Why you might seeing English subtitles on Spanish-lanuguage TV ads

A screenshot from a Spanish language Hyundai ad with English subtitles that aired during the World Cup.

If you've been following the World Cup you may have seen Spanish language TV ads with English subtitles.

Coca Cola tried an ad using different languages during the Super Bowl earlier this year. It didn’t go over so well. But for advertisers the World Cup is a whole different ball game.

“One extreme is the Super Bowl, another extreme is the World Cup," says Mauro Guillen, a professor of international management and Director of the Lauder Institute at the Wharton School. He says one reason we’re seeing ads with English subtitles on American TV, from companies like Hyundai, Dish and JC Penney, is becasue of the growing economic clout of the Hispanic community in the U.S. 

JC Penney says it's received such a positive response to its commercial, "Pulse" that it's decided to air the spot, in Spanish, with English subtitles, on primetime networks, NBC, ABC and FOX for the duration of this week.

While Hyundai has been airing its Spanish language ad, "Boom", on ESPN.

The World Cup, notes Guillen, "is a unique opportunity. To experiment and to try out new things. Because not everybody is watching.”

Viewers, he says, are young and cosmopolitan -- they understand bilingual ads -- literally. 

Luis Miguel Messianu, president and chief creative officer of Alma, a multicultural advertising firm in Miami, says advertisers are smart to speak Spanish during the World Cup.

“Everybody realizes the power of having a SuperBowl that lasts one month,” he says. 

Soccer in America, notes Messianu, is no longer a niche sport. Instead, it’s alive and kicking. 

But sports aside, for advertisers, notes Marlene Morris Towns, a professor of marketing at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, "it really is a wise business move to look at who your audience is and speak to them, not just in terms of their lifestyle and culture, but litearlly in terms of their language." 

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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