Replacing the Acculturation Model

October 1, 2015

Posted by Jose Villa

Hispanic marketing started out in the 1960s as an industry built around language – Spanish language media and advertising to reach recent immigrants to the U.S. During the late 1980s the concept of culture began to replace language as a key strategic foundation of most Hispanic and multicultural marketing.

What is culture? According to Wikipedia, culture is defined as:

“A way of life of a group of people – the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.”

The Acculturation Model

As the multicultural marketing industry shifted from focusing on language to culture, acculturation became the new paradigm. Acculturation describes the process in which members of one cultural group – namely Hispanic and Asian immigrants – adopt the beliefs and behaviors of another group (Hazuda, et al. 1988). The acculturation model was an evolution of the assimilation model that described how 1900s European immigrants actively replaced their home country customs with new American customs. Acculturation describes a process where immigrants acquire a new culture without foregoing another one. It is commonly represented as a three-segment model:

  • Unacculturated – Immigrants navigating completely within their home country culture.
  • Partially Acculturated – Immigrants navigating within both their home country and new adopted country’s dominant culture.
  • Acculturated – Immigrants navigating completely within dominant mainstream culture.


This acculturation model has served as the strategic underpinning of most Hispanic – and Asian – marketing efforts for the last 30 years.

Shortcomings of the Acculturation Model
The acculturation model has started to show some cracks in the last 15 years. It was designed to address immigrant-driven diversity. With most Hispanic population growth now coming from native-born Hispanics, the relevance of a framework designed to explain an immigrant experience has increasingly become irrelevant.

Another knock is that it is overly simplistic, typically focusing on language usage to “flag” acculturation levels. The model is also one-directional and linear, assuming ethnic minority immigrants move from un-acculturated to partially-acculturated to acculturated on a linear, one-way path. Societal norms have also changed among ethnic minorities, particularly among Hispanic Millennials, who now evince different attitudes and beliefs towards culture. Namely they are proud of their cultural heritage and look to embrace it vs. assimilating into “mainstream” culture.

Most importantly, acculturation assumes that culture is tightly tied to ethnicity. For example, that Hispanic culture was something only ethnic Hispanics lived within and embraced.

A New Model: Crossculturalism
What happens when consumers of different ethnic backgrounds, who are not immigrants, not only acculturate, but also embrace multiple cultures, including those outside their ethnic background? This is what we’re starting to see with Millennials (see the Hispanic Millennial Project) and their younger generational cohort Gen Z. The Futures Company has started to define a new model as polyculturalism – the extent to which consumers balance multiple cultures.

I see this new construct as crossculturalism, with a slightly revised definition: “The extent to which consumers adapt and balance multiple cultures.

Crossculturalism has been shaping trends in music and food for years (think Kogi tacos and reggaeton). It’s what’s starting to happen with language. I believe that this new model – crossculturalism – can provide a much more effective framework to culturally understand and segment younger diverse Millennial and Gen Z consumers, and replace acculturation as the dominant strategic framework for multicultural marketing for the next 20 years.

An edited version of the post originally ran on MediaPost Engage:Hispanic on October 1, 2015

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