Mira! Spanglish Breaks Into the Advertising World

Colgate gets multicultural life right by showing how families really speak

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We’ve hit a cultural milestone, and nobody seems to have clocked it: Colgate is airing a series of spots entirely in Spanglish.

I could get into the advanced linguistics of it and tell you all about how the Royal Spanish Academy added the word to their dictionary over a decade ago now in acknowledgment of a changing world. I could pull chapters from the books of academics and break down all the different forms and functions of this hybridized language.

But the point here isn’t to convince detractors of the legitimacy of the codification of Spanglish. It’s much bigger than that.

This small sample signals a massive shift in culture.

Communication innovation

The copy of the Colgate spot isn’t some wink to a Spanish word or -ism. The spot isn’t a scrubbed and dubbed asset on its last breath.

It’s not a trite billboard in Miami, penned in a desperate attempt to localize. My writer colleague described it best: it’s not just Spanglish, it’s good Spanglish. Listen. This spot is communication innovation by an effectiveness-oriented CPG brand with historically conservative messaging, no less.

On that note, while Colgate does merit our focus, we ought to also laud the bilingual spots that came before it and the Spanglish non-ad cultural objects and content that live around the spot.

Etsy’s “The Recipe” TVC aired in 2021 for the holiday season, and opens on mom saying “mija, mija” to get her daughter’s attention. In seeking bilingualism at play in content, we ought to turn to Gen Z’s current preferred search engine (it’s not Google), which operates in a gorgeous sludge of Spanglish. TikTok has given rise to gold-standard short form Spanglish, for the purposes of insightful information sharing and hilarity, or both.

Why this matters

In any event, across all these formats, the marketer in me is fascinated. I’m vp of strategy at a creative ad agency. The Latina in me, who grew up in a multilingual home in New York, is welling up with emotion. I moved to the United States in 1999 where I was surrounded by Spanish as I spent weekends with my grandmother and cousins in the Bronx.

The youngest of these cousins, a little girl and the only one of us born in the United States, always preferred English over Spanish. Still, she navigates both fluidly (not fluently). Her little Spanglish voice will forever shoot roots deep into her Caribbean ancestry while sprouting branches into her future as distinctly American, whatever that may mean to her.

It’s no shocker if you think about the context: she is the generation of Dora the Explorer. The bilingual show was designed to foster representation of little girls, just like my little prima. It launched at a time when Latinos were a politicized enemy and culturally othered to the point of erasure.

Now that she’s in her 20s, she sees a voice like hers on TV… selling toothpaste. Guau.

Together, we grew up as a generation who got to see the popularity of Jane The Virgin, Bad Bunny and Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams. We watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights tell our stories and saw our bodies recolonize the ones of our Founding Fathers in Hamilton. We stan Pedro Pascal, who carries The Last of Us and represents all of us in the real world where every kid born is more and more likely to be multicultural in this very way.

Interpret, don’t just translate

As the little girl in me beams at this cultural treasure that is a Spanglish ad, the marketer in me senses great riches too. I can only imagine the epic efficiency of a campaign that’s part Spanish and part English.

The English speakers and the Spanish speakers, even those who may only understand half the content, still get the point. That is súper económico and totally genius.

Thinking of pursuing something similar and spanglish-ified for your brand? Do it, try it and see what you learn. You’ll be early to the game (according to marketers), but late to the game (according to culture). So go hire Hispanic talent and do it soon.

Ask your team, the whole team, to interpret and not just translate. Think about it: the richness of this opportunity isn’t about finding words that are synonymous with your message. Allow your brand to discover new layers to its voice, new partnerships for the brand and perked ears from audiences, all audiences, who are going to listen more closely now. Not because you’re “speaking their language,” but because you’re understanding where culture is heading.

And that’s what you call leveling up your brand, amigos.

It wouldn’t be airing if it didn’t work. That’s something worth smiling wide over, with teeth and all.