Luna, David

ABSTRACT: One of the techniques advertisers use to target language minorities (e.g., U.S. Hispanics) is the use of code-switching, or mixing languages within one ad. This paper investigates the consequences of code-switching for ad persuasiveness. The results of two studies suggest that code-switching results in the activation of associations relevant to the language the slogan switches to. Those associations influence the valence of consumers’ elaboration such that if the language a slogan switches to possesses positive (negative) associations, consumers engage in positive (negative) elaboration, resulting in higher (lower) evaluations. Attitudinal and contextual variables interact with the effect of code-switching on ad responses.

Some studies in marketing have begun to explore the influence of language on information processing and, in particular, on memory processes (e.g., Schmitt, Pan, and Tavassoli 1994; Schmitt and Zhang 1998; Tavassoli 1999). That research highlights the link between language and consumers’ cognitive structures, illustrating the importance of linguistic theory for consumer research. Recent research by Tavassoli and Han (2001) with Chinese-English bilinguals has identified language-based processing differences that impact memory. Studies by Luna and Peracchio (2001) have found that processing a message in a first versus a second language can impact bilinguals’ memory. However, with some exceptions (Koslow, Shamdasani, and Touchstone 1994), there is a dearth of research on persuasion processes for bilinguals.

The media have acknowledged the importance of bilinguals and provide different language options for different linguistic groups (Holland and Gentry 1999; Lee and Tse 1994). Similarly, advertisers’ efforts to target and persuade bilinguals have become increasingly intense and creative. Manipulations of the language in which the ad is written are an important part of advertisers’ efforts to appeal to bilinguals. Thus, some ads include two versions of the ad copy-one in the majority language and another in the minority language. Other ads are written completely in the minority language, and yet others are mostly in one language, but switch some words or expressions to the other language. This paper explores the impact of language switches, or code-switching, on persuasion.

In advertising, code-switching generally consists of inserting a foreign word or expression into an ad slogan, resulting in a mixed-language message. Code-switching is a linguistic practice employed by bilinguals around the world (Grosjean 1982). In the United States, code-switching Spanish and English is part of the ubiquitous phenomenon commonly called “Spanglish,” which is widely used in television programming (Adelson 1998; Alvarez 1998), advertising (Alvarez 1997), best-selling novels (Chavez 2002), and on the Internet (Dillon 2000). For example, English-language ads targeting bilingual U.S. Latinos may contain a strategically chosen Spanish-language component. Thus, a recent advertisement for Latina magazine read: “Looking great doesn’t have to cost a fortuna.” The advertiser appears to believe that the word “fortuna” will be more compelling than “fortune” among a Latino audience.

Our work builds on previous advertising research (e.g., Koslow, Shamdasani, and Touchstone 1994) and identifies factors that influence bilinguals’ responses to code-switching. We begin our inquiry with a brief review of a sociolinguistic model, the Markedness Model, and other research that suggests that, for bilinguals, different languages possess different sets of associations, or language schemas. These schemas can be activated and deactivated by switching to and from particular languages. We then develop a theoretical framework that highlights sociolinguistic and media context factors that interact with the effects of code-switching and language schema activation with respect to persuasion. Two empirical studies investigate this framework. The studies provide evidence that different types of code-switching activate different language schemas, and consequently lead to different levels of persuasion. The studies also identify attitudinal and contextual factors that influence the persuasiveness of codeswitched ads.


The Markedness Model

Code-switching has been studied at great length in the sociolinguistic literature because of its frequent use by bilinguals (Benson 2001). Myers-Scotton’s (1991, 1993a, 1999) Markedness Model can be used as a theoretical backdrop to examine the social meanings of code-switching and how languages can become associated with certain meanings. The Markedness Model attempts to explain the social motivations of code-switching by considering language choice as a way of communicating desired or perceived group memberships and interpersonal relationships. One of the premises of the Markedness Model is that “humans are innately predisposed to exploit code choices as negotiations of’position.’ That is, speakers use their linguistic choices as tools to index for others their perceptions of self, and of rights and obligations holding between self and others” (Myers-Scotton 1993b, p. 478). Hence, an individual’s choice of language signals a specific social identity and/or belonging to a specific community. Speakers negotiate a rights and obligations balance with their addressees for a specific speech event, based on norms established by the community and the sociopsychological features most salient in that event. Certain codes or languages are associated with certain features, and speakers choose the language they will use by matching the language to the salient features of a particular event (Myers-Scotton 1991). For example, English may be associated with the features education, wealth, and commerce, so in events in which those features are salient, the expected language choice would be English (Barker et al. 2001).

With respect to code-switching, the Markedness Model suggests that individuals will switch languages or insert otherlanguage elements into their speech when they want to communicate certain meanings or group memberships. An other-language element becomes marked because of its contrast with the listener’s expectations. A marked element is recognized by the parties involved in the exchange as communicating a specific intended meaning. Indeed, code-switching is generally socially motivated and is rarely a sign of a lack of fluency in either language (Grosjean 1982). For example, Myers-Scotton (1993b) reports a case recorded in a rural bar in western Kenya in which everyone speaks the local dialect, Lwidakho (the minority language). When a local farmer asks for a gift of money from a local man who is a salaried worker in the city, the salary-man switches languages and produces his refusal in three languages-English, Swahili, and Lwidakho. English and Swahili are used as a distancing device in this case, as both are interethnic, or majority, languages.

In other cases, switching to the local dialect can be an instrument to create a sense of proximity, as in the case of a Luyia (western Kenya) shopkeeper’s sister, who switches to Luyia, the minority language, to request some salt from her brother at his business (Scotton and Ury 1977). The woman uses Luyia instead of Swahili, which is the majority language of business, because she hopes to diminish the social distance with her brother so he will offer her a good deal.

To sum up, the Marked ness Model can be used as a framework to study the sociolinguistic motivations for code-switching. Languages can be associated with specific meanings, and individuals can communicate those meanings through their language choice. In addition, the Markedness Model suggests that a variety of factors can influence the acceptability of codeswitching in particular instances (Myers-Scotton and Jake 2001), including the feasibility of monolingual and bilingual discourse (e.g., will my interlocutors understand me if I code switch?), attitude toward code-switching itself (e.g., will they consider me illiterate if I code switch?), and acceptability of different types of code-switching (e.g., should I speak mostly in English and pepper my speech with some expressions in Spanish, or vice versa?).

Advertising and the Markedness Model

Throughout this paper, we adopt Grosjean’s (1982) terminology when referring to the languages that coexist within a given culture. Thus, we use the term majority language to denote the language spoken by the group that holds the political, cultural, and economic power within a country. Minority language is used for the language spoken by the group that possesses less power and prestige.

Koslow, Shamdasani, and Touchstone (1994) employed a sociolinguistic perspective to explore the impact of language on persuasion for U.S. Hispanics. Their study found that language had an impact on ad evaluations, but it found no differences between single-language ads in English (the majority language) and multilanguage ads in which all components were communicated in both English and Spanish. Singlelanguage Spanish ads, however, resulted in lower ad evaluations than single-language English ads and multilanguage ads. The authors concluded that use of the minority language-Spanish-resulted in negative affect because it activated a language-related inferiority complex. That conclusion is consistent with the Markedness Model because it assumes an association of the minority language with certain contexts and social relations (e.g., discrimination, a sense of inferiority). When a specific language is used in a message, particularly if the language is a marked choice, the receiver can see it as a signal of having been assigned to a particular group that may or may not be perceived in a favorable light by the receiver.

Markedness and Salience

The linguistic term “markedness” is analogous to perceptual salience. An object or part of a message is salient when it stands out from its immediate context, from the perceiver’s prior experience or expectations, or from other foci of attention (Fiske and Taylor 1984). Thus, if an individual is processing information in one language and the message switches one word to a different language, that other-language word will be made salient, or marked in linguistic terms, because it stands out from its context. Generally, research investigating salience has focused on images. Similar mechanisms seem to be at work when processing language, however. Just as salience leads to greater focused attention on an image (Cave 1999; Fiske and Taylor 1984; Nothdurft 1993), research has found that salience of a word or expression also leads to greater attention on that salient expression (Johnston et al. 1990; Strayer and Johnston 2000).

Activating Language Schemas Through Markedness

A sociolinguistic model such as the Markedness Model helps explain the notion of language schemas, which are the sets of features or associations linked to a particular language. These schemas include individuals’ perceptions about the kind of people that speak a certain language, the situations and occasions when that language can be chosen, the topics for which the language is better suited, beliefs of how the language may be perceived by others, and the meanings that may be communicated by choosing that language.

Language schemas are activated or deactivated depending on the language that is processed at any particular time. Code-switching a word within an ad slogan may present consumers with a new language schema that is different from the previously activated language schema. If a slogan begins in English, for example, individuals activate an English schema. If a word in the slogan is switched to Spanish, the Spanish term becomes marked, and individuals processing the slogan activate a different set of features associated with the Spanish language-the Spanish schema. In other words, when a slogan switches languages, salience, or markedness, is provided to the switched expression. When individuals pay attention to the switched expression, they activate its respective language schema. Thus, if Spanish is made salient in an ad, the Spanish schema will be activated even though the message is communicated mostly in English.

When a language is provided salience through code-switching, consumers activate the associations relevant to the language, becoming aware of the social meaning that the use of that language carries. Consumers then elaborate on those associations, and the valence of that elaboration will influence ad evaluations. Therefore, the language schema associated with the switched term is the one that is subject to a higher degree of elaboration because of the markedness of the term. The context language (that in which most of the slogan is written) does not elicit as much elaboration (Johnston et al. 1990).

In summary, we investigate the impact of code-switching on both language schema activation and persuasion. An additional goal of this research is to examine sociolinguistic factors that may interact with the effect of code-switching. The next section describes a framework including those effects.


Majority- Versus Minority-Language Schemas

The Markedness Model provides theoretical support for the association of a particular language to a specific set of sociolinguistic features that the individual wants to communicate. In general, majority languages tend to be associated with more positive features than minority languages, resulting in “positive” majority-language schemas and “negative” minority-language schemas (Grosjean 1982). A reason for this effect is that the negative attitudes of the majority group toward the group without power and prestige are adopted in part or in whole by the minority group, and are often amplified to such an extent that members of the minority group hold even more negative attitudes toward their own group than the attitudes held by the majority group. Indeed, this has been observed consistently in such diverse countries as the United States, Canada, Peru, Singapore, Switzerland, and Israel (Grosjean 1982).

In the United States, when comparing English to Spanish, English can be considered the majority language and Spanish the minority language. Previous empirical research suggests that U.S. Hispanics tend to perceive English as the language of integration (Clachar 1997; Gumperz 1982) and greatest vitality (Barker et al. 2001). On the other hand, Spanish tends to be associated with a lower socioeconomic status, and therefore can activate feelings of inferiority (Barker et al. 2001; Haarmann 1986; Koslow, Shamdasani, and Touchstone 1994; Platt and Weber 1984). It is interesting to note that this situation seems to hold even as the U.S. Hispanic population grows in numbers and importance (U.S. Census 2000). Indeed, recent research suggests that Hispanics’ perception of the Spanish language is often paradoxical: On the one hand, speaking Spanish is a source of pride and solidarity, but on the other hand, it is also a social stigma (García Bedolla 2003). Although Spanish is viewed proudly as the language of one’s “race,” it is also seen as a language without the power that English enjoys in society; it can therefore mark and stigmatize the Spanish speaker.

The Code-Switching Direction Effect

The above theorizing suggests that ad slogans written mostly in the minority language and switching midstream to the majority language (minority-to-majority slogans) will result in higher evaluations than slogans written mostly in the majority language and switching to the minority language (majority-to-minority slogans), even though minority-to-majority slogans are written mostly in the minority language. We call this persuasion superiority of minority-to-majority messages over majority-to-minority messages the code-switching direction effect. For example, consider a case in which the majority-language schema is initially activated by an English slogan, but then a Spanish word is embedded in the slogan, resulting in a majority-to-minority code-switched slogan. In our framework, this type of code-switching makes the minority-language component salient because of the switch, and leads to the activation of the minority-language schema and elaboration on the negative associations to the minority language. Therefore, majority-to-minority slogans should generally lead to lower product evaluations than slogans switching from the minority language to the majority language. Study 1 examines this prediction and introduces attitude toward code-switching as a factor that may influence the role of code-switching on schema activation and on the persuasiveness of code-switched ads. Study 2 investigates context effects on language schema activation and examines whether they can offset the code-switching direction effect.

Attitude Toward Code-Switching (ACS)

As discussed earlier, a variety of factors may influence the acceptability of code-switching (Myers-Scotton and Jake 2001), and therefore the persuasiveness of code-switching in advertising. This paper focuses on one of those factors: attitude toward code-switching (ACS). We conceptualize ACS as the extent to which individuals perceive code-switching to be a desirable practice. ACS has been described as one of the most important determinants of whether bilinguals would use code-switching and how they might respond to others using it (Grosjean 1982). Bilinguals generally possess a negative ACS, even when code-switching is a widespread practice in the bilingual community (Hidalgo 1986; Ramírez, Milk, and Sapiens 1983). This negative predisposition toward codeswitching is likely moderated by several factors, such as level of education or degree of integration into the dominant, majority-language group. However, this paper’s focus is not to investigate the possible antecedents of ACS. Rather, we consider the consequences of ACS. That is, we investigate the influence of ACS on responses to code-switched advertising. We suggest that ACS interacts with the code-switching direction effect. The specific nature of that interaction is described in this section.

ACS can be manipulated by exposing individuals to materials showing that code-switching is beneficial/harmful to the well-being of minority populations. Thus, if individuals are led to see code-switching in general in a more positive/negative light, the positive/negative valence of those associations may influence the valence of their elaboration when they encounter a specific code-switched message. This influence may depend on whether the message uses majority-to-minority or minority-to-majority code-switching. Table 1 summarizes the expected effects described in this section and tested in Study 1.

First, consider the case of majority-to-minority slogans, which generally have a negative impact on consumers’ responses because of the salience given to the minority language. These slogans make the minority language salient, which activates negative associations, leading to a negative response even when ACS is not manipulated (neutral ACS condition). A negative response is also expected under a negative ACS (e.g., when individuals read a newspaper article critical of codeswitching prior to reading the slogan). In that case, individuals’ responses will likely be negative because both factors related to code-switching (the stimulus influencing ACS and the slogan) have a negative influence. A negative response is also expected when the stimulus seen prior to the slogans presents code-switching in a positive light (positive ACS). In this condition, in spite of the positively valenced information toward code-switching in general, the negativity of the salient minority language should lead to low evaluations, similar to the neutral ACS condition. Therefore, we predict similarly negative responses for majority-to-minority slogans in all ACS conditions-negative, neutral, and positive.

Now let us consider minority-to-majority slogans, which have a more positive impact on consumers’ responses. If ACS is not manipulated (neutral ACS), minority-to-majority slogans should lead to a positive response to the ad. In the negative ACS condition, the negatively valenced information presented to bilinguals regarding code-switching will offset the positive associations of the salient majority language, leading to lower evaluations than in the neutral ACS condition. Under positive ACS, there are two possible outcomes. First, it is possible that the elaboration prompted by the positively valenced information regarding code-switching will reinforce the positive associations to the majority language, resulting in higher evaluations than the neutral ACS condition. A second possible outcome of the positive ACS manipulation is that the manipulation itself would direct attention to the practice of code-switching, which is generally viewed negatively by bilinguals, even though they use it regularly in everyday language (Hidalgo 1986; Lawson and Sachdev 2000; Ramírez, Milk, and Sapiens 1983). In that case, a positive ACS manipulation would not raise evaluations over the ceiling established by the neutral ACS condition. These two possible outcomes will be examined in Study 1.

Hence, ACS should influence bilinguals’ responses to codeswitching slogans differently depending on whether the slogans use minority-to-majority or majority-to-minority switching. The code-switching direction effect is expected to be an important factor to consider when targeting bilingual markets with code-switched ads. But can the code-switching direction effect be mitigated? Is it possible to produce majority-to-minority slogans that are as effective as, or superior to, minority-to-majority slogans? Perhaps if consumers believe that majority-to-minority switching is the norm, thus enhancing their attitude toward that type of code-switching, they may not see it as a negative use of language.

Context Effects and the Code-Switching Direction Effect

We suggest that media context effects may offset the codeswitching direction effect on persuasion. For example, if consumers believe that majority-to-minority switching is a widely used practice, consistent with linguistic practices of established media, the code-switching direction effect might be eliminated. This media context effect is similar to the consistency effects found by Burton and Lichtenstein (1988), who obtained more positive attitudes toward the ad when the ad claims were seen as consistent with the previous advertising strategy of the brand. Context consistency effects are likely due to a cognitive priming process (Yi 1990), such that individuals’ cognitive elaborations of the ad are influenced by the information presented prior to viewing the ad. That information activates certain concepts in individuals’ minds. The activated concepts become easily accessible when individuals process and elaborate on the target ads. Indeed, Yi (1990) finds that cognitive priming influences the cognitive processing of ads, leading individuals to interpret ads in different ways, depending on the information/context presented to them prior to exposure to the target ad.

Thus, context information presenting majority-to-minority code-switching as being the norm in Hispanic media will remain accessible in memory as individuals process subsequent ads. If respondents are exposed to majority-to-minority ads, the context will influence their interpretation of the ads. Individuals will respond to the ads more positively because of the perceived fit, or consistency, between the media context and the ad. This should offset the negative elaboration resulting from the activation of the minority-language schema, eliminating the code-switching direction effect. In conclusion, when a majority-to-minority switching context is presented, majority-to-minority slogans should result in a higher proportion of positive to negative thoughts and higher evaluations than minority-to-majority slogans.

The opposite should be true in contexts in which minority-to-majority switching is the norm. In such a case, minority-to-majority slogans will result in more positive elaboration and higher evaluations than majority-to-minority slogans. These predictions will be tested in Study 2, and if supported, they would show that the code-switching direction effect can be reversed, thus indicating that majority-to-minority slogans are more persuasive than minority-to-majority slogans in certain contexts.


This study investigates the code-switching direction effect and its potential interaction with attitudes toward codeswitching in general (ACS). Code-switching within an ad slogan should lead to elaboration on the associations of the language the slogan switches to. The nature of that elaboration will depend on the language marked by the code switch and its social meaning and associations. The code-switching direction effect suggests that if the slogan switches to the majority language, the additional processing may be of a positive nature. If the slogan switches to the minority language, however, the additional processing may be of a negative nature. This theorizing should be reflected in the type of thoughts reported by respondents. When bilinguals are exposed to majority-to-minority slogans, they should produce a higher proportion of thoughts about the minority culture, negative language-related thoughts, and negatively valenced thoughts. ACS should interact with the effect of code-switching on persuasion by influencing the nature of consumers’ elaboration on code-switched slogans. Table 1 summarizes our predictions.


A between-subjects experiment was conducted in which two factors were manipulated: direction of code-switching (majority-to-minority or minority-to-majority) and ACS (positive, negative, or neutral). A total of 105 fluent SpanishEnglish bilinguals participated in the study. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of the four experimental conditions, with either 17 or 18 respondents per condition. All respondents were either foreign-born Hispanics or first-generation Hispanic Americans who held diverse jobs in the community. Table 2 presents the sample’s demographics.

Eight slogans were presented in an experimental booklet. Following procedures typically used in bilingual research (e.g., Deshpande and Stayman 1994), the dependent measures were available in Spanish and English, and respondents were given the choice of completing them in either language. A total of 69-5% of respondents chose the English version of the questionnaire and 30.5% chose the Spanish version. This is consistent with the setting in which respondents learned their respective languages. Since most respondents learned English at school and Spanish from friends and/or family, they were most comfortable reading and writing in English. This procedure eliminates any potential comprehension problems during the questionnaire completion process due to language proficiency differences. Choice of questionnaire language did not interact with the experimental factors (F’s

Table 3 includes the slogans used in the study. Respondents were exposed to the eight slogans, all in the same code-switching direction. Slogan order was varied. Within each code-switched slogan there was one word whose language was different from the rest of the slogan. Following our theorizing, English was designated as the majority language and Spanish as the minority language.

The slogans included in this paper use one possible form of code-switching among many possible varieties. Indeed, code-switching can take many forms (Grosjean 1982). For example, it can consist of inserting fully formed sentences or paragraphs from a different language into speech (these can be based on cliches/formulaic expressions, or can be fully produced by the speaker). Code-switching can also consist of inserting parts of sentences, such as noun or verb phrases, from a different language into speech. The slogans used in this paper belong to the latter type of code-switching; they switch a part of a sentence (one word per slogan). “Borrowing” is another type of foreign-language use in speech, consisting of importing a word or part of a word (morpheme) from a different language and adapting it to the phonology and grammar of the “host” language. For instance, Mexicans use the word “carro” for car, which was borrowed from English and adapted to Spanish-language morphology. However, borrowing is generally not considered code-switching (Crystal 1987), and we do not examine it in this paper.

ACS was manipulated by having respondents read mock newspaper articles before exposure to the experimental materials. These mock articles presented the results of (fictitious) research showing that code-switching results in the success of bilingual Latinos (positive ACS), their failure (negative ACS), or that regular exercise could have certain effects (neutral ACS). The respective headlines were “Mixing Languages Leads to Success,” “Mixing Languages Leads to Failure,” and “The Effects of Regular Exercise.” After reading the articles, respondents completed three reading comprehension items to ensure that they understood the main message of the article. All respondents answered these items correctly. The experimental slogans were then presented. Respondents were told that this task was part of a study that was separate from the article evaluation.

At the end of the experimental session, the validity of the ACS manipulation was assessed by asking respondents to complete two, seven-point scales in which they were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: “Magazines that mix languages are good for Latinos,” and “In general, mixing Spanish and English is a good thing.” Although the absolute values of the responses to these scales were not extreme, they show that agreement with these statements was lesser in the negative ACS condition than in the positive ACS condition (M^sub negative^ = 3.55 versus M^sub positive^ = 4.32, F = 3.97, p

After exposure to each of the slogans, respondents evaluated the featured product. Evaluations were obtained on six, five-point scales labeled “poor quality/high quality,” “not appealing at all/very appealing,” “I would not buy it/I might buy it,” “I would not recommend it to a friend/I would recommend it to a friend,” “mediocre/exceptional,” and “very bad/very good.” Higher ratings indicated more favorable responses. Because these six items loaded on a single factor, they were averaged to form an evaluation index (α = .96). Respondents also completed a thoughts protocol that asked them to record all of the thoughts that occurred to them as they read the slogans. The thoughts and evaluation measures were administered in random order. After they completed the experiment, respondents were debriefed and dismissed.

Results and Discussion

Two bilingual judges blind to the hypotheses coded the thought protocols reliably (r = .91). No effects were found for slogan order or for the order in which the dependent variables were administered (F’s

The Code-Switching Direction Effect

The interaction of switching direction and ACS was significant with respect to evaluations, F(2, 99) = 3.17, p

An analysis of the thoughts measures provides insight into the evaluations findings. The valence of the thoughts listed by respondents displayed a significant two-way interaction between code-switching direction and ACS, F(2, 99) = 3.46, p

Attitude Toward Code-Switching in Majority-to-Minority Slogans

To examine the interaction of ACS and code-switching direction more closely, we analyzed the effect of ACS on each of the two code-switching directions. As mentioned above, all the relevant 2 × 3 interactions were significant. Consistent with the predictions in the first row of Table 1, ACS did not influence majority-to-minority slogans. That is, negative, neutral, and positive ACS resulted in similar evaluations (F’s .20), and the valence of respondents’ thoughts is not improved by positive ACS relative to the neutral ACS condition (F

Regarding thoughts about the slogan language, negative ACS did not lead to a significantly different number of negative language thoughts than neutral ACS (F = 1.01, p > .30), but positive ACS led to less negative language thoughts than neutral ACS (F = 3.94, p

Attitude Toward Code-Switching in Minority-to-Majority Slogans

As predicted in the second row of Table 1, negative ACS results in lower evaluations than neutral ACS for minority-tomajority slogans (F = 8.33, p .10). These results follow our expectations, as shown in the second row of Table 1, confirming one of the possible outcomes of the positive ACS manipulation-that the positive ACS manipulation does not improve evaluations over and above the neutral ACS condition, which serves as a ceiling for evaluations of code-switched slogans.

The thoughts measures provide additional insight into the evaluations findings. The valence of respondents’ thoughts tends to be more negative under negative ACS than under neutral ACS (F = 5.24, p

Demographic Variables

Several of the demographic and individual difference measures were used as covariates to assess their impact on the hypothesized effects of ACS and switching direction on product evaluations. One of these covariates was a calculated variable representing the respondents’ respective degrees of bilingualism. This was operationalized as the difference in fluency between a respondent’s most proficient language and his or her least proficient language, according to self-reports. Degree of bilingualism did not have a significant effect on product evaluations (F .10). Formally learning Spanish in school had a main effect on product evaluations: Those respondents who learned Spanish in school had lower evaluations than those who learned it in informal settings (from friends, family, or in interactions with the community), M^sub formal^ = 2.72 versus M^sub informal^ = 3.11, F(I, 87) = 2.92, p

Study 1 finds empirical support for the code-switching direction effect. It also finds that attitude toward code-switching in general (ACS) can influence individuals’ responses to code-switched slogans. ACS was found to influence the persuasiveness of code-switched ads differently for minority-to-majority slogans than for majority-to-minority slogans. Study 2 investigates whether context effects (i.e., the explicit manipulation of the acceptability of a particular switching direction) can also influence the persuasiveness of code-switched messages, reversing the code-switching direction effect.


This study examines the effect of beliefs about the normative nature of a specific code-switching direction (majority-tominority or minority-to-majority) on the acceptability of slogans that follow or do not follow that switching direction. For instance, when bilinguals believe that majority-to-minority (or minority-to-majority) switching is acceptable and widely used by media, that form of switching may be legitimized. We therefore predict that when ads are inserted in magazines that use majority-to-minority switching, ads using majority-to-minority switching will result in higher evaluations than ads using minority-to-majority switching, thus eliminating the code-switching direction effect. On the other hand, when ads are inserted in magazines that use minority-to-majority switching, minority-to-majority ads will result in superior evaluations than majority-to-minority ads.


A between-subjects experiment was conducted in which two factors were manipulated: direction of code-switching (majority-to-minority or minority-to-majority) and media context (majority-to-minority or minority-to-majority switching context). English was considered the majority language and Spanish was considered the minority language. With the exception of the context manipulation, the procedure was identical to that in Study 1.

A total of 56 fluent Spanish-English bilinguals participated in the study. Key demographics were similar to the respondents in Study 1 (see Table 2). All respondents were either foreign-born Hispanics or first-generation Hispanic Americans. Similar to Study 1, 61.7% of respondents chose the English version of the questionnaire and 38.3% chose the Spanish version.

Context was manipulated by instructing respondents to read a magazine cover for People magazine, “bilingual” edition. Created for this study, the magazine cover appeared to be a realistic one and included several headlines that switched from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English, depending on the context condition. In addition to the magazine cover, respondents were asked to read an excerpt from a real novel using either English to Spanish or Spanish to English code-switching. Respondents completed several reading comprehension items to ensure that they read the materials. All respondents answered these items correctly.

To assess the validity of the context manipulation, respondents were asked to complete two, seven-point scales at the end of the experimental session. The scales asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the following statements: “When people speak English (Spanish), it is acceptable to use some Spanish (English) words,” and “When you are speaking in English (Spanish), it is helpful to use some expressions in Spanish (English).” Higher scores indicated higher levels of agreement. The responses to these scales were averaged and show that respondents in the majority-to-minority context condition perceived majority-to-minority switching to be more acceptable than respondents in the minority-to-majority context condition, M^sub majority-to-minority context^= 4.32 versus M^sub minority-to-majority context^= 3-27,F(1, 50) = 7.04, p

Results and Discussion

Two bilingual judges blind to the hypotheses coded the thought protocols reliably (r = .86). No effects were found for the order of the slogans in the experimental booklet, for the order in which the dependent variables were administered, or for the language in which respondents chose to complete the questionnaires (F

Two of the demographic variables had a significant main effect on product evaluations: ethnic identification, F(1, 46) = 7.67, p .20).

The interaction of switching direction and context was significant with respect to evaluations (F = 14.15, p

Although the context manipulation influenced evaluations and the valence of overall thoughts, it did not significantly influence the incidence of negative language thoughts (F


Our research offers a theory-based empirical examination of bilingual code-switching. We present and validate a framework for the influence of code-switching on persuasion. The framework describes the importance of language schemas and associations for ad processing and specifies the possible influence of several sociolinguistic factors on persuasion in a codeswitching context. Overall, the studies presented here suggest a link between language and social meaning.

The results of Study 1 in the neutral ACS condition reveal a code-switching direction effect. Majority-language slogans that switch to the minority language were found to be generally less persuasive than minority-language slogans that switch to the majority language. Slogans switching from the majority to the minority language elicited more negative language-related thoughts and more minority-culture-related thoughts. Thus, the impact of code-switching seems to depend on the direction of the code switch. We theorize that this code-switching direction effect occurs because majority-to-minority slogans make their minority-language portion salient, or marked, compared with the majority language, thus activating a minority-culture schema, which includes or is associated with a minority-language schema populated with negative associations. The code-switching direction effect offsets the advertiser’s intent to create an emotional closeness with the minority group by switching to the minority language. Study 1 also finds that attitude toward code-switching in general can influence the persuasiveness of code-switched ads. Study 2 suggests that if bilinguals consider a specific type of code-switching as the norm, they will tend to react more favorably to it.

Advertising Implications

The studies presented in this paper suggest that there is more than meets the eye in the use of mixed-language ads. Indeed, advertisers need to think twice before employing them to target bilingual populations. They need to consider which language is made salient or marked by the code switch, and how consumers perceive that language, since those perceptions will influence their response to the ad. In addition, two issues need to be considered by advertisers. First, what is the target market’s attitude toward code-switching in general? If it is negative, the use of mixed-language ads is discouraged. If it is neutral or positive, ads could be carefully crafted to make the majority language salient. second, advertisers need to consider the context in which the ads will be viewed. For instance, if a code-switched print ad is inserted in a magazine that is mostly in English but occasionally code switches to Spanish (e.g., Latina magazine), the ad should echo that pattern of language use. On the other hand, if the magazine is written mostly in Spanish and occasionally switches to English (e.g., People en Español magazine), the ad should switch from Spanish to English.

Theoretical Considerations

The research described in this paper contributes to both consumer and sociolinguistic research. It provides consumer researchers with an awareness of the communicative role of language choice, the notion of language schemas, and the phenomenon of code-switching and the social constraints on its use. From a sociolinguistic perspective, this research extends a model of language production, the Markedness Model, to language perception. That is, sociolinguistic applications of the Markedness Model had previously examined through post hoc discourse analysis how bilinguals produce code-switched utterances in naturalistic speech. In our research, the Markedness Model is extended to the perception of written code-switched text in an experimental setting. A cognitive component is also considered in our application of the model: The other-language term inserted in a message is provided perceptual salience or markedness, which motivates the reader to direct attention to the switched expression, leading to a switch in language schemas and elaboration on the other-language schema.

Our research suggests several other avenues for future investigation of language-processing effects. Code-switching emerges as a significant area of research. Future consumer researchers could examine possible structural/grammatical or social constraints of code-switching in the context of bilingual advertising. For example, is code-switching governed by any cognitive rules or grammar? If so, is the use of code-switching in advertising limited by any of those structural constraints?

The framework we present in this paper is meant to be applicable to all languages and situations in which multilingual consumers exist. The Markedness Model, which is the theory base for the framework, has been validated in a myriad of languages, and the factors specified in our framework are applicable across languages and social contexts. Future research might attempt to validate our model of the acceptability of code-switching with other populations (e.g., Anglo-Americans exposed to Spanish-English code-switching). Relatedly, one might investigate differences in language perception across cultures. Thus, a particular language could be considered the majority language for one population, but the minority language for another population. For example, in the United States, Spanish is the minority language. In Paraguay, however, Spanish is the majority language, and Guarani, which is an indigenous language, is the minority language. In such a case, we would expect similar results to those presented in this paper, but with Spanish taking the role of the majority language and Guarani taking that of the minority language.

Also worthy of further investigation is code-switching at a broader level of analysis. For example, consider a magazine in the majority language that includes some ads in the minority language. At the level of the magazine (not the individual ad), this situation presents code-switching. Or consider an advertising campaign in the majority language that includes one or two ads in the minority language. From the viewer’s perspective, could this be considered code-switching? What would the impact be on product evaluations and memory structures? These and other issues must be explored in future research.

Finally, attitude toward code-switching (ACS) is found to be an important variable in our research. Study 1 manipulates ACS, resulting in a significant impact on product evaluations. Our manipulation of ACS helps make the case for a causal relation between ACS and attitudes, but future research should aim at developing and validating a scale to measure ACS. Such a scale could be used to further investigate the results found in our research and help identify bilingual segments that could be more or less receptive to code-switching in advertising.

This paper offers preliminary evidence regarding the impact of code-switching effects in advertising to bilingual consumers. Very little research has been conducted to understand how bilingual consumers process information. This is surprising, given that demographic trends indicate that bilingual populations are increasingly important around the world. Much work remains to be done to understand bilingual cognitive processing. Future research must examine the notion of language switching in more depth, test additional moderators of the effects found in our research, study code-switching through a variety of methodologies (e.g., discourse analysis), and apply these findings in other communication contexts.


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David Luna (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is an associate professor of marketing in the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College.

Laura A. Peracchio (Ph.D., Northwestern University) is a professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The authors thank Brian Sternthal for his comments on this manuscript. This research was supported by the Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Chapman University, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Baruch College.

Copyright American Academy of Advertising Summer 2005

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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