Posted by: Manuel Delgado | April 28, 2008

Para español, oprima el 2

“Do you know what makes me mad? Having to press 1 for English. This is MY country. I shouldn’t have to press nothing to get to talk to someone in my own language…”

Here we go again, I thought, as I embarked in one of the most common discussions surrounding Hispanics in America.

“I don’t really have a political position about that, just a business position.” I said. “Companies make money by having that ‘press 2’ option…”

“I don’t care if they make money. That’s not the point. This is the US… “

But that is precisely the point.

To contrast our “Spanish” reality, let’s look at the closest bilingual country. In Canada 22% of the population speaks French at home, which comes to about 7.7 million. The usage of French by companies in their marketing materials is heavily regulated and mandatory.

There is in fact a tax-payer funded “language police,” known as the “Quebecois Office for the French Language.”

Sometimes the efforts of the language police are simply bizarre. Last February there were news of the French Language Office pressuring an Irish pub to take down some posters because they were only in English.

The pub owner is still arguing that his “vintage advertisements for Guinness and the St. James Gate brewery in Dublin” are decorative, thus exempt from the laws.

Other examples include a woman threatening the owner of a Quebec pet store with the “language authorities” because the parrot she wanted to buy didn’t speak French, and activists asking Old Navy to change its name to “La Vieille Rivière.”

So, in Canada companies are “forced” to add French. For companies doing business in Canada, complying with such laws add complexity and expenses to the marketing efforts.

In the US the situation is completely different. Not only the absolute numbers of Spanish speakers is almost 4 times bigger (there are 28 million Spanish- speakers in the US), but companies embark in bilingual initiatives because it’s profitable to do so.

Consumers will gravitate to the language where they are more comfortable. And even those with working knowledge of English will prefer Spanish to discuss the fine details of a complex purchase or a new product.

Like a gentleman said during one of our research projects: “If it has to do with health or money, it has to be in Spanish.”

The “comfortable” language is also fundamental when establishing a relationship with the sales person or the company.

Many smart companies understand that fact. Adding the option to engage in Spanish is a very powerful marketing move, instantly adding 28 million potential customers to your brand.

So the “press 2” is not to stay out of trouble, or to do what’s right. “Press 2” is all about money. While we hear the “beep,” happy to be able to interact in our language, the company on the other side hears “ca-ching!”

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