Washington — Dom De Luise, with his reverence for the kitchen, is a natural for plugging culinary products on television. His sales pitch is also a big hit in Spanish-language commercials -- despite his gringo accent. Mr. De Luise's commercial is intended to reach the more than 17 million Hispanics in the United States, an ethnic group whose numbers have leaped 16 percent during the past five years. That figure is expected to skyrocket 30 percent by 1990, while the overall United States population may rise by 3 percent.
``It's a huge market with a lot of money,'' says Jim Loretta, vice-president of Strategy Research Corporation, a Miami company that has closely examined the Hispanic population.
Millions of advertising dollars are chasing after the exploding Hispanic population, which Strategy Research says is a $90 billion market.
``Advertisers are becoming more aware of targeting the Spanish-speaking market,'' says Stephen Beale, editor of Hispanic Business, a magazine based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
To reach Hispanics, advertisers are increasingly turning to Spanish-language television to push their message.
``The increased use is snowballing now,'' says Peter Zomaya, general manager of WCIU-TV, Chicago's oldest Spanish-language television station.
Mr. Zomaya, who expects his station's advertising revenues to grow 25 percent from 1985's figures, says advertising aimed at Hispanics is booming. Now businesses are ``jumping in frantically so they don't lose their share'' of the market, he says.
Other people in the industry agree. ``Advertising to the market in Spanish is a more effective way'' to reach that specialized audience, says John Pero, advertising director of Spanish International Network (SIN), which provides programming and commercials to about 490 local stations, cable franchises, and other distributors throughout the nation.
Statistics are backing Mr. Pero's claim. In 1985, $333.5 million was spent by companies advertising in the Spanish-language market, according to Hispanic Business. Of that figure, more than $114 million went for television spots, with SIN garnering a $55 million share.
Pero says SIN's advertising revenues have increased 30 percent a year since 1983, and 1986 should be another record year, increasing 20 percent over 1985.
Although millions of dollars are spent in this specialized market, it is still only a fraction of the projected $16 billion to be spent by advertisers on television this year. Spanish-language television stations, however, are expecting to take a bigger slice out of that pie in the future.
``The thing advertisers are learning is that you have to hit them in their native tongue. The word bienvenido means a lot to them,'' says Mr. Loretta.
Like De Luise's commercial, huge retailers are already learning the lingo. The top three advertisers in the Spanish market -- Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, and Anheuser-Busch -- each spent $6 million to $7 million plugging soft drinks, shampoos, toothpastes, and beer, according to Mr. Beale.
Advertisers are playing off a belief that Hispanics are ``brand loyal'' and shun the so-called generic alternatives. Beale says there is some debate about whether this is true, but Pero contends Hispanics seek out certain labels.
``That goes back to the days when they bought the brands in Mexico or Latin America,'' he says. ``They've carried their loyalties to here.''
Loretta, who has lived in Latin America, agrees. When Hispanic immigrants arrive in this country, they are somewhat confused and scared, he says. They still must eat, and when they go to the grocery store they head for the familiar brands.
Outside of brand loyalty, experts note, corporations must be aware of idiosyncrasies of the Hispanic market.
Hispanic consumers are somewhat similar to Americans during the 1950s, with large, close-knit familes and relatively ``traditional'' values, Loretta says. He compares the life style to that of families on the older television programs, such as ``Leave It to Beaver'' and ``Ozzy and Harriet.''
``A lot of people are confused about Hispanics,'' says Mr. Zomaya. The big difference, he notes, is that their families tend to be 25 percent larger than their US counterparts.
These large families tend to consult each other before buying most products. Beale says advertisers should use Hispanic role models, such as the family, in order to get their attention.
``Advertisers addressing these issues will capture the lion's share of the market,'' Loretta says. ``US advertisers are, to a large degree, understanding it.''
Experts say the Spanish-speaking market is sophisticated. For example, viewers become irritated if an advertiser only ``dubs'' an English commercial into Spanish. ``A lot of Hispanics see that as a slap in the face,'' Loretta says. ``They perceive these corporations as having a lot of money to make sharp commercials, but they don't do it in Spanish.''