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Media See Latino Market As 'Caliente'

As advertisers and media executives sort through tons of statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census verifying the upsurge in the nation's Hispanic population, they're bullish that ad spending to reach those consumers will also ascend rapidly.

During a June 1 conference call hosted by Salomon Smith Barney Inc., broadcasting, cable and interactive-television analyst Niraj Gupta said advertising aimed at Latinos is "the fastest-growing segment of the overall advertising market."

Meanwhile, advertising, broadcast and research executives said during the call that the burgeoning Hispanic populus will trigger changes in their fields.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. vice president of multicultural and relationship marketing Gilbert Davila said Latino population growth will likely translate into more marketers allocating increased shares of their ad budgets to Hispanic media.

The new census data "will clearly have an impact on how Sears [and others] allocate their resources," Davila said.

So far, Hispanic media are "nowhere near as fragmented as the general market and we see that as a positive," he said.

Davila, while admittedly vague on specifics owing to company policy, said Sears has consistently ranked among the top five in Hispanic-media ad spending.

"We don't think the budgets have peaked yet," he added.

Looking at the media mix from Sears' viewpoint, Davila said, "Broadcast television and radio continue to be the most effective and most efficient way to reach our Hispanic audience." But the retail giant also has a Spanish-language Web site, which he said "eventually will play a greater role."

As Latinos come from more than 20 different countries, Davila said, "There are different ways [to reach those consumers]" — from "generic Spanish" commercials to others that specifically target Cubans or Puerto Ricans.

Hispanic consumers are important to the company, since they spend about $2 billion a year in Sears stores, Davila said. Moreover, 180 full-line Sears outlets now have a "significant" Spanish customer base and the chain's outlets in Hispanic areas are "among our best-performing stores," he said.

Nielsen Media Research senior vice president of Hispanic services Doug Darfield said the Hispanic population soared 58 percent since the 1990 Census. It now stands at 35.3 million people, or 13 percent of the total U.S. population.

And more than half the population gains reported in California, New York, New Jersey and Texas — states with a strong Hispanic heritage — came within that group.

In one new wrinkle, Hispanics also contributed to population surges in "nontraditional" Spanish states, including Connecticut, Ohio, Nevada and Utah, according to Sears' Davila. In Connecticut and Utah, he estimated, Latinos now represents some 10 percent of the population.

Looking back at projections done in advance of the last two Census Bureau reports, Darfield noted that bureau forecasts vastly underestimated Hispanic growth rates in both the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past decade alone, the bureau's predictions for Latinos were off by anywhere from 12 percent on the conservative side to 17 percent on the high end, he noted.

As for Nielsen's own higher estimates, Darfield said that as of Jan. 1, 2002, there will be 34.3 million Latinos in nearly 10.2 million television households — the latter accounting for just under 10 percent of the total 105.5 million U.S. TV households.

Between 35 percent and 40 percent of this audience's viewing goes to Spanish-language programming, Darfield estimated, even though there are "just two [TV-network] players and a couple of cable guys."

With Univision about to add a second TV network, Telemundo buying Gems Television and English-language programmers like Nickelodeon and ESPN offering more programming that appeals to Hispanic viewers, Darfield said, more content will be directed at this growing group.

"It's certainly going to be something to be watched over time," he said.

Marc Tichenor, CEO of major Spanish radio-station owner Hispanic Broadcasting Co., said the census data "may break down some barriers" at some clients hitherto resistant to spending on Latino media.

The Hispanic segment should be attractive to advertisers, Tichenor observed, because it is younger (by about 10 years), larger (with one more person per household) and more traditional (featuring a greater percentage of mother-father nuclear families) than the general market.

Telemundo, which has scored healthy upfront ad sales over the past four years, seems to be "going against the current" this year, with an outlook that remains bullish in contrast to the more dour forecasts for the general market.

"We're looking for a strong upfront," said Telemundo vice president of ad sales Steve Levin last month at the Upfront Summit, sponsored by Advertising Age
and Electronic Media.

Last year, one-third of Telemundo's advertisers were newcomers, he said, adding that Kimberly-Clark Corp. and other clients sharply increased the number of brands running schedules on the network. However, for minority-skewed media, the upfront is a relatively small part of the picture, as most ethnic-market deals are bought on a calendar-year basis.

For his part, Davila declined to discuss Sears' Hispanic-upfront plans and, when asked about the retailer's interest in cross-platform buys within Hispanic media, said only, "It's an intriguing idea."

But Telemundo's Levin said he's noticed client interest cooling toward network/online combination buys. He could recall only one client asking about a Web component in recent months, down sharply from a year ago.

In other developments announced last week, the Association of National Advertisers created the Multicultural Excellence Awards to honor "outstanding advertising targeted to multicultural consumers" in any media, and Univision Online Inc. president Javier Saralegui reported that his company's Web site attracted more than 6 million unique visitors last April, reaching more than 80 percent of the Spanish-speaking U.S. online audience.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Interactive, Univision's Web site grew by 800,000 unique users in one month's time, he said. Saralegui added that Univision now plans to "take advantage of cross-platform opportunities and increase Univision.com's participation in TV programming, not only from Univision Television Network, but across our cable network Galavisión" and the second broadcast network that Univision intends to launch in January 2002.