For instance, anti-smoking ads by Ancento Advertising ran on Fox TV's American Idol slot. In any case, anecdotally, many Hispanic-majority-owned shops say they are doing well. Of the seven firms contacted by HispanicBusiness Magazine for this story, all but one said revenues are up from last year, with the lone exception saying revenues were fl at. At least four of the seven say they employ more people this year than last.
The Hispanic segment of the advertising industry is also uniquely independent. AHAA's Kinnier said while 80 percent of the general-market agencies are subsidiaries of four global giants - WPP Group, Omnicom, Interpublic Group (IPG) and Publicis - 80 percent of the association's approximately 100 firms are independently owned. Many of these firms are well equipped to understand the nuances of a market that is not only growing, but changing.
"The challenges are that, in many businesses, the people who are the major decision makers, still do not recognize the complexity of the population," said Dr. Federico Subervi, director of the new Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets, formed in 2008, at Texas State University. "But there is value in that complexity."
The diversity of the Hispanic population could be underscored with next year's U.S. Census. Experts expect that the Hispanic share of the population will officially grow to 15 percent – up from 12.5 percent in 2000.
Girard of AHAA said a few companies – such as JC Penny, AT&T and American Airlines – have long been keen to the benefits of Hispanic marketing. But many more companies are only now coming to that conclusion.
They include The Girl Scouts, which this year created an account with Grupo Gallegos of Long Beach, and Snapple, which left Cliff Freeman and Partners in 2008 and contracted its Hispanic-outreach account to Houston's Lopez Negrete Communications. (Its overall campaign went to Deutsch Inc.) Hispanic advertising professionals say the industry is changing in many ways at a breakneck pace. Decades ago, the main mission of many Hispanic-owned firms was to reach out to their audiences in Spanish.
Buzzword is 'Bicultural'
But much of the growth in the market has been fueled by Hispanics born in the United States. The industry buzzword is no longer "Spanish" or even "bi-lingual," but "bi-cultural."
"At many U.S. school districts – such as Houston and L.A. – the student populations are 50 percent Latino," said Alex Lopez Negrete, president and CEO of Lopez Negrete Communications. "Guess what: they are bilingual and they are bi-cultural." Some of Lopez Negrete's ads for Wal-Mart reflect this new bi-cultural mindset.
One ad opens with a Hispanic woman talking to the camera in English about how much money she saves at Wal-Mart. Then the camera pans out so the viewer sees her husband, who's white. Of course, the digital revolution has been another major game-changer for Hispanic-owned and general-market firms alike.
"In the '80s, to reach the entire population, you'd buy three networks and you'd have the whole nation," said George San Jose, President and COO of The San Jose Group in Chicago, whose revenues are up 11 percent this year.
"Cable systems now bring you a whole Hispanic tier," San Jose continued. "Then you begin to add social media – like Facebook – cell phones, and marketing with electronic billboards. To sum it up, where we once used three vehicles, we now need to use 20 to effectively reach that customer."
The digital explosion has been a particularly fortuitous phenomenon for the Hispanic-owned firms, which enjoy the benefits of an audience that is not only growing, but young. What's more, studies show that young Hispanics in particular tend to be enthusiastic adopters of new technology.
Reflecting this reality, the digital unit at Lopez Negrete has grown in a year and a half from just two employees to 16.
Agencies now are also in the business of creating Web sites that are both visually appealing and highly interactive.
The San Jose Group, for instance, put together a Web site for the state of Illinois encouraging Hispanics from around the country to visit the state. Called disfrutaillinois.com, the state-of-the-art site features a Hispanic family whose characters move fluidly about as if on video, and talk to the viewer directly when touched by the computer mouse. The site also creates individualized travel packages for clients based on their answers to a multitude of questions. During the site's debut year, San Jose said, Web traffic has increased 2.5 percent. Much of the 21st Century-style advertising involves an entirely new concept: Getting customers to come to the ads, instead of vice versa.
For instance, Anita Santiago Advertising has a campaign with IKEA in which it places electronic billboards near the U.S. border for people driving into San Diego from Tijuana. The billboards inform the motorists of ongoing sales, and provide them a number they can text with their cellphones if they want more information.
"I think, in a general sense, that the Hispanic marketplace is becoming more and more critical to clients," Exposito-Ulla said. "We are the new American agency. We're not out to be the classical or traditional Hispanic agency, because the marketplace has changed."
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