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MasterCard Speaks Directly to Hispanics

How do you reach people in the fastest-growing segment of the American population? Simple. Speak their language.

With that in mind MasterCard, the latest mainstream company to acknowledge the buying power of Latinos, has decided to speak directly to them, in Spanish.

"Not only is language important, but culture is also important to the Hispanic community," said Petra Pasquina, director for Hispanic marketing at MasterCard International in Purchase, N.Y. "So speaking to them in Spanish, we find that messages are better communicated and more understandable."

Other credit card marketers, including Visa U.S.A., have run ads in English with a Latin flair. But the extent to which MasterCard is pursuing the Spanish-speaking consumer is a first in its industry.

The stakes are huge. According to federal statistics, the estimated annual buying power of Hispanics is expected to surpass $440 billion this year. In the last 10 years, disposable income for Hispanic Americans more than doubled and is expected to double again the next decade. That is twice the growth rate for non-Hispanics.

In the last couple of years, Spanish-language advertising has increased in popularity as Latin culture has moved more into the mainstream, with Grammy-winning artists like Carlos Santana and pop celebrities like Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin.

Plenty of marketers have tried to ride the trend by adding a Latino touch to their ads. But to make sure the audience is really getting the message, more and more marketers are turning to advertising in Spanish.

"Any marketer that wants to realize their full sales potential in the U.S. has to be addressing this population," said Tony Ruiz, partner and director for advertising at the Vidal Partnership in New York, the agency that created MasterCard's Spanish-language campaign. Latinos are close to overtaking blacks as the nation's largest minority, rising to 32 million from 23 million a decade ago.

MasterCard's Spanish-language campaign was adapted from its successful "Priceless" campaign, which was created three years ago by McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising in New York, part of the McCann-Erickson World Group unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies. That campaign features intangible moments that transcend price tags.

"We set out to preserve the power of the priceless campaign and communicate it in as relevant a manner to consumers," Mr. Ruiz said. The agency reviewed existing MasterCard ads and tried to pick those most relevant to the Latino consumer.

"We didn't necessarily just take them as they existed, we did work on them," Mr. Ruiz said. The agency adapted the spots by playing with the shots and putting across the right communication in the audio. One criterion was to present "real environments so that the consumer could see themselves as a participant, as opposed to a spectator, and to leverage the strongest insights." After extensive consumer research two spots were created.

One, titled Grandma, features a grandmother and granddaughter shopping for the secret ingredients to a special meal. As the grandmother selects certain items, like an iron cooking pot, an announcer lists the price in Spanish: "Una buena olla, 22 dólares," or, for onions, "Cebollas, 4 dólares." This is followed by "the time it takes to simmer: priceless" ("El tiempo que toma en cocinarse: no tiene precio.") The spot ends with the familiar tagline: "There are some things that money can't buy: for everything else there is MasterCard. Accepted everywhere, even in the fruit stand." ("Hay cosas que el dinero no puede comprar: para todo lo demás está MasterCard. Aceptada en todas partes: hasta en pequeños comercios.")

"The Grandma commercial presents the existence of the extended family," Mr. Ruiz said.

A second spot, titled Fatherhood, features a new father fumbling as he tries to diaper and dress his newborn. An announcer states: "A lot of diapers: $95." (Pañales, muchos pañales: 95 dólares.) The announcer states the price of other items like booties and a baby carriage followed by: "Being a father: priceless." ("Ser papá: no tiene precio.")

The Fatherhood spot, Mr. Ruiz said, depicts the changing roles in the Hispanic household today. "The added value to that ad is breakthrough because a lot of what you see on Spanish-language television revolves around the mom being the primary gatekeeper and caretaker."

The campaign, for which the spending was not disclosed, is running on the two largest domestic Spanish-language television networks, Univision and Telemundo. The ads began on July 31 and will run through the end of October.

In introducing ads in Spanish, MasterCard is joining a lengthening list of mainstream American companies, including AT&T, Sprint, Coca-Cola, Heineken, McDonald's, General Motors and Chrysler.

With credit from cards like MasterCard, there also comes debt. So MasterCard is also introducing a consumer financial management educational program specifically for Latinos.

"There really is a need for reaching out to the community not only from an advertising standpoint, but also with educational initiatives so that we're delivering cards to the hands of Hispanics but also doing it responsibly," Ms. Pasquina said.

One problem is that only 63 percent of Hispanic Americans have a relationship with a bank, MasterCard says, compared with 88 percent of the general population.

Catherine Cummings, vice president for consumer affairs for MasterCard, said it would work closely with member banks to help them appeal to Hispanics and make MasterCard's Spanish-language materials available to members. In addition, MasterCard formed a partnership with the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, the oldest and largest Hispanic organization in the United States, to develop educational materials.

The league will be holding local workshops offering information on everything from how to set up and manage a budget to the importance of building a solid credit history.

Asked whether MasterCard had plans to aim at other segments of the American population in various languages, Ms. Pasquina said: "I don't know that for sure. At this point, we've taken the first step with the Hispanic market."



Courtney Kane, The New York Times. August 30, 2000

Copyright © 2000 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.