For those who missed my earlier column on this subject, I have been advertising my Toyota dealership on English speaking TV. Why would I advertise in Spanish on English speaking TV when everybody who watches speaks English? There are two reasons. First it “cuts the clutter”. The challenge to any advertiser is for her commercial to get noticed (and mine sure did!). The second reason I spoke in Spanish was to signal my respect to those whose [or that of their parents or grandparents] native tongue is Spanish. It is considered an international sign of respect to attempt to speak to someone in their native tongue. If you have ever traveled abroad, you may have experience this. If you have not seen my ad and would like to view it, click on this Internet link http://www.youtube.com/EarlStewartToyota.
Little did I realize when I first began to run my Hispanic TV advertisement what a stir it would have! The complaints started right away, some in the form of emails and some phone calls. I averaged about 5 calls a day and 2 or 3 emails. There were some positive comments but mostly negative. I began to wonder whether I was doing something that would hurt my business, but I could see no tangible evidence that anyone had not bought a car from me because of this ad. About half of the calls and emails were anonymous.
Recently the press picked up on this and there were news articles in the Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. This caused the tide to turn to favorable comments. Also, I’m getting very positive feedback from a lot of Hispanics. I have not received on single negative call or email from anyone of Hispanic descent. Currently the favorable comments are running about 10:1. I have gone to worrying about whether this ad would harm my business to actually wondering if this may not be the most effective advertisement I ever ran!
This whole personal experience was like taking a course in sociology. The negative callers fell into three categories. The first, and most numerous (about 50%), were the anonymous callers. They would call, state their outrage at my ad and then hang up. The second were those that were did give their names, but refused to listen to my reasoning behind my ad. These callers were less than the anonymous (about 25%) and about the same number as the third category. These callers were actually polite. They stated their concerns and were quite willing to listen to “my side of the story”.
The anonymous callers were virtually all rude, vulgar, and profane. From what I could garner from their one-way rant, they were very, very angry. I also detected “fear” in many of their voices. Some sounded like they had written their words out in advance so they could be sure they got it right. These callers clearly had no knowledge of what my ad is designed to accomplish. They seemed to think that most of the Hispanics in South Florida don’t speak English and are here illegally. I hope some of these callers will call back and listen to my explanation.
The second group was the most disturbing to me. They were not anonymous and they were not nearly as rough in their language, but I was disturbed because I could not change their minds even after they allowed me to explain. I do believe that most of them hung up with less anger in their hearts toward me and most of them dropped their threat never to buy a car from me, but they would not change their mind about my ad.
The third group was very nice and civil. Although they called to express dissatisfaction to my ad, they welcomed my explanation. I really enjoyed my exchanges with these intelligent and open minded callers. After hearing my explanation, they did a “180” and understood my advertising tactics. That’s not to say that they liked them and agreed with them, but they understood. They knew that I meant no disrespect to anyone and that I was simply a car dealer trying to sell some more cars. Several said that they would buy their next car from me.
The sociological lesson I learned (and am learning) from this experience is as follows. Education must always be a priority in a society. Ignorance is very dangerous. You cannot have bigotry and prejudice without ignorance being part of the equation. I learned this from the first set of anonymous callers. My next lesson is that education isn’t always enough. If a person is born and raised in bigoted, prejudiced environment, this can be imbedded in his emotions so deeply that education will not remove his negative feelings. Sometimes it takes more than one generation of knowledge and enlightenment to free one of prejudice and bigotry. We know that many of the Muslim terrorists were highly educated. My most pleasant lesson was from the third group who were educated, open minded, and willing to listen to another opinion. This final lesson was that educated, informed people who were raised in a loving environment can “agree to disagree”. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said that the most accurate test of a great mind is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in ones head at the same time”.