BUSINESSES are hitting some bull's-eyes as they target potential buyers among the booming Hispanic population of more than 25 million. Hispanics, already an estimated 10 percent of the United States population, boast the highest growth rate (because of fertility and immigration) of any segment of the population. Hispanics are earning more and spending more. Last year, the 6 million Hispanic households in the US spent $146 billion according to the Hispanic Business Review in Santa Barbara, Calif. Marketers are taking notice.
``When we invest the money, we do get a payback,'' says Mario Castaneda, ethnic marketing manager for Polaroid. Polaroid sponsors in-store promotions for its camera products featuring TV stars from the Spanish-language variety show ``Sabado Gigante.''
J.C. Penney produces catalogs in Spanish, and offers bilingual salesclerks. Among the top 30 advertisers are: American Telephone & Telegraph Company, Goya Foods, Ford Motor Company, Toyota USA, McDonald's, and the US Army. Procter & Gamble, the leader by far, spent nearly $30 million last year advertising to Hispanics.
In total, $628 million dollars were spent on ads in TV, radio, and print media targeted to Hispanics in 1990, up 88 percent since 1985, according to the Business Review. Most of this went to Spanish-language media, primarily two cable TV stations, Univision and Telemundo.
An across-the-board decline in ad dollars has not been as hard on Spanish media, where rates start 20 percent cheaper than on mainstream TV. According to one estimate, while a full page ad in the New York Times may cost $10,000; the same ad in a Spanish daily would cost only $3,000.
``It's a less competitive environment, and as the economy becomes softer, it's a great opportunity to suddenly find a new market,'' says Al Aguilar, executive vice president of Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar, and Associates in San Antonio, the nation's largest Hispanic advertising agency.
Ad agencies and research companies are also making out well. With market research becoming more sophisticated, ads seem to be getting better responses. Marketers are hearing fewer stories that sent executives blushing - as happened when an airline ad suggested travelers fly en cuero. To Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, that means in leather seats; to Cubans, it's slang for naked.
``Marketers are more serious about starting with a strategy, and working from the ground up,'' says Roger Sennott, general manager of Market Development Corporation, a Hispanic research firm in San Diego. ``It used to be that ads targeted to the Hispanic market were just dubbed versions of ads made for the general market. Now you find the other extreme, with [advertisers] starting from scratch to find what consumers like,'' emphasizing different ``attributes and attitudes.''
For example, research has shown that among fast-food restaurants, the general market liked a drive-through, while Hispanics wanted a place to sit down. Both groups liked ``happy meals'' for children, but for different reasons: parents in the general market wanted to keep kids busy so they could spend more time with their spouse; Hispanic parents wanted the kids happy.
But even with lots of market research, you've got to know your product and your market, says Gladys Rosa, head of a New York-based public relations firm bearing her name. Ms. Rosa says advertisers should beware of myths, and get the facts straight:
All Hispanic groups are not alike. Music, language, and clothing differ among Latin communities. Don't expect Mexican mariachi music to appeal to the New York market, which is primarily Puerto Rican; give them Salsa, says Ms. Rosa. Some products are worth targeting to specific Hispanic groups, says Rosa.
Hispanics are not a low-income group. Though their household income average of $26,000 is lower than the national average of $34,500, according to the US Bureau of the Census, marketers say Hispanics have more disposable income than other groups as they are less burdened by mortgages and debt. New immigrants (documented and undocumented) are better educated, skilled, and wealthier than their predecessors, Rosa says.
Advertising in English is not always effective. ``You can't hit everyone with one effort,'' says Rosa. ``If a person speaks to us in our language, an emotional bond is established.'' Studies show that 80 percent of Hispanics in the US are more comfortable with Spanish than with English.
But not everyone is pleased with advertisers. In 1989 the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the Hispanic media and civic groups are more dependent on alcohol and cigarette advertising dollars than the mainstream media are. ``This makes it difficult or impossible for those media to publicize the devastating health problems caused by these products,'' says executive director Michael Jacobson.