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Spanish Ads Impact
America's Popular Culture

By George McDaniel

eflecting the profound changes brought by immigration, Latino advertising in the United States has mushroomed.

"Today 50% of all bookings at Radio City Music Hall are Hispanic artists. Salsa outsells ketchup in the Midwest. Nachos beat hot-dogs at movies. What's happening? Simple: A cultural and marketing phenomenon known as the U.S. Hispanic market," says a media kit issued by the large Latino advertising agency, Bromley Aguilar Associates.

One ad agency director summed it up with the eerie announcement: "There are more Hispanics in the United States than there are Canadians in Canada." Another ad executive argues that only Hispanics can pitch to Hispanics:

"What we still have to convey to our clients is that only a Hispanic can really understand our culture, our way of being and feelings, to produce a truly compelling and relevant campaign. It is not a professional that a client gets when they hire us, but a Hispanic advertising professional."

According to Forbes magazine, Hispanic buying power in the United States was $356 billion in 1998, and growing. Marketing professionals believe Hispanics are especially attractive potential customers because they are said to better maintain brand-loyalty and have larger families than other groups. That translates into a bigger bang for every advertising buck.

Analysts at DRI/McGraw-Hill say that Hispanics' buying power should reach $938 billion by 2010. Not surprisingly, big corporate advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Sears, AT&T, General Motors and MCI WorldCom and others have zeroed in.

"Finding a critical mass of any demographic is what marketers look for," says Bishop Cheen, media analyst at First Union Capital Markets. "Hispanics have a ready-made critical mass in the U.S."

Studies-often funded by Spanish-language media-claim that Spanish advertising works better than English with Latinos. A 1998 report from Doublebase Mediamark Research, Inc., reveals that nine in ten Latinos list the Spanish language as the part of their culture they most want to preserve. Ninety-four percent of them learn to speak Spanish before they learn English, if at all. Eighty percent of Latino adults speak Spanish at home, and one-third of all Latinos treat English as their second language.

According to the Securities Industry Association, "Spanish is expected to continue to be the U.S. Hispanic market's language of choice for several reasons, including the geographic clustering of the market, which makes it easier to interact without having to speak English, continued immigration as a source of Hispanic population growth, and the proliferation of Spanish-language media."

Hence, Spanish-language use is likely to increase in the U.S. precisely because Latino resistance to assimilation is encouraged by both Hispanic media and American corporate advertisers hungry for profits.

The country got a dose of Latino-oriented advertising during the 2002 Super Bowl, long a venue for advertisers to showcase their latest work. In an ad created for Levi's Jeans by TBWA/Chiat/Day in San Francisco, Latino actor Johnny Cervin is filmed walking-and dancing-across a crowded street in downtown Mexico City. The actor is dressed in a teeshirt, Levi's "Flyweight" jeans and Walkman-style headphones. While walking, he suddenly breaks into a style of dance known as "popping," which features loosey-goosey movements of the legs while the arms are relatively stationary, all done to a Spanish song, Si, Senor.

Other examples abound. Pepsi uses an English-Spanish mix called "Spanglish" in a Mountain Dew commercial featuring Chilean rock group La Ley. "Toma this" (Drink this) goes the refrain. Coca-Cola has used the image of murdered Tejano singer Selena in Spanish-language ads on both sides of the border for several years. Fast-food eatery Jack-in-the-Box boasts a Spanish-language commercial featuring the corporate representatives Jack and Jack, Jr., getting a Tarot card reading at a carnival. Benihana, the chain of Japanese steak houses, now runs Spanish-language ads in the Miami and Los Angeles markets. The Miami version features a Caribbean musical backdrop, while the Los Angeles version uses Mexican music.

That kind of attention is used by ethnic leaders to leverage cultural and political influence. In 2000, Rev. Al Sharpton organized the "Invitational Summit on Multicultural Markets and Media" in New York City in an effort to compel the advertising industry and their clients to spend even more money and time pitching to the Latino (and black) communities. The group went so far as to announce discovery of a new "Right to Equal Advertising" and demanded that the advertising community direct more dollars into the coffers of ethnic media outlets.

But in reality, the demands are unnecessary. For as long as America continues to import 1.3 million foreign-speaking immigrants each year, the corporate drive to sell to the new ethnic markets helps push the U.S. into the multicultural and multilingual society that today's ethnic leaders are working so hard to create.

(Excerpted from Metamorphosis: The Impact of Third-World Immigration on American Culture, available soon from Representative Government Press.)