Latino movie marketing

Movie marketers are experimenting with cutting-edge campaigns that respect cultural differences.

When Warner Bros. Pictures rolled out its marketing campaign for Richard Donner's Bruce Willis starrer "16 Blocks," a March release, industry observers might have noticed an unusual twist in certain commercials: The language switched from English to Spanish within a single 30-second advertisement.

"The title cards (words featured in graphics) were in Spanish, and the voice-overs were in English," Warners vp targeted marketing Viviana Pendrill says. "The voice-over was in Spanglish, and we ran that in general-market television. We used a radio personality from one of these urban stations who is bilingual; you had to pay attention to realize he was switching languages."

Minor as that decision might seem, it is indicative of increasing efforts by film-studio marketers to acknowledge the growth of the English-speaking U.S. Latino community -- one they can ill afford to ignore. Latinos buy more movie tickets per person than does any other segment of the U.S. population, and with a younger average age than Caucasians, they match the studios' target audience much more closely.

"The U.S. census as of July 2005 had the U.S. median age at 37.4 and the Hispanic median age at 27.3," Universal senior vp media Suzanne Cole says. "Most of our moviegoers fall into the 12-34 range, and (Latinos) are in that -- whereas the general population is not."

An estimated 70% of persons within the U.S. Latino community are English-dominant or English-speaking, which means they straddle historically separate slices of the marketing pie: the Latino world and the Caucasian world. That has created a headache for marketers attempting to figure out how best to reach them.

"There is a big confusion in the studios," says David Beayne, president of Hola Communications, a company that specializes in marketing to Latinos. "They don't know how to reach that group. When we do a campaign, the studios don't say they want to target bilinguals; they just say they want to target Hispanics. But that is a huge, 43 million(-person) market."

The U.S. Latino community is divided by not only national origin (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and a host of others) but also geography, with a strong urban presence in such locales as Los Angeles and New York and a growing presence in other regions. It also is divided by birth, with a larger number of Latinos born here than ever before.

"There are a lot of nuances in marketing to Latinos: There is the Spanish-dependent population and the English-dependent population and everything in between," says Gabriel Reyes, president and founder of Reyes Entertainment, a company that specializes in bilingual marketing. "Add on to that economic strata and nationality, and you have a whole bunch of problems in terms of really targeting your product to the Latino group where it will resonate the most."

Within that population, he adds, "the bilingual group is growing, and for the first time in history, we are seeing that native births are outpacing immigration. This generation -- the second, third and fourth generation of Latinos -- is becoming more English-dependent and English-preferred. This is an American group, a group of American kids that mainly live in cities."

But that group does not necessarily share the characteristics of its Caucasian peers. For one thing, Reyes notes, it is highly influenced by black culture; for another, "these kids are especially proud of their background -- their Latino heritage -- but they don't necessarily respond to the Spanish language. This is where the mistakes come in: Language is now secondary to the cultural issues."

Because of such sensitivities, Reyes and others say, it is insufficient simply to buy Spanish-language media in magazines and newspapers and on the two dominant U.S. Spanish-language TV networks, Telemundo and Univision. That said, though, those networks play into any media campaign aimed at English-speaking Latinos.

For one thing, the CPMs, or cost per thousand viewers, for Telemundo
and Univision make them particularly attractive for media buyers. Sources say a 30-second primetime spot on Univision costs $50,000-$100,000 and an equivalent spot on Telemundo even less -- a fraction of the cost to buy time on one of the four major English-language TV networks -- and because most Latino households are at least partly bilingual, the assumption is that their English speakers also watch Spanish-language media.

Unlike English-language television, Spanish-language television "is not that fragmented -- there is not a ton of choices," Cole says. "Univision's average household rating is an 18. If you speak some Spanish in your home, you are tuning in at least some of the time to those networks."

Other media venues also offer attractive buys for the English-speaking Latino audience.

"We always recommend English-language, Latino-targeted Mun2 (a Telemundo-operated cable network), Si TV, LATV and now MTV3," says Ivette Rodriguez, president of American Entertainment Marketing, a company often hired by studios to help target Latinos. "There are also shows like 'American Latino' -- syndicated on ABC, BET (and) Viva -- and other 'Latin shows' that run on networks but don't have huge ratings."

Such venues are a perfect fit for Latino-targeted films -- which, these days, means nearly every studio picture. But distributors take particular care with movies that their research indicates will play particularly well with Latinos, including Universal's Michael Mann-helmed July release "Miami Vice," which centers on one of the nation's most Latino-dense urban centers. For that film, Cole says, "we did a very aggressive buy on Univision and Telemundo. In terms of cable, we were on Mun2, (and) we do Telefutura, which is a second network from Univision. We (also) are on Si TV, which is more of a hybrid -- we run our English-language spots there."

But "Vice" is one of the rare movies that appeals equally to English- and Spanish-speaking Latinos. For most films, the English-language part of that audience is far more important to reach, according to Pendrill.

"A movie is one of the few consumer products you need to have a certain language proficiency to enjoy," she says. "That isn't to say that Spanish-dominant Hispanics do not go -- they go to see family movies and big effects movies like (Warners' 'Superman Returns') and (Buena Vista's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest') that are not language-dependent ... but they are not the prime audience you are trying to reach."

To reach that prime audience, marketers now enjoy the advantage of an English-speaking network aimed at Latinos in Si TV, the growth of which reflects that of the English-speaking Latino market.

"Eight years ago, when I was starting Si TV, people thought I was out of my mind when I told them Hispanics spoke English," Si TV chairman and co-founder Jeff Valdez says. "Oftentimes, people look at young Hispanics and say, 'What part of Mexico are you from?' -- and the only time they have been to Mexico is when they went there for spring break! The point is, it is a very diverse audience, and for many, many years, people have dismissed it by saying, 'We'll market to them in Spanish and give all the money to Univision and Telemundo,' when in fact you have to reach that audience in a whole lot of other ways."

Valdez notes that studio executives still make several incorrect assumptions about the Latino market.

"The first is, they assume that all Hispanics only have Hispanic friends, which would be ridiculous," he says. "The second assumption is that they just marry Hispanics, but they marry outside the culture quite often. You can no longer these days make these easy assumptions to reach that market; you can no longer do what you used to do and just open the phone book and look for Hispanic last names. My sister's name is Mary Ann Brown -- nobody would think to market to her as a Hispanic. She is bilingual, and she is proud of her ethnicity and culture."

While recognizing that pride is fundamental in marketing to English-speaking Latinos, nearly all studio marketers nonetheless believe that it is critical to appeal to their Latino roots and culture.

"For instance, if you see an ad in English, but the family is eating arroz con pollo, as a second-generation, English-speaking Hispanic, I am going to feel good about that spot," Reyes says. "It is in English, which is telling me we are part of American culture, but they are eating Hispanic food, so we are one of them."

But marketers must tread a fine line in appealing to Latinos' cultural roots. Many experts scoff at the notion that Latinos will succumb so easily to anything that links them to their origins.

"Just because a movie has Jennifer Lopez in it, they think Latinos will run to a movie theater -- and that is not the case," Beayne says.

Universal marketing president Adam Fogelson says he is wary of anything too blatant, but he acknowledges that emphasizing a Latino cast member in a commercial can help build a link with English-speaking Latinos who cling to their heritage.

"Your movie needs to become part of the Latino community," says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, who adds that for his studio's recent release "Quinceanera," helmed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, "we have talent doing interviews in English- and Spanish-language papers almost equally. We have theaters in Latino neighborhoods and in mainstream venues, and we were just in the (International) Latino Film Festival in New York City and had a huge turnout, and word-of-mouth will be great.

"The effort we make to reach out to (Latinos) is larger and larger," Bernard adds. "But there are many different types of Latino communities in the United States, and they don't always like the same films. Each one has its own niche of media, so you have to be very sensitive about which community that media speaks to and which parts of the country connect with the different cultures."

The cultural aspect is the most important factor in all Latino advertising, English-language or otherwise.

"What we are trying to do is not language advertising but culture advertising," Pendrill says. "We have to be culturally relevant. The fact that we run advertising in English-language media does not mean it is not culturally relevant."