Mixing Media: Spanish-Language Advertising and Hispanic Marketing

Apr 28, 2004

By Thomas Tseng

In two influential studies released last week, marketers who target the Hispanic market learned two things: one, Spanish-language advertising spending is not commensurate with the total size of the U.S. Hispanic population; and two, it may not really matter.

Let me explain. The first study was sponsored by the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA). At their semi-annual pow-wow in Miami last week, the trade group released their annual report on corporate advertising allocations to Hispanic marketing. The report, “Ad Budget Alignment: Maximizing Impact in the Hispanic Market,” showed that among the top 670 U.S. corporate advertisers, 5.1% of total spending is now dedicated to Hispanic advertising.

That’s no small feat when you tally up the dollar figures. Furthermore, the rate of national ad spending in the Hispanic market is growing four times faster than that of the general market. Nevertheless, the report’s authors conclude that, in order to be proportionate to the Hispanic market’s total population (about 14% of the nation’s total), total corporate ad spending really should be closer to 9%, factoring in overall spending power and size of the market. Thus, the sponsors conclude that corporate America is actually under-spending on the Hispanic market.

“The investment has not been commensurate with the opportunity,” states AHAA President Aida Levitan in Media Daily News.

That’s only partially true. As a trade association that represents over 60 agencies focused on Hispanic advertising and marketing, it’s natural for AHAA to look after the interests of its membership. But despite the role Hispanic agencies play as gatekeepers to the Hispanic market, the AHAA study falters on one critically important issue: the Hispanic market is not an exclusive consumer of Spanish-language media, which is where Hispanic agencies dedicate the lion’s share of their advertising expenditures (as high as 90%, according to Hispanic Business magazine).

In fact, it turns out most Hispanics are regular consumers of both Spanish and English media. This is confirmed by another study also released last week by the influential Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, DC. According to the Pew survey, 31% of Hispanics get all of their news in English media, while only 24% get all their news in Spanish. The largest segment of the Hispanic market (44%) reports getting all their news in both languages.

Says Pew director Roberto Suro in the Associated Press, “The preference for Spanish-language media is highest among recent arrivals to this country. It’s very clear that the size of the future market for the Spanish-language media depends on the number of Hispanics allowed to emigrate here. The longer Hispanics are here in this country, the more they migrate out of Spanish-only media, either to English-language or to be switchers. There’s a question whether the Spanish-language media can still exercise some hold on the second generation of immigrants.”

This should not be surprising. Researchers who study the Hispanic market have for some time noted the preponderance of English among acculturated, U.S. born Hispanics – who represent 60% of the market – many of whom are bilingual.

The results of the Pew study are further bolstered by our own upcoming report, “El Mercado 2004” (conducted in partnership with ADVO and the Food Marketing Institute) which examines Hispanic grocery shopping habits and marketing influences. The results of our study show that bilingual grocery advertising generates the highest recall among Hispanic grocery shoppers – as high as 46% for supermarkets, compared to 32% for Spanish only advertising and 22% for English advertising.

Moderator’s Comment: Is Spanish-language advertising ineffective? Will it be gradually replaced by English-language
advertising for the Hispanic market?

On both counts, absolutely not. It’s clear from the Pew poll that some mix of the two may well be the most effective at targeting these consumers. While
the Pew poll reveals that English-language media is part of the regular media diet of Hispanics, Spanish-language media generates greater implicit trust. Most respondents in the
Pew poll feel they are portrayed much more positively in Spanish-language media compared to general market media.

Nonetheless, the results from the Pew Center should give ethnic marketers heed in properly determining the right mix of media – both Spanish and English
– for reaching the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic market. It’s a cliché to say that this population is not monolithic, but in advertising and communicating to the largest
and fastest growing ethnic segment in America, it certainly matters.

Thomas Tseng- Moderator

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