establish their brand identity, build brand loyalty among the group and reap the benefits of a loyal consumer base in the near future.

In the past, similar research has cited acculturation theory, “the process through which immigrants begin to understand and then adopt at least some of the norms, values, and behaviors of the host culture” (O’Guinn and Faber, 1985, p. 113). However, this research will take another theory as the basis called fusion theory. Fusion theory is similar, in dealing with those that come from one culture and integrate into another (Croucher and Kramer, 2017). Fusion theory takes it further, explaining that newcomers continually build upon their knowledge base/repertoire and fuse/integrate their previous cultural knowledge with newly acquired cultural knowledge (Croucher and Kramer, 2017). Furthermore, fusion theory acknowledges that newcomers do not always acculturate, rather they adapt in a variety of ways to the new culture (Croucher and Kramer, 2017). This essentially is a more modern and more complete version of the acculturation theory. Additionally, fusion theory takes into account that newcomers also influence the larger culture and it also changes. This theory explains much more about the process immigrants and subsequent generations go through, as well as the larger culture that changes along with them.

This theory is more in line with what the research aims to discover. Fusion theory is more about creating a new culture from bits and pieces of two (Croucher and Kramer, 2017), which is what most Hispanics do when residing in the United States. Another very important point is that this theory acknowledges that the larger culture, the American culture in this case, also changes along with newcomers. This is exactly what is happening with advertisers; they are changing their way and looking for new ways to effectively advertise to a new market segment. Currently, music streaming services have advertising in various languages.


Past research indicates a lower median age of Hispanics (Flores, 2017) and a higher tendency for digital media (Deploying Digital Strategies, 2010), therefore a younger population for this study makes sense. For the purpose of this research, the population will be undergraduate Hispanic students from The University of Oklahoma, excluding graduate students and all faculty and staff. The University of Oklahoma has an undergraduate population of 27,918 according to College Simply, and of those 9 percent are Hispanic. For this study, the sample will be twenty-five percent of the total Hispanic undergraduate population.

The list of all undergraduate Hispanic students will be obtained from the University of Oklahoma and then ordered by classification of school year and then in alphabetical order within the classification category. The sample will be taken using a stratified systematic. Once the sample list is complete, the identified sample will receive a survey questionnaire through email. Students that answer the survey questionnaire will be entered to win a $50 Visa gift card to encourage participation from the selected students.

A survey questionnaire will be created that asks some personal questions of the participant, such as their school classification, age, gender, their Hispanic generation, place of birth, etc., to learn a little more about their background and seek to make connections for conclusions about their language preferences. Also, some language preference questions for other digital media platforms when related to preferred language, such as while using social media, search engines, online publication readings, etc., will be on the survey questionnaire to see if there is a connection from those answers to other digital platforms when compared to the language preference for music streaming services. These questions will be in a Likert-Scale form with seven options, ranging from preferring all Spanish on the left, to Spanglish in the middle and all English on the right. Also, they will have options that include a mixture of the language.

The sample will randomly be divided in three segments. This is in order to test language preferences among participants. Each segment will receive everything in the same language, including directions, questions and an advertisement that would appear during streaming of digital music. Segment One will receive a survey questionnaire and ad in all Spanish, Segment Two will receive the survey questionnaire and ad in all English, and Segment Three will receive the survey questionnaire and ad in Spanglish. Furthermore, the segments will be divided into two categories. The first category for all three segments will be about brand that is considered ‘American’ and the second category for all three segments will be about a brand that is considered Hispanic. The brands chosen in each appropriate category will be based on the research of Cong et al (2013) where they identified brands for each category. The advertisements for all segments will be same, using one brand ‘Hispanic’ brand in one category for all three segments and one ‘American’ brand for the other category in all three segments. Advertisements will be adapted to be in the language that the particular segment calls for. At the end of the survey, the participants will be asked and if they were comfortable answering the survey questionnaire in the language they were provided, and if they were not, to provide the language they would have felt more comfortable with, choosing from the other options in the study and providing some self-reported data.

Discussion/Limitations/Future Research

Previous research has indicated that different generations have different language preferences. The study of Chavez in 2006 demonstrated that Spanglish was most effective at the time. Since then, Spanglish has definitely grown in popularity, especially with the younger portion of Hispanics, so I speculate that with this sample of undergraduate student, Spanglish will be the most well received language. In addition to this, the fusion theory would predict that participants prefer Spanglish, as it is a mixture of both of their cultures.

As for the testing of advertisements in different languages for brands that have differing ‘brand ethnicities,’ I think ‘Hispanic brands’ will be better received in Spanish and ‘American brands’ will be better received in English, however I speculate that both brands will be received well in the Spanglish segment.

This study has many limitations, especially dealing with the small and non-representative sample size. For convenience purposes, the study will be done with undergraduate University of Oklahoma students, which right away excludes graduate students and faculty, which could perhaps change the nature of the responses due to a wider age range that encompasses older people that could be of different generational status and acculturation levels. Also, since the sample is taken from a university, it excludes Hispanics of the same age that are not attending a university and could have very different answers. This is means that this study could not be generalized to the Hispanic population as a whole because the sample size encompasses a small range of ages that are not representative of the population as a whole. Additionally, Oklahoma does not have a high Hispanic percentage compared to other states, such as California, Texas or Florida (Flores, 2017). Therefore, the sample might not be reflective of Hispanic university students in general.

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Language Preferences: Spanglish In Advertisement. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
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