Language News: The Subtleties of Marketing Beer to Latinos

Quite often, news-stories about beer commercials focus on the objectification of women.  While such objectification is certainly an important topic, the meta-discussion of beer commercials on NPR last August offered a refreshingly new topic: the ethnic patterns of beer marketing.  As part of a series on our country’s largest ethnic (but not racial) group, NPR aired The Subtleties of Marketing Beer to Latinos.  Stories like this one–albeit about an adult beverage–offer a number of avenues for discussion about these critical issues in the social sciences.

As NPR points out, Latinos are not a unified group.  This is sometimes a difficult concept for academics to explain to thier students, who don’t always realize that education level varies widely based on national origin.  For example, the Cuban American immigrant population is largely composed of highly educated political refugees.  Meanwhile, immigrants from other Latin American countries are often fleeing war or poverty and other kinds of political oppression that prevent them from receiving a formal education.

Ethnographers often focus on national origin differences in the Latino population, and traditionally research has suggested that national origin played a critical role in the identity of American Latinos–some of whom are not descended from immigrants.  However, the importance of national origin among Latinos may be diminishing.  As this story highlights, advertisers have learned that national origin is not as important to their campaigns as other demographic characteristics–many of which probably have ties to the kinds of behavior that social scientists usually use to determine socioeconomic status.

This story raises interesting questions for social scientists.  Sure, our goals are very different and (I hope) more altruistic than those of advertisers, but our research needs often overlap.  

Stories like this one also allow us to introduce conversations about the contrast between research on the behavior patterns of different groups and the kinds of social stereotypes that students have been taught to avoid.  Noticing differences in the behavior of two groups is not an inherently racist activity.  If used appropriately, these judgments can help us to better understand one another.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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