Nickelodeon, the cable television network that focuses its playful programming at children, is taking another step to appeal to its increasingly diverse audience by agreeing to run some commercials that are partly in Spanish.
The change, which takes effect on Sunday, comes months after the network, which is owned by Viacom Inc., introduced two series, "The Brothers Garcia" and "Dora the Explorer," with Hispanic themes and characters. A third such series, "Taina," will be added to the schedule on Jan. 14.
"My mother's Puerto Rican; occasionally she'd sprinkle Spanish into everyday conversation," said Herb Scannell, president of Nickelodeon in New York. "That's what these shows do."
"The reaction we've gotten from these shows from the Hispanic community has been: `Finally, there are Hispanic people like me on television,' " he added. "I think this is potentially a new audience segment."
The decision by Nickelodeon is indicative of efforts by mainstream media to reach out to groups of minority viewers that are growing faster than the general population.
For instance, in September, when the CBS unit of Viacom broadcast the presentation of the Latin Grammy Awards, the network ran several commercials partly or entirely in Spanish. The advertisers involved included giants like AT&T, Anheuser-Busch and General Motors.
The first advertiser to run a bilingual commercial on Nickelodeon is the Chuck E. Cheese's chain of children's entertainment center-restaurants, which will run its spot during "The Brothers Garcia."
"We felt from our research that the children living in Spanish-speaking homes were in fact actually very bilingual and relate very well to these programs," said Jon Rice, vice president for marketing at Chuck E. Cheese's in Irving, Tex., which is owned by CEC Entertainment.
"This is something that was new," he added, "and not really available on any other network."
The 15-second spot was created specifically for Nickelodeon by Zambrelli in New York. It resembles the company's regular commercials except for the soundtrack and carries the same theme, "The real cool place to be a kid."
The spot, which shows parents and children at a Chuck E. Cheese's, features the company's mascot mouse saying "estudiantes." The suggestion is that parents are students at Chuck E. Cheese's.
Later, the mouse continues in English, "Parents don't have to get it; they just have to help get you there." The spot ends with the mouse saying in Spanish, "No está mal novatos" ("Not bad for beginners").
Mr. Rice said: "Hispanic children represent about 16 percent of the children's population in the United States and it's one of the fastest if not the fastest-growing segment. We felt that that was a group we were not reaching with our traditional broadcast schedule."
Besides, he added, the company has "a significant number of our stores in predominantly Hispanic" neighborhoods.
Last year, Chuck E. Cheese's started national advertising aimed at Hispanic families on the large Spanish-language television networks Univision and Telemundo. The company spends more than $20 million on national advertising.
According to Nickelodeon, 66 percent of all Hispanic children 2 to 11, or about four million, watch each month. Hispanic children make up about 15 percent of Nickelodeon's total audience.
"Latino kids are not necessarily 100 percent Spanish-speaking," said Susan Danaher, executive vice president and general sales manager at Nickelodeon. "What we offered was something that's kind of a hybrid, really."
The new policy will allow bilingual commercials to be one-third in Spanish. Plans call for the Chuck E. Cheese's bilingual spot to run only during the three series with Hispanic themes, but bilingual spots could potentially run throughout Nickelodeon's schedule.
"One of the basic tenets of any advertising is to speak in a way that is empathetic to your target," said Michael Zambrelli, president and creative director at Zambrelli, "really understanding the consumers, speaking their language."
"No pun intended," he added.
Allison Fass, The New York Times. January 4, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.