Crossover Cachet

Why Spanish-language spots are moving over to mainstream TV

Aldo Quevedo did a double take when he heard a husband and wife speaking to each other in Spanish during a commercial break on the Grammy Awards in February. “I thought I’d flipped back to Univision by accident,” says the executive creative director at Dieste Harmel & Partners in Dallas. But Quevedo’s television wasn’t tuned to the Spanish- language network. He was watching CBS.

The 30-second spot shows a young Hispanic couple at home, getting ready for work. Each time the husband tries to leave, he turns back for more of his wife’s goodbye kisses. The couple’s exchanges are in Spanish, but the tagline—”White teeth and fresh breath. In any language”—is in English. The spot, for Procter & Gamble’s Crest Whitening Plus Scope toothpaste, was created by Bromley Communications, a 22-year-old San Antonio agency.

While Spanish-language commercials have aired on national television for more than a decade, they generally have been slotted into more targeted shows such as the Hispanic Heritage Awards or the Latin Grammys. What was unusual about the Crest spot was that it aired on a major network’s high-profile, general-market program. “As a consumer, I thought it was surprising that they ran it in Spanish with that audience,” Quevedo says.

But executives at Hispanic agencies agree that the crossover into mainstream media is, in fact, overdue.

“The Census 2000 results were a wakeup call,” says Mary Molina, manager of Hispanic corporate relations at P&G. Census data shows that during the past 10 years, the Hispanic population in the U.S. has increased by 58 percent and now represents 13 percent of the overall population of 284.8 million. According to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, there are 40 million Hispanic people living in the U.S., a segment that has a combined buying power of $630 billion.

The young end of those 40 million is most attractive to marketers. “There is a whole wave of Hispanic youth growing up,” says Joel Russell, senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine. “They’ve experienced the U.S. educational system, and Hispanic culture and language at home. Getting at that bilingual nation is becoming the holy grail of marketing.”

“It’s nice to see clients look at the true makeup of the marketplace,” says Catarino Lopez, creative director at Bromley. “It has been tough to deal with the mind-set that we are this small, niche market.”

For some marketers, this notion is old news. Companies like Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Sears, Pepsi and Coca-Cola have been advertising to the Hispanic population for years. But it wasn’t until the early 1990s that Spanish-language ads started to crop up sporadically on mainstream networks as well.

In 1991, Diet Coke aired an ad on English-language television from Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates of San Antonio that showed Hispanic Americans using both English (“Just one calorie!”) and Spanish (“Por su sabor refrescante”). In 1993, Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco produced a Spanish- language television spot for Saturn that ran on mainstream media with subtitles. And during the NBA Finals in the late 1990s, Ford Motor Co. aired a spot from Zubi Advertising in Miami that had Zorro commanding his Mustang in Spanish.

Even so, a report released by the AHAA in 2002 indicates that in the past three years, nearly two-thirds of the top companies that target Hispanic consumers have invested less than 3.2 percent of their advertising budgets toward those efforts. According to research provided by Anita Santiago Advertising, Santa Monica, Calif., Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the country, but advertising spending on that market is just $1.2 billion, compared with $173.2 billion on the general market.

Russell notes that the rising affluence of the Hispanic consumer makes the return on investment more attractive for marketers than it has been in the past—the median Hispanic household income is now more than $40,000, according to the AHAA. Says Daisy Exposito, president and chief creative officer at The Bravo Group, New York: “Given the numbers and purchasing power [Hispanics] represent, it’s strictly a business opportunity for advertisers.”

Rudy Bozas, principal and group account director at Publicis Sanchez & Levitan, Dallas, says running the Crest spot on the Grammys was “a cultural insight” on the part of P&G. During the past decade, the music awards have cultivated a Hispanic audience, with crossover artists such as Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Shakira maintaining a strong Hispanic following. “At the end of the day, it’s all about delivering to the right audience,” says Bozas. “There’s really no nuclear science about it.”

The Crest spot was not initially crafted for the general market, but after it got positive response on Hispanic stations, agency and client considered taking it to a larger audience. Early conversations even proposed buying Super Bowl time, says Lopez.

“This is nothing more than the next step in our continued efforts to communicate to the Spanish audience,” says Molina.

At first the agency considered reproducing the concept in English, but ultimately decided just to add an English tag. “We thought it would be more impactful in Spanish,” says Lopez. “It broke through the clutter [on the Grammys]. Even for people used to seeing [Spanish-language spots], it really caught their attention.”

Does that mean more marketers will start to use ads crafted in Spanish for general-market programming? Lopez says a number of Bromley’s other clients saw the Crest spot—and the media coverage that followed in newspapers nationwide—and asked the agency how this tactic might work for them. None has yet to follow Crest’s lead. “The conversation is definitely on the table,” says Lopez.

The buzz from the Crest spot is likely to benefit other Hispanic agencies too. “Even though we have had spots in the general market for 10 years,” says Quevedo, “we as a Latino industry are happy that more media is covering our work.”

“Companies need to start addressing the more acculturated in the general market,” says Sonia M. Green, director of diversity marketing and sales for General Motors. “What we know is the more acculturated Hispanics still respond to cultural cues.”

In an attempt to further its relationship with Spanish-speaking-dominant Hispanics—a segment that represents the largest opportunity for marketers, says Green—GM launched a corporate spot last month that features president of North American operations Gary Cowger, former president of General Motors Mexico, discussing in Spanish the company’s commitment to its customers and its products. Cowger’s dialogue with the consumer in Spanish “says we understand,” Green notes.

The spot is running on Hispanic media outlets, but Green says there is a possibility of airing it on English-language TV. “We’re doing the research, and if it turns out that the message is effective … we might just show it the way it is with subtitles in English,” she says. “Can it work in the general market? Absolutely.”

Another automaker, Nissan, is running ads originally crafted for the Hispanic market in the general market as well. Two Altima spots, from Ornelas & Associates in Dallas, are set to the Gary Numan song “Here in My Car.” The only difference is that the supers are in English or Spanish, depending on the market. Similarly, an Ornelas commercial for the Nissan Frontier has been used in the general market. In it, a Hispanic driver pulls up to a diner in a truck that carries a load of Frontiers, which then tear off of their own volition into the landscape.

But before Spanish-language commercials proliferate during mainstream shows, a few things will need to change, says Bravo’s Exposito. For starters, general-market programming will have to deliver more Spanish-speaking viewers. Research shows that ads aired on programs targeting Hispanic viewers, such as ABC’s The George Lopez Show or Nickelodeon’s The Brothers Garcia, do not deliver close to the return on investment that clients get when advertising on Spanish-language stations. Plus, it’s cheaper to advertise on those networks (a difference comparable to buying time on network vs. cable).

The launch of the Nielsen Hispanic Television Index in 1992 helped to bolster advertiser confidence by providing Hispanic audience measurements on a national basis. In the next three years, the index will be incorporated into Nielsen’s network TV sample, which will include a great number of Hispanics.

As recently as four years ago, some clients encountered opposition when trying to place Spanish-language spots on the major networks, says Exposito. In 1999, Chevron (now ChevronTexaco) tested an animated spot from Bravo’s San Francisco office that showed a car singing in mariachi style with English subtitles. Running for a week on general-market television in Los Angeles, the spot was heavily criticized by consumers who took a “This is America, speak English” attitude, says Exposito.

Another crossover ad, a Publicis Sanchez & Levitan spot that broke last August for Pennzoil Motor Oil, capitalizes on the same husband-wife bond seen in the Crest spot. In the spot, an older Hispanic man emerges from behind a bathroom door, shaking a bottle of “Vigoroso 7” at his wife, who is lounging in bed; the man then goes into his garage and shakes a Pennzoil bottle at his vehicle. The voiceover: “Rejuvenate your 75,000-mile engine.”

Pennzoil asked the agency to dub the original Spanish-language spot into English for the general market. Steve Hanson, svp of marketing at Pennzoil-Quaker State, says running the spot in both markets has proved a success, “with sales exceeding expectations by over twofold.”

“The love the man has for his wife [in the Pennzoil spot] transcends ethnicities,” explains Sanchez & Levitan’s Bozas. “No matter who you are, universal feelings like family and love hit home. We’re leveraging that.”