How are businesses cashing in on the Latino market?

A McDonalds restaurant billboard targets a mostly-immigrant Spanish-speaking population in Los Angeles.

The Hispanic Retail 360 Summit begsins in Las Vegas, Nevada  on Wednesday. The three-day conference is intended to help retailers to "tap into the $1 trillion Hispanic market."

There was a time when that would mean simple translation of advertising copy into Spanish. Remember the "Got Milk?" campaign? "When they originally targeted Latino consumers, their tag line translated into  'Are you lactating?'" says Greg Knipp, CEO of Hispanic marketing agency Dieste. "Translation is really a huge pitfall."

Correct translation is not enough to make for a successful campaign, however, and the stakes are high. Expenditures on advertising in Hispanic media has tripled in the last decade, according to Ad Age. McDonald's, T-Mobile, and Proctor and Gamble spent more than a hundred million dollars in 2012. With that much riding on it, getting the word right is just the beginning.

"These days, actually, the cultural insights are more important than the language," says Felipe Korzenny,director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State Unviersity. This is in part because the majority of Hispanics are now born in the U.S. and speak English. The growth of U.S.-born Hispanics has overtaken that of immigrants in the last decade.

"Cultural insights" can mean everything from entirely new product lines -- like Lay's Limon -- to small touches in English-language advertising. "Whether it's the music score or a Puerto Rican flag hanging in the rear view mirror, there are little cues that someone who's not Hispanic may not pick up on," says Knipp.

Another approach is an improved, mirror-image of the old translation strategy. Companies like AT&T and McDonald's are creating advertising campaigns for a Hispanic audience, and adjusting them for English as well as Spanish. Knipp's agency, Dieste, has been creating such advertisements recently, featuring telenovela heartthrob William Levy. It's another sign that to appeal to all Hispanics, you have to be bicultural and bilingual.

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a multimedia journalist in New York City. He has reported for NPR and WNYC, where he has focused on business and the New York tech scene.


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