It’s the Culture!!! But, what is “culture”?

February 26, 2015
By Juan Tornoe 

Culture here, culture there, culture everywhere. Along with “customer engagement” and “content marketing”, culture is one of the words that has been popping up on my newsfeed, at the office, during client meetings, you name it.

“We live in a multicultural society.”

“You need to connect with [any group’s name]’s culture.”

“I am proud of my culture!” 

“The Latino culture ________________. (Fill in the blank)

Many, including myself, use (sometimes overuse) it so often, so loosely that, we tend to dilute its power and many times distort its meaning. As much as I try staying true to its nature when talking about it with colleagues and clients alike, it’s way too easy to slip and fumble this powerful word’s handling.

Thankfully, I was “cornered” into performing a deep dive on the subject, for a panel at the Center for Hispanic Marketing and Communication at FSU’s 2015 International Conference on Media and Marketing. This made me gather all my notes and mullings about culture and arrange them in a succinct manner.

Therefore, here are my two cents on culture… hope you enjoy.

First, let’s look at its definition…

Culture is the collective social institutions, customs, intellectual expressions, values, and way of life of a particular group.

It is very important to note that there is no mention of “ethnicity” within the previous description.

Now let’s dive a little deeper and look into each of its building blocks, or Elements of Culture.

  • Social Institutions: The organization of the group into smaller groups - friends, families, occupations, and interests. For Hispanics, think of our extended family, including that guy that who we were taught to call tío (uncle) and later in life we found out he was not related to us!
  • Customs: Beliefs, traditions, and collective history, defining patterns of behavior. An example within most in the Latino community – although painfully I am an exception – is our more relaxed concept of time, and punctuality that comes along with it. I like to say that we live in LST, Latino Standard Time.
  • Intellectual Expressions: Including but not limited to arts, literature, and most certainly cuisine; they teach about a culture’s characteristics, promoting pride and unity within the group. For Hispanics, it goes from Mariachis to Mofongo, Mate and Mole, all the way to Mario Vargas Llosa… you get the picture.
  • Values: The standards or judgments of what is right or wrong, good or bad, desirable or undesirable. An example worth pointing out is the Collectivism that permeates within the Latino community; that “WE” over “me” frame of mind, striving for the success and welfare of the group over that of the individual.
  • Language: Used for communication within the group and passing on customs, values, and accessing intellectual expressions. It is an important element of culture, yet just one of its elements. As much as I can’t argue that Spanish, even if it is a simple “Oye, ven pa’ca m’ijo”, strikes Hispanics in the innermost parts of their being, given the multigenerational nature of persons with Latin American heritage living in the United States, language alone can’t be a defining characteristic of the Latino experience.
  • Symbols: Anything that has been given representational meaning by the members of the group. The average non-Hispanic person sees a sandal, or even a picture of it, and is unshaken. If you’re Latino and are confronted with the same image, it is very likely your insides will recoil a tad at the memory of the all-mighty “chancleta” and your mom’s preferred way of utilizing it while enforcing discipline at home.

Finally, culture is not static, but rather transforms continually based on the forces that impact it. Here are three influences that affect culture; therefore you must keep in mind:

  • Technology: Enables and accelerates the preservation of a culture’s elements. With today’s technological advancements, we have instant access to anything and everyone who reinforces our culture. For Hispanics, we observe that Social Media simply gives us more options to do what we naturally do, not only across the street, but also across the country and with our friends and family in Latin America. WhatsApp is a wonderful thing.
  • Environment: Your surroundings will mold your culture and its expressions. It is a completely different experience to live in a large city vs. a small town. Not only by its size and infrastructure, but also by its ethnic diversity, languages primarily spoken there, as well as the place of birth and heritage of those persons with whom you directly or indirectly interact.
  • Diffusion: This is the movement of customs and ideas from one place/group to another. As much as the American culture influences and modifies our community’s “Latinoness”, so we, as the largest minority in the U.S. are redefining the general market. Think tortillas outselling white bread.

Although I’ve addressed the culture issue from an unashamedly Hispanic perspective, sprinkling example after example with what I know and hold close to my heart, the above concepts could and should be applied to any other people group in order to better understand them and connect with them in a more efficient and long-term manner.

How can you apply these elements and influences to better understanding Latino Culture or any other culture for that matter? I look forward to learning what you come up with!

Should there always be a Latino insight in Hispanic Advertising?

October 8, 2014
By Juan Tornoe

I read this headline on an industry publication: “KFC targets Hispanic audience with family-focused campaign”. Have to admit, it kind of ruffled my feathers. I mean, really?? On every opportunity I have, I am the first one to recognize that the importance of family within the Latino community is the one stereotype that is absolutely true. Still, do national advertisers need to shove it in our faces on every opportunity they have? 

In my opinion, it is an insight that needs to be seriously taken into consideration while developing your marketing strategy, but it should not take center stage during a campaign's execution. Call me crazy. 

Both the article’s writer as well as the QSR company spokesperson were quick to jump into the “Family is important to Hispanics” bandwagon. Not only that, but then went on and addressed the diversity within the Latino community – not that there’s anything wrong with that! – claiming that within the family portrayed in a single spot of this new campaign we could find it all:

“The ad begins with a shot of what appears to be a modern nuclear family, then pans to reveal the diverse, multigenerational group sharing the meal, including a young teen in an outfit reminiscent of a Quinceañera, a female mariachi singer, and an older man in a guayabera shirt, among others.”

Here’s the ad for your enjoyment:


At this point, I was screaming to myself, “For real???” As much as I admire the mind-blowing differences that genetics bring to the table – pun intended, it was kind of a stretch to get the results of mixing and matching all those folks.

Then it struck me; the Spanish ad was part of a larger “KFC Favorites Bucket” campaign. So I Googled it and found this general market spot:


Radically different folks, with over-the-top exaggerations of some, nonetheless, all of them in harmony enjoying the crunchy deliciousness of good ol’ KFC standards. Within the Favorites Bucket, there was something for everyone.

Then, and only then, I saw the strategy behind it all and begin appreciating what the agency was trying to accomplish with the Spanish ad. 

Yes, there was a reason why the ad started with what seemed to be a nuclear family, and then went crazy diverse on the different folks around the table. Family was part of the story, but it wasn’t the punch line. That quintessential Latino insight was considered, but it was not the be-all and end-all of the message being conveyed. 

For what it’s worth, they could have sprinkled each one of the ads with characters from the other one: Say the mariachi girl in the English ad and the Asian lady in the Spanish ad.

Bottom line, in my humble opinion, for this specific ad campaign there was no Hispanic insight. The insight was that “in our Favorites Bucket there’s something for everyone”. They did deliver this message in-culture and in-language with both executions showed above. 

By trying to over-explain it, and pretend it is about Latino culture & diversity, they turned a decent ad into what I first perceived – given the explanations on the article - as a contrived and stereotypical ad.

Are Businesses Hesitant to Connect With Hispanic Consumers?

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January 18, 2013

As we learned in the recent presidential election, it’s always a good idea to connect with Hispanic Americans. In many parts of the country, this is as true in business as it is in politics. But for some reason, many businesses seem hesitant to try to appeal to this big and important demographic.

At my boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex., I see lots of opportunities for businesses to set themselves apart and pick up some market share by reaching out. But I am often puzzled by the number of retail and professional service businesses that pass up these opportunities. When we have broached incorporating Hispanic outreach with retailers, we have explained why outreach makes business sense and how subtle shifts in their marketing programs might appeal to Latino consumers. The initial reaction has been one of surprise, intrigue and excitement — followed by little or no action.

Here’s what we know about the size of this large and growing market: According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Hispanics control $1 trillion in annual buying power in the United States. By 2015, Selig projects that power to grow to $1.5 trillion, basically the size of the economy of Mexico. So why does this large and desirable population continue to be overlooked by many businesses?

Over a recent lunch of tortas de hongo and nopales at an East Austin Mexican restaurant, I posed this question to Juan Tornoe of Cultural Strategies, a multicultural marketing and communications firm my agency has partnered with. Mr. Tornoe is chief marketing officer at Cultural Strategies and also writes a Latino marketing blog called Hispanic Trending. His insights have been quoted by The Times, NPR, CNN and many others, and as you’ll see, he is quite passionate about Hispanic marketing.

Continue reading @ the New York Times' You're the Boss blog

Meet The Best Of The Best Among Latin@s In Social Media And Tech Innovation

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October 29, 2012
By Ana Roca Castro

It is with great pride and honor that we would like to introduce you to The Best Of The Best in Cyberlandia.  These talented individuals and organizations have excelled in performance and dedication.  They understand how to reach the Latino community online.  We would like to thank Toyota for sponsoring the LATISM’12 Awards Gala.  Thanks to Toyota we were able to give everyone here a well deserved recognition.  If you missed it, you can watch it here:

Congratulations to all the nominees and a huge round of cyber-applause to all the winners listed here. Visit them and congratulate each one for being such champions in helping this new industry gain credibility and high prestige.

Best Latin@ Business Blogger

Juan Tornoe – Hispanic Trending

Muchas gracias #Latism !!


Source: LATISM

Mexico And The Debate: Perhaps The Policy Isn't Foreign

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October 23, 2012
By David Martin Davies

And don’t think some of the 24 million registered Latino voters in America didn’t notice that Mexico didn’t rate in the debate, said Juan Guillermo Tornoe, owner of Hispanic Trending Inc., a marketing and advertising firm in Austin, Texas.

“Definitely people paid attention. We see it in cyberspace, we see it on and offline, domestically as well as internationally," Tornoe said.

Tornoe said Latino voters care about the rising death toll in Mexico related to the drug war and its impact on the American Southwest.

“This is just south of our border, this is right next door, and that is important," Tornoe said.

Read the full article at Fronteras.

Does Spanish Fluency Define Your Latinoness?

September 27, 2012
By Juan Tornoe

 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least up to the 2010 Census, you are a Latino/Hispanic if you say you are. I tend to agree with this perception, because I believe that being Hispanic is more of a state of mind, the embracing of a culture, rather than the Nation or people group you belong to / descend from.

The question about the authenticity of one’s Latinoness recently came up after San Antonio’s Mayor, Julian Castro, delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Several media outlets had a field day pointing out that Mayor Castro was not a “real” Hispanic because he does not speak perfect Spanish. A grandson of a Mexican immigrant, this third generation Latino was brought up in an English-only speaking house; his mom wanted him and his twin brother Joaquin to speak and think in English since she did not want them to go through a similar experience as she did when, as a child, was punished at school for speaking Spanish.

Does this make Julian Castro less of a Latino? I don’t believe so.

The latest numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that 24% of Hispanics are English dominant; which means that almost 1 in 4 individuals with Latino Heritage feel more comfortable interacting in Shakespeare’s tongue than in that of Miguel de Cervantes.

Yes, language is part of culture. Still, language is not culture’s only element. Here is a quick run-through of a few others of its building blocks: social organization, customs & traditions, values, norms, and expressions of art & literature.

It would be difficult to argue that Mayor Castro is not connected with all the other elements of Latino culture. So what if he is not fluent in Spanish? He simply is part of the 24%; those Hispanics who live their lives in English, if not all, most of the time. They may throw in an “Oye” or a “Mijo” every now and then, but most of the time they feel at home when interacting in English.

By limiting the definition of an authentic Latino by his or her proficiency in Spanish, we are simply contributing to the same stereotype that drives many companies and organizations to define Hispanic Marketing as Spanish Marketing.

Marketing in Spanish must be a tactic, never an overall strategy to reach the diverse and complex Latino market. There will always be a place for reaching out to part of the Hispanic market in Spanish, but if that is the only thing you do, you are missing out on establishing a relationship with the 24% who you just won’t reach in Spanish.

How complex and diverse is the market? We don’t even agree on the issue of defining Hispanics by language spoken. A recent Huffington Post Quick Poll asks the question, “Is Spanish a cultural requirement for Latinos?” to which we get a split answer:

36.49% say, “Absolutely yes! That’s a crucial part of the Hispanic heritage”.

63.51% say, “ No, not in this day and age”.

Originally published on Hahn, Texas' Editorial and Trends

MundoFox takes on Univision and Telemundo


August 13, 2012
By Shereen Marisol Meraji

Hispanic marketing expert, Juan Tornoe, says the ad works.

    Juan Tornoe: It gives me the warms and fuzzies and a little tingling feeling when I see all these diverse faces that, by the way, are not stereotypical Latino faces telling me Americano como tu!

But Tornoe adds that a 30-second promo is one thing, diverse content that appeals to the American Latino, that's something else. He says American Latinos that speak Spanish want more then telenovelas, soccer games, and cleavage-baring news anchors. They want smart entertainment -- think shows like "Mad Men," "The Office" and "The Wire."

Please listen to the whole story here:

Or visit

Quinceañera birthday bash preserves tradition, marks passage to womanhood

July28, 2012
By Natalie St. John

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"Most families will put on an amazing show, but they will get sponsors," explained Juan Tornoe, founder of Austin, Texas-based Cultural Strategies, a firm that specializes in helping businesses market to Latinos.

"They approach people and say, 'Would you like to be the padrino for the dress? Would you like to be the padrino for the cake?'

They're contributing because it's their niece or their granddaughter, or they've watched them grow up."

As with formal weddings in many cultures, the quince is also a right of passage for parents, which explains why even families of modest means will invest a great deal.

"If you are from humble beginnings, to a certain degree, it's a status sign to be able to pay for a quinceañera," Tornoe said.

"It's kind of like keeping up appearances. 'I came here, I worked my behind off, so I can do this.' .... It's fulfilling for them — to be the guy dressed in a suit, the mom dressed in a fancy dress, looking elegant and celebrating their little girl's rite of passage into adulthood."

Read the entire article @ The Daily News

What's Restraining Latino Political Power?

July 25, 2012
Via Huffington Post
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On Tuesday, HuffPost Live host Alicia Menendez talked with Huffington Post Latino Voices Senior Reporter Janell Ross, Mi Familia Vota's Francisco Herida, News Taco's Victor Landa, Hispanic Trending's Juan Tornoe and Roy Lopez, a blogger and activist, about Latino voter registrations, political participation and what is really restraining Hispanic political power.

"When I talk to people who are unregistered, they always have a bag full of excuses about why they can't register," said Mendez. "Do we also have a cultural problem here as well?"

Right now, for every registered Latino voter there is one who is eligible but unregistered. In fact, there are so many unregistered Latino adults that were they to join the political process they could alter the nation's political landscape in significant ways, according to new data released by the Center for American progress late last week. The center is a Washington, D.C. based think tank.

Click here to view the entire video.

7 Reasons Why the Pizza Patrón “Picza Por Favor” Campaign Will Be a Huge Success

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May 4, 2012
By Juan Tornoe

  1. Most of their customers have actually been ordering in Spanish all along.
  2. At the very least English-speakers learned to say “por favor” during those 4 years of High School Spanish Classes. Now it’s time to get their money’s worth for all their hard work, all $5.00 worth of it.
  3. Most English-speakers who have visited Latin America have had to learn the basic survival Spanish phrase: “Una Cerveza Por Favor.”
  4. If someone is able to say “Yo quiero Taco Bell” or “Hasta la vista, Baby,” then they will be able to pull this one off as well.
  5. Because people are NOT speaking in English either when they order BibimBap, Pho Tai, Baba Ganoush, Tacos, Enchiladas, Salsa or Tortillas.
  6. The campaign is geared towards Spanish-dominant Latinos, Latino-philes and cheapskates; so most of those “boycotting” Pizza Patrón were not even targeted to begin with.
  7. You don’t want to order in Spanish? No problem; just pay the $5 for your Pepperoni Pizza, no one is stopping you.

In case you've been living under a rock lately, here's some background on this:

Pizza Patrón has launched campaign that has sparked controversy because it encourages the public to place their orders in Spanish. The "Ordena en español y llévate gratis una pizza grande de pepperoni" (Order in Spanish and get a large pepperoni pizza free) campaign, will run from 5:00-8:00 p.m. on June 5. Pizza Patrón plans to give away 80,000 pies during the three-hour window of the promotion. Free pizzas are limited to one per customer while supplies last. Despite the fact that the campaign ads explicitly state how to order a pizza in Spanish using the phrase "Pizza, por favor" (Pizza, please), for some of those who are not Spanish-speakers, the promotion appears to be politically incorrect. Around 70 percent of Pizza Patron's customers are Hispanic and the majority of the chain's 104 stores are located in areas with heavy concentrations of Latinos. From the beginning, the brand has been recognized for its 'fresh-dough' pizza, its low prices and its trademark "friendly, bicultural service."

Pizza Patrón’s brand manager, explains,“If you don’t speak Spanish, come on in. We’ll give you the phrase and make sure everyone that shows up walks away with a pizza.”  Anyone can say, 'por favor.' Some individuals are boycotting the eatery over the promotion. Some people say that now that they have to speak Spanish they don't want anything from Pizza Patrón, even thought neither of the words in the company name were of English origin.