Pedro L. Perez came to Sarasota from Miami 16 years ago. Soon he realized that a quite annoying daily routine could be turned into profits.
Local companies, desperate to tap into the Latino market, were knocking at his door begging him for advertising ideas in Spanish. So instead of finding polite ways to turn them down and let them know that he was busy with his Internet firm, he decided to start his own advertising agency.
The bet seems to be paying off. The Hispanic advertising market is red hot in Tampa Bay.
With Hispanics representing a growing share of the U.S. population, advertisers want to follow them wherever they go, talking in whatever language they may be willing to hear.
Over the last four months last year, measured ad spending on the Telefutura, Telemundo and Univision networks grew nearly 25 percent versus the previous year, reaching $969 million, TNS Media Intelligence data shows.
Spanish language networks are the strongest performing sector, accounting for about 80 percent of all Spanish media ad dollars. The rest goes to print and radio.
But not all advertisers have been loyal to this market. In fact, there have been ups and downs in the last five years.
“Advertisement investment has accelerated and fallen back,” said Jon Swallen, senior VP of research at TNS Media Intelligence in New York. “It hasn’t grown consistently with the growing Hispanic population.”
Mixing it up
Still, local ad agencies — ethnic agencies and mainstream ones — are optimistic about the market’s present and future.
The two types of agencies are not so much competitors as partners in the Bay area. It is not uncommon to see Hispanic ad agencies partnering with more established ones.
Perez’s Nuevo Advertising Group is an example.
“Advertising agencies in Sarasota and Manatee call me every time they have a client that wants to connect with the Latino audience,” said Perez. “They are not worried about us taking their clients away because we are very specialized and they know we are not going to get in their business.”
Jeff and Ileana Devin, principals at Manana Marketing, are currently handling the Hispanic side of things for Pyper Paul + Kenney’s Sweetbay account.
The Dutcher Group chose a different approach. Instead of partnering with a Hispanic firm, it created Grupo D, a separate agency of its own, to help corporations promote their products and services in the Latino community.
But the hype does not mean that Tampa Bay has become another Miami. In fact, there are significant differences between the two.
While Miami has a large Cuban population, Tampa Bay has a more diverse pool of Hispanics. Advertisers need to be careful here because a message that sounds right in one community may be offensive in another one.
Even when targeting one group of Hispanics, companies may not realize that there can be many different audiences within that audience. People from Northern Mexico may have very different ideas and lifestyles from those from the South.
“Targeting the correct dialect is very important,” said Perez. “Something as simple as asking for a drinking straw in one culture could be understood by another culture as asking for a sexual act. This kind of mistakes happen often, and needless to say present many problems for an advertiser.”
Some agencies even speak English when addressing the Hispanic market.
“Choosing a language preference or creating bilingual materials depends on many different variables,” said George Zwierko, with Grupo D. “Usually any research we conduct helps us determine the best choice or combination. The type of product or service also plays a role in determining whether a communications piece is done in Spanish, English or both.”
Acculturation levels and geographical make-up also help advertisers decide whether to say ‘hola’ or ‘hello.’
Lost in translation
Educating companies on how to reach the Hispanic community hasn’t been easy. Perez likes to ask them to translate any phrase in Spanish to English in an online translator.
The result usually doesn’t make any sense, he said. It is the same if you do it from English to Spanish, he tells them. Still that is the first approach many advertisers choose.
Making them understand the difference is crucial, said Marc L. Vila, president of Latinos Communications and Marketing and VP and GM of Super 1300 WQBN. “If you let them take the wrong approach you won’t have them (as advertisers or clients) for long,” Vila said.
The key, he said, is to translate messages or ideas, not words.
That’s exactly what Perez offers. It’s a service he calls “culturalization,” an upgraded version of the basic translation.
Ruly Lora, chairman and CEO of St. Petersburg-based American HomeHealth and a former Pepsi Cola International marketing executive, said it is important to look for “people that have regional and cultural relativity to the market” when trying to find the right agency to communicate a marketing message.
Lora agrees with Vila that, “literal translations are rarely on point.”
But it is getting easier for advertisers to understand the Hispanic market, Lora said, because many of the large advertisers are now diverse themselves.
Choosing a media is another important decision advertisers need to make, and it can be a tricky one when approaching a Hispanic audience in Tampa Bay.
“There’s more grassroots efforts and promotion type marketing in this market,” said Perez. “TV advertising is not the answer here. We do more radio, promotional events.”
Major corporations are starting to recognize the effectiveness of grassroots efforts, said Mark J. Peredo, VP of Latinos Communications and Marketing Group.
“Hispanics feel more comfortable doing business with Hispanics,” said Vila. “You need to be face-to-face to have them buy the product. It’s the welcome-mat effect.”
Due to the diversity of the local Hispanic population, Tampa Bay has become a test market for advertisers nationwide. The region could be among the top 15 Hispanic markets in the United States within the next three years.
Getting into the hearts and minds of Latinos is big business, something that most retailers can no longer ignore.
“Doing it right to not alienate the Hispanic/Latino community is why we are in business,” Perez said.