Getting the message across: Hispanic marketing strategies

Jan. 9, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

Habla Espanol? Most quick-service chains are brushing up on their Spanish. And for good reason.

A 2009 analysis by the Latinum Network found that while the American economy floundered, the spending growth by U.S. Hispanics was twice the growth of general market spending. 

Considering one-third of the nation’s population 19 years old and younger is expected to be Latino by 2015, this trend only appears to be accelerating.

Restaurants have taken note and have scrambled for creative ways to pique the interest of this spendthrift demographic – hiring separate agencies of record for Spanish-speaking markets, launching Hispanic-specific promotions and sponsoring Latino-focused events, for example.

“As the Hispanic consumer population continues to grow and become a greater share of total restaurant spend, it is necessary to create specific strategies to build awareness, encourage trial use and, ultimately, attract this demographic into an operator’s store,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc.

Just last year, the top 500 advertisers allocated 5.4 percent of their budgets to connect with Hispanic consumers, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. The wave of this specific spending focus began in 2007, when Hispanic ad dollars hovered close to 5.6 percent.

Since then, a Spanish wave has washed over QSR marketing schemes. Major players including Wendy’s and Burger King have launched Hispanic-specific campaigns, Baskin-Robbins created a new role to head up the company’s U.S. Hispanic marketing efforts, and Carl’s Jr. developed a format to integrate the chain’s products into prime-time lineups of Univision and TeleFutura affiliates.

Among the best marketers for the Hispanic demographic – as acknowledged by the AHAA – are El Pollo Loco, Domino's Pizza and McDonald's. McDonald’s even got into the mobile marketing game early, launching a text message ad campaign geared toward the market in 2007.

Streamlining messages

Because the demographic has integrated into the U.S. market at a staggering pace, El Pollo Loco is currently in the process of an AOR review, expected to be completed in February, which will streamline its formerly separate Hispanic and general market accounts.

“The consumer market has evolved and it’s important that we, as a brand, come into the marketplace with one consistent voice,” said Mark Hardison, vice president of marketing for El Pollo Loco. “We were finding, with two separate agencies, that our message was disparate. They looked different and felt different and we believed it was taking away from the brand more than adding to it. To have consistency in the way the brand is presented to everyone is a huge deal, and it is simple and necessary.”

In addition to offering consistency, Hardison adds that the consolidation into a total market approach will yield more efficiency and cost savings.

Shortly after its sale to 3G Capital, Burger King also consolidated its advertising message with the objective of providing a consistent message across demographics. In doing so, the company cut LatinWorks, which provided campaigns for the Hispanic market.

Separating messages

Other chains have gone the opposite direction, either adding a separate Hispanic AOR or adding to their marketing departments to focus on the demographic.

Wendy’s, for example, and its Hispanic advertising agency The Bravo Group – tapped in August  - recently launched a new campaign called “Sabor de Verdad” (loosely translated to ‘Real Test’) to reach out to the Spanish-speaking population. Bob Holtcamp, senior vice president of brand marketing for Wendy’s International Inc., said that connecting to the U.S. Hispanic households is essential to the growth of the brand.

"Wendy's seeks to build faith among the more than 45 million U.S.-based Hispanics that we will deliver the best tasting fast food experience every time at everyday prices," Holtcamp said.

Taco Bell pledged to put forth a better marketing effort toward this demographic in 2006 and has since run simultaneous English and Spanish ad campaigns, including the Vendor spot featuring a Mexican lottery vendor calling out menu items in street-style.

Some chains are positioned in markets that are heavily Hispanic and therefore need to convey a message to that demographic for survival, according to Tristano.

One such chain is Church’s Chicken, headquartered in San Antonio. It has long maintained separate AORs  - Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners for the Hispanic market and Trend Influence for the general market. According to Marc Butler, senior vice president of marketing, 22 percent of Church’s Chicken’s customers are Hispanic in origin and, in Texas specifically, the demographic outnumbers Caucasians at restaurants.

As is common with the chain’s marketing strategy, its new chicken mini item is being promoted with both English and Spanish spots, which makes sense for the brand.

“Many of our restaurants are in Spanish-dominated markets,” said Andy Bonaparte, vice president of advertising. “We plan to continue this (strategy) for our marketing plan.”

A strategy for survival

Though these brands acknowledge a big chunk of their consumers, and witness the spending potential moving forward, others have yet to embrace a multicultural marketing message. This, according to Tristano, will work against them sooner than later.

“Many restaurants are still just focusing on the affluent English-speaking consumer and have not made a push toward this group. Just providing coupons or menus in Spanish is not a ‘strategy,’” he said. “It is essential to actually build a bridge, provide specific messaging and penetrate this demographic in order to maintain continued success in the market. Chains that research Spanish-speaking consumers and hire marketing staff with a deep understanding of the market will have a leg up on their competitors.”


Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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