NPR, KQED, and Kaiser Health News recently reported on California’s health exchange—called Covered California—and its attempt to drive Latino residents to get health insurance. Latinos make up 30 percent of the state’s population, so officials knew they had to target this population to make the program successful. But the state essentially translated English-language ads directly into Spanish without taking into account the ways in which Latinos make purchasing decisions.

“Hispanics are heavily on the Internet, and they're growing very fast on the Internet, however they're not transacting on the Internet,” notes Bessie Ramirez who works for an LA-based Hispanic market research firm. “They transact on a personal basis.”

Not only did the ads not include information that would drive Spanish-speaking consumers to act, but the direct translation from English to Spanish resulted in “dry” ads, according to one advertising expert. No wonder only six percent of Californians currently enrolled in Covered California speak Spanish as their first language—the message totally missed them.

This underscores the critical importance of knowing your audience when working in public relations and marketing. Cultural differences aren’t limited to language or nationality. Senior-level executives get their news from different sources than their junior-level employees. Want to reach both? You may have to tweak your message and convey it over different social networks or media outlets.

Covered California has realized the error in trying to save money by translating the work they’d already done for an English-speaking audience. They’re now investing heavily in traditional advertising geared to Spanish-speaking audiences and providing places where Latinos can go to sign up for health insurance in-person.