How Culture Influences Trust for Latinas

Stephen Palacios is a General Manager/Vice President at Lieberman Research Worldwide and an expert on multicultural marketing.

"Nine out of 10 doctors agree . . . " Claims like these have been permeating advertising for quite some time. The question is, do you trust them? If you are a millennial Latina, you are more likely to say yes than not if you are seeing such an ad on a website you admire, according to POPSUGAR's recent study. Can this be true? If so, why? There are three potential cultural explanations to this question — naiveté, history, and worldview.

"The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool." – Stephen King

Could it be that millennial Latinas are naive? More so than non-Latinas? According to Nielsen, millennials in general are more trusting of ads, particularly in the digital world. Hispanic millennials are even more so, which suggests there is a cultural dimension at work. Most millennial Latinas are US born, but they are more optimistic about their future than their non-Hispanic counterparts. This optimism is based in part on the belief (and mostly reality) that they will do better than their parents, whereas non-Hispanics feel otherwise. This optimism translates into a greater readiness to believe messaging, as cynicism is not part of their experience.

Another, related explanation is the rise of income and disposable wealth for Hispanics, relative to their non-Hispanic counterparts, places them in a more acquisitive mindset. When you have more than your parents, or if your parents want more for you than they had for themselves, you are looking for messaging that can help achieve that goal. Millennial Latinas are such a group. This phenomenon can also be seen throughout Latin America, where the growth of the middle class is driving the growth of advertising as a whole, according to Zenith Media. Brands that convey success, having arrived, or social progress are often winning here, as they tap into aspirations. Who did this well? One of my favorites is from AT&T, which depicts a Hispanic future president.

"A todo le llaman cena, aunque sea un taco con sal (They call anything supper, even a taco with salt)."  — Mexican saying

Hispanics who have left their countries of origin may still hold many positive associations, but they left for a reason. For many, lack of trust in social institutions was part of the reason. Several studies, including the long-running Multicultural Monitor from The Futures Company, have demonstrated that Hispanics have a higher degree of trust in US institutions vs. institutions from their countries of origin. Whether it be the government, the banking sector, or other formalized institutions, a nationally representative group of Hispanics believes that US institutions are more likely to deliver on their promise. One can see this impact in the media industry in particular, according to Borgen magazine: "Yet, according to the Freedom House survey, only four of Hispanic-speaking America's 20 countries — Costa Rica, Belize, Uruguay and Guyana — can claim to have free media. Most of the region is considered 'partly free,' while Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela received a 'not free' rating. The current numbers reveal that Latin American media has slumped to a five-year low regarding freedom of the press.

The state of media in Brazil offers a view into the kinds of problems facing the region's communications industry as a whole. According to one investigation, 90 percent of the Brazilian media market is owned by just 14 families. The Brazilian communications sector and the political sphere are intimately connected as well, with media bosses occupying one-third of the seats in Congress."

In several categories like finance, being "Bank of America" has had positive associations with trust. Many Mexican consumers in Tijuana would drive to the Walmart in San Diego (across the border) rather than shop at the Walmart in town.

"You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible." - Anton Chekhov

While this is not exactly what Chekhov intended, his quote is pretty on target when describing the Hispanic disposition to rely on experts or spokespeople. The last potential explanation for higher levels of trust by millennial Latinas is the deepest cultural reason — natural law and Catholic dogma. Hispanics have been raised in a social, cultural, and religious tradition by in large that puts belief in experts. Truth can only be known through the interpretation of said expert, as "One cannot discover divine law by natural reason alone; the precepts of divine law are disclosed only through divine revelation" according to natural law. Using intermediaries (think elders, priests, community leaders) to navigate subjects comes a bit more naturally (pun intended) for Hispanics, as their cultural context reinforces the propensity to believe nine out of 10 doctors. CNET, among others, was lauded for "getting Hispanics" in part for choosing the now-ubiquitous Sofia Vergara as a spokesperson. Is it a surprise that Sofia is the highest-paid TV actress in the US? Not when there is an optimistic, rising, and acquisitive group of Latina millennials serving as the base of her popularity.