What Marketers Can Learn From the NFL’s Big Miss During Hispanic Heritage Month

It would have been best for the NFL to stay on the bench this time around

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As Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off, our social media feeds are flooded once again with messaging and campaigns from brands wanting to show up as an ally to the community. The National Football League (NFL) decided to celebrate and honor this month by tweeting an image for their “Por La Cultura” campaign. Both NFL fans and critics were quick to comment, creating a social media firestorm, blasting the design intended to celebrate Hispanic and Latino players.

How can a campaign intended to uplift land with such a negative impact? Where did the NFL go wrong with this campaign? And more importantly, what lessons can we take away so we don’t make this same mistake?

Marketers, take note. Here are three reminders to avoid recreating the NFL’s big miss during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Stop the stereotyping

The NFL tweeted an image representing their “Por La Cultura” campaign: The league’s shield had an “eñe” (Ñ) accent over the N in NFL.

According to the Diversity Style Guide, Ñ is an additional, unique letter in the Spanish alphabet—it’s not just an N with an accent mark called a tilde.

Twitter users from the community were quick to comment.

The misuse of a character vital to the Spanish language is another example of “diversity washing,” a quick check-the-box exercise. It shows a lazy approach to trying to reach the Hispanic audience and reveals it’s likely that the community did not have a seat at the table or any input into this campaign.

Additionally, the copy in the image went on to say, “This shield integrates an unmistakable Latin flavor and is fundamental to our always-on, 365-day initiative. The electric brush stroke of the ‘eñe’ is filled with an infectious personality that is carried out through the rest of the look and feel.”

This use of the term “Latin flavor” is stereotyping, tokenizing and outright offensive. No community should ever be referred to as a type of flavor.

The takeaways here are clear: When you don’t have the community you are trying to serve represented at the table, your approach will be viewed as lazy and offensive. And in the end, you will cause hurt and harm to those you think you are trying to serve.

Focus on the key message

The NFL continues to get criticized for its lack of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, including allegations of racial discrimination. This campaign missed a meaningful moment to show commitment to their DEI journey.

The intended key message, as stated in their press release, is that their “Por La Cultura” campaign “highlights Latino players, coaches and staff, celebrates Latino excellence and tells authentic stories of the community.” Instead of the image they shared, the NFL should have launched with the stories and the voices of the players, coaches and staff, putting their faces, their names and their words front and center from the start.

This is a reminder for marketers to stay focused on the key message and the objective of their campaign. Don’t get distracted or stray from what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t be persuaded and convinced to post an image because someone else thinks it “looks cool” if it brings feelings of discomfort.

Voice those concerns. And if others try to take the campaign off course, go back to the brief. Remind yourselves of the impact you are wanting to make.

Sometimes, it’s best to sit it out

Finally, sometimes, it’s just best to sit it out. And wait until you are ready. Don’t give into the pressure of participating, showing up, honoring or celebrating a heritage month or an important cultural moment if you aren’t equipped to do so.

In the case of the NFL, the goal was likely to reach a huge audience. According to the most recent U.S. census data, there are 62.1 million Hispanic or Latino people in the U.S. (approximately 18.7% of the U.S. population).

Yet it’s clear from the campaign’s creative, there are not any or enough Hispanic voices contributing to this work. The NFL’s next step needs to be a public apology and then a real commitment to ensuring diversity of representation throughout its marketing ecosystem if it wants to meaningfully participate in Hispanic Heritage Month, or another cultural moment, again.

The NFL would have been best to stay on the bench this time around and wait for the right moment to showcase their authentic commitment to serving and being an ally to the Hispanic community.