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TikTok has a Spanglish problem

Latinos communicate in rich ways. Why does TikTok restrict that?

Spanish plays a significant role in Latino culture, but not all Latinos speak the language. Some Latinos are comfortable speaking only English or other languages and dialects. That said, many speak both English and Spanish, and some of us speak a hybrid of both languages known as Spanglish.  

In recent years, Spanglish has grown in prominence in the United States as younger Hispanics have reclaimed aspects of their heritage. According to a survey of Latinos by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 20% of Gen Z Hispanics are comfortable speaking Spanglish most of the time. Older respondents reported being less comfortable speaking Spanglish most of the time, but it’s important to note that U.S.-born Latinos skew young. According to 2020 Census data, a quarter of the children in the United States (18.8 million) are Latino. If platforms hope to profit from brands trying to advertise to Latinos, some things will need to change.  

What’s the problema?

We don’t only use Spanglish IRL, we use it online, especially when we’re on social media platforms. But TikTok is a major platform whose ad tools and policies fail to reflect the realities of the Latino experience by placing limits on language use and targeting. According to its own ad review checklist, marketers creating ad groups and posting creative to TikTok must confirm the following:  

  • “That all countries/regions selected in an ad group's Targeting > Location module share at least one acceptable language.”

Here, TikTok has predetermined the languages that are “acceptable” in different countries, regardless of the linguistic diversity of those countries.

  • “The spoken words in your ad's video match the acceptable languages in ALL the countries/regions targeted by an ad group.”

In other words, voice overs or languages spoken have to be in an “acceptable language.”

  • “You are using multiple ad groups to target locations that have different acceptable languages.”

Essentially, this prevents marketers from using multiple languages in a sponsored TikTok post. Because of this last restriction, a TikTok ad might start in English, but if the audio includes an “¡Y ya!” or “¡Órale!”—any Spanish words—the advertiser has two choices: target only users who choose Spanish as their preferred language or provide English-language subtitles for all spoken words in Spanish. These restrictions impact the creative, the amount of text on screen, and the ability for marketers to reach multilingual audiences on their own terms.  

Perhaps the platform felt that these guidelines would improve the experiences of U.S. users, but TikTok’s ad policy falsely assumes that Latinos who speak Spanish prefer to encounter only Spanish in their messages. This isn't always the case.

It’s also worth noting that TikTok only lists English and Spanish as “acceptable languages” for ad creative when delivering ads in the United States, even though there are many more languages spoken in the United States. That’s an additional problem.

Doesn’t TikTok want our dinero?

You would think TikTok would embrace Spanglish—especially since U.S. Latinos account for the fastest-growing portion of U.S. gross domestic product and the platform continues to roll out offerings to increase its revenue stream. According to Pew Research Center, Latinos use TikTok more than any other demographic – 31% of Latinos use the platform in the U.S.

Keeping language ad policies in place would be an expensive mistake given the sustained spending power within the Latino community Over the next two years, Hispanic purchasing power is expected to grow to $2.6 trillion.

The solution

Advertisers should not be forced to choose between English and Spanish when advertising on TikTok. Similarly, user experience can be enhanced by language policies that meet the consumers where they are. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of bilingual Latinos use Spanish at least half the time during online activities. However, only 4% of Latino TikTok users watch Spanish-dominant content. According to new research from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Chemistry Cultura, and ad agency, 41% of us prefer to hear ads in both English and Spanish or Spanglish.

If TikTok needs more convincing to update their language-targeting policy, perhaps the 2.7 billion views #Spanglish has on the channel will help, too. Many of us communicate in both languages, and we deserve to be served content, including paid content, that reflects that.

As cross-cultural marketers, it is incumbent on us to align our strategies with the needs and preferences of bilingual audiences. Social media platforms should adapt policies and practices to accommodate and reflect the lived realities of multicultural, multilingual people. Restrictive policies only hinder communication within the Latino community, a costly mistake para todos.

Written by: Unidos US

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