A few years ago, Pepsi-Cola began heavily promoting its new lemon-lime soda, Sierra Mist. Data had showed that Americans ranked lemon-lime behind only cola as their favorite soda flavor.
But it was another statistic that piqued the soft-drink giant's attention. One demographic group - Latinos - bought 70 percent more lemon-lime soda than other consumers.
Pepsi's marketing dilemma: Produce a television advertisement specifically directed at Latinos - and risk alienating other potential consumers - or design one for the market as a whole and lose out on establishing a special connection with a potentially loyal group of consumers.
The company decided it could accomplish both goals in one pop. It hired Latina actress Roselyn Sanchez to appear in one ad, produced in two languages but otherwise identical. Like a growing number of advertisers, Pepsi decided the themes and images directed at Latino consumers would also appeal to nonLatino consumers.
"Marketing to groups like Latinos isn't niche marketing anymore, it's mainstream marketing," says Pepsi spokesman Bart Casabona.
Rather than create a full spectrum of separate ads for each ethnic group, advertisers are instead finding that "ethnic" ads can work in the mainstream.
"You want to make ads that speak to the ethnic group and enhance your brand among the general market," says Mr. Casabona. "It's too costly to make several different ads."
Latinos comprise the largest ethnic minority in the US, according to the 2002 Census, with a population of more than 32 million. For many companies, they represent a market too big to ignore, a fact also true of the African-American and Asian markets.
Spanish-language television, which has extended its reach into many US markets, increasingly eases access to Latino consumers. It also drives the creation of highly produced ads that can be quickly converted into ads for the general market, say experts. The ads' major themes - family, humor, and passion - transcend culture.
Regional telephone company Bell South, for example, recently aired a commercial in both Spanish and English that focused on the importance of family and friends. In the commercial, Latina actress Daisy Fuentes talks about the different social roles she plays.
"We as Hispanics are very concentrated on the importance of family, and like to be connected to them more than mainstream consumers," says Aida Levitan, who designed that ad and is also president of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.
Because the themes in the ad also are valued by the mainstream, Ms. Levitan knew that it could make the jump to English-language TV. "Mainstream consumers also find they have multiple roles to play," says Levitan.
The most dramatic crossover example: a Latin-themed commercial for Crest toothpaste aired during the Grammy Awards in February - in Spanish.
"Because it was a highly visual ad, with a husband and wife exchanging kisses before going to work, we thought it would speak to any culture," says Maria Molina, manager of Hispanic corporate relations for Proctor & Gamble, which makes Crest.
Despite the ease with which traditional Latin themes - and even language - can now translate, most of the crossover is directed at young consumers.
Part of the reason is that young consumers represent an enormous segment of the US Latino population. Some 40 percent of US Latinos are 20 years old or younger, according to the US census.
They also are more likely to speak English, and think of themselves as bilingual and multicultural rather than simply as Latinos, say experts. Many companies believe it is crucial to win their loyalty.
"They're hybrids between the general market and the fringe," says David Morse, president of Cultural Access Group, a Los Angeles advertising firm.
For that reason, many commercials in English directed at Latinos rock with Latin rhythms and feature youthful celebrities like Colombian rock star Shakira, who also has appeared in several Pepsi ads.
A multicultural vibe is very attractive to youth culture in general. Casabona cites statistics that show white, mostly suburban adolescents and 20-somethings buy more hip-hop music than minorities do.
"Urban, hip-hoppy ads with an ethnic look are a way of connecting with the general market," says Mr. Morse.
But advertisers are also wary of diluting their pitch to Latino consumers, and realize that they must commit to communicating to an audience that is explicitly Latino.
Several grocery stores, including Albertson's SuperSaver and Big 8 Supermarkets, have adopted all-Spanish signage in several stores.
"The Hispanic shopper is tentative about where he or she can go comfortably," says Bill Bishop, president of Willard Bishop Consulting in Barrington, Ill. "Committing to Spanish in the store is a way for retailers to say they will be accommodated."
Food retailers courting Latino customers, says Mr. Bishop, sometimes need to advertise in ways that vary from their pitch to the general market. Some strategies include emphasizing the wholesome aspect of ingredients and addressing a Latina mother's guilt when she cooks with products that aren't totally fresh. "It's the gringos who open cans," says Bishop.
Posted on aef.com: June 5, 2003
Noel C. Paul, The Christian Science Monitor. June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.