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Big Firms Awaken To Clout Of Hispanics

Millions being poured into lavish marketing


August 12, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The nation's marketers have discovered Hispanics.

From Latin scents to Hispanic candies, mainstream companies are turning Hispanic marketing into one of the hottest trends in advertising.

Among the initiatives announced in recent weeks:

  • Liz Claiborne Fragrances will soon launch Mambo, a Latino scent for young Americans. The scent: a mixture of plant roots, lavender, musk and various flowers. Company marketers want to convince U.S. shoppers that a whiff of Mambo conveys the same allure as Ricky Martin's swaying hips or Jennifer Lopez's infamous cleavage. The image they want to portray: a cool ``Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa.''
  • The California Milk Processor Board is set to launch a new ``Got Milk?'' commercial Sept. 1 featuring a Hispanic father and daughter at the supermarket shopping for ingredients to make a tres leches, a traditional Latin dessert. The commercial has a tag line that says Familia, Amor y Leche (Family, Love and Milk).
  • SC Johnson -- which owns Raid, Ziploc and other brands -- is featuring bilingual labeling on some of its products. The company is also preparing to have simultaneous launches -- in the general market and in the Hispanic market -- for an undisclosed new product. Traditionally, SC Johnson has launched new products first in the general market, then in the Hispanic market.
  • Starburst has launched an animated ad campaign that features a Spanish-speaking young woman touting the fruit chews.
  • Nike has launched a series of ads in Spanish in New York that try to capture Hispanics' affinity for baseball.


``We are heading to a widespread understanding that Hispanics are a large and important group,'' said José López Varela, managing partner at CreatAbility, a Miami marketing firm.

How large? Data from the 2000 Census, released earlier this year, show that Hispanics as a group are growing faster than expected and are on the threshold of becoming the largest minority group in the nation. Nearly 33 million strong, Hispanics make up 12.5 percent of the population -- up from 9 percent in 1990.

``Those figures raised a lot of eyebrows,'' said Fausto Sánchez, co-chairman and president of Sánchez & Levitan, a Miami public relations firm. ``More companies are looking to Hispanic-oriented marketing.''


It wasn't long ago when advertisers ignored the Hispanic market or played a waiting game, figuring that Hispanics would eventually assimilate into the general market. Advertising agencies used to refer to Hispanics as the ``$1 million market'' because advertisers were not afraid to toss $1 million into an advertising campaign geared to Hispanics -- but rarely more.

In 1998, U.S. companies spent less than 2 percent of their advertising dollars to reach Hispanics.

Then companies slowly began to spend more money on the Hispanic market. Some of the leading advertisers in the Hispanic market increased their gross media expenditures slightly from 1999 to 2000. MCI/WorldCom, for instance, increased Hispanic marketing from $34 million in 1999 to $37.5 million in 2000.

This year's release of the 2000 Census figures pushed the fast-forward button.


``The $1 million market has multiplied by 10. It's now the $10 million market,'' said Tere Zubizarreta, founder of Zubi Advertising, a Miami firm. ``They've done it because they see Hispanic marketing works. The cash registers ring, and that is what has grown the market.''

Today, companies are striving to attract Hispanics. M&M/Mars launched M&Ms filled with dulce de leche in five predominantly Hispanic markets. McDonald's rolled out a New Taste Menu of South Florida, which features a Cuban sandwich, Dulce de Leche McFlurry and the Latin McOmelet.

``All over the country, Hispanics are being viewed at a very high level,'' said Margot Berman, professor of advertising and public relations at Florida International University and a corporate trainer. ``It's a culture that is very pervasive, with lots of energy, and everyone is trying to capture that.''

The key, Zubizarreta said, is talking to Hispanics in a way that reaches them -- not translating ads from English or putting Hispanic voices on commercials: ``You have to think in Spanish to create in Spanish.''


The growing trend in Hispanic marketing has unleashed a flurry of activity at advertising and public relations agencies that specialize in the Hispanic market. Business for many is booming. CreatAbility said phones are ringing constantly, and Zubi is expected to surpass $100 million in billings this year.

Despite the economic downturn, which has hit advertisers hard, Hispanic marketing is still growing.

There is general agreement that today's Hispanic frenzy is just beginning. An increasing number of Hispanic-oriented ads and marketing initiatives loom as the number of Hispanics -- and their spending dollars -- continues to grow and companies realize that this boosts their bottom line.

The Hispanic market is still attracting new players -- TWBA, Bates Worldwide and J. Walter Thompson all unveiled new ways to tackle the market this year. J. Walter Thompson won Ford Motor's business in Latin America and gradually set up a JWT Ford Distributors of South Florida unit in its Miami office.

Bates' Miami office -- which handles the Latin American account for Mercedes-Benz -- refocused its efforts to win more Latin American work for U.S. clients. This year's goal is to increase U.S. Hispanic work, which accounts for about 20 percent of billings, to 50 percent by next year.

``By targeting Hispanics specifically, marketers are doing the smart thing,'' said Bill Adams, a professor at FIU's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. ``Companies need to look around and see the makeup of their communities and how they can get a piece of it.

``It's a smart, bottom-line approach.''

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