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Enticing the bilingual consumer

Interject an English word into the Spanish ad

University of Chicago Press Journals

Even though 20% of American consumers consider themselves bilingual, advertisers have had little idea of how best to reach this growing sector of the U.S. population.

A recent study of "code-switching" by David Luna (Baruch College) and Laura Peracchio (University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee), published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, provides some provoking ideas. "Code-switching" is the academic term for changing horses in mid-sentence--or, in this instance, interjecting an English word into a Spanish sentence. Because English is seen as the "dominant" language, placing an English word into a Spanish ad is more persuasive than the reverse--placing a Spanish word into an ad written primarily in English.

Why should this be so? Linguists have long understood that language signals social identity. Explaining that "code-switching activates language-specific associations," the authors observe that minority languages are perceived to have less prestige than majority languages. Thus advertisers who switched from a majority to a minority language (typically English to Spanish) "elicited a significantly higher proportion of negative thoughts" and lower product evaluations than advertisers who made the switch in reverse.

Luna and Peracchio's study is significant for raising these ideas and invites further research into consumer attitudes toward majority and minority language use, attitudes which become increasingly complex as perceptions of minority languages shift.


Advertising to Bilingual Consumers: The Impact of Code-Switching on Persuasion. By DAVID LUNA AND LAURA A. PERACCHIO. © 2005 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. - Vol. 31 - March 2005

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