Cable networks and operators are taking to the streets, trying to reach an underserved audience-the more than 30 million U.S. consumers of Hispanic descent.
International Channel Networks' Canales ñ introduced its new mascot, shaped like and named after the ñ character, at the annual Fiesta Broadway, held the last weekend of April in Los Angeles.
"The kids loved him," International Channel vice president of marketing and communications Jim Honiotes said of the cartoonish character. "He's very cute."
Canales ñ will bring the mascot to other community events throughout the country, Honiotes said, making appearances with Hispanic disc jockeys and visiting local grocery stores.
The new mascot will also be featured in the network's first television- and radio-broadcast ad campaign, set to run May 15 through June 15 in at least 20 Canales ñ markets.
Grassroots marketing is very important in reaching the Hispanic market, Honiotes said, adding, "Word-of-mouth builds one person at a time."
Showtime Networks Inc. was one of the sponsors at Fiesta Broadway, which attracted an estimated 500,000 people, vice president of direct marketing Debra Kalish said.
"We made sure to participate this year because we had a big story to tell," she said, referring to Showtime's new series, Resurrection Blvd. She called it the first series that features Latinos both in front of and behind the cameras.
On June 11, Showtime plans to have a float in the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York, which typically draws 3 million to 4 million people, Kalish said. The float will feature actors from the new series.
Showtime used last week's Cinco de Mayo celebration as the hook for a recent direct-mail campaign centered on Resurrection Blvd. The series will be broadcast in English, with a Spanish secondary feed available.
Showtime director of Hispanic marketing Karen Habib said the secondary audio feed is available for about 90 percent of Showtime's programming, especially its originals.
Creating the new series about a family in East Los Angeles "is an excellent idea," Time Warner Communications' West Valley (Calif.) marketing-acquisitions manager Dean Backlund said. The system plans to host sneak previews of the series for local audiences.
Last Monday in Miami, Home Box Office and Adelphia Communications Corp. held a special screening of the documentary Americanos: Latino Life in the U.S., which aired on the network for the first time last Friday.
HBO Southern regional spokeswoman Pat Conner said that following a gala debut of the film last year at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, the company decided to hold this year's screening for migrant families.
What was expected to be a low-key event turned into a 600-person invitation list, including local school officials and politicians. HBO and Adelphia hosted folk dancers, musicians and a Mexican honor guard from a local school, Conner said.
Adelphia used the event to announce its new program to train migrant workers on using the Internet, she added.
Appealing to the Hispanic consumer's sense of family is important in influencing a purchase decision, according to SCDRG Inc. president David Robertson, who recently co-hosted, along with Showtime, a conference on marketing to blue-collar Hispanics.
"Blue-collar Hispanics currently make up 90 percent of Hispanic Americans," Robertson said. "Their children are their social security. They're not as price-sensitive as we think they are. They will spend money if they think it benefits their children."
According to Hispanic marketing consultant Francisco Valle, who spoke at the recent SCDRG conference, the husband ultimately has the authority to make purchases in a blue-collar Hispanic household, but he typically gathers feedback from the whole family first.
"We recommend in-store demonstrations that can influence the buyers and all of the buying influencers at the same time," Valle said.
Time Warner Communications' Los Angeles division hopes to open cable-sales kiosks in local supermarkets and other retailers, vice president of sales and marketing Richard Cozzi said. The operator will also try to reach the Hispanic community at such events as church bake sales.
"We're not going to control the [Catholic] Mass," Cozzi added. "We won't send a salesman to the seminary."
Cozzi admitted that he's not Hispanic by birth, but by assimilation. Because the system has Hispanic employees in its marketing department, it can do in-house focus groups on its Hispanic direct-mail campaigns and Spanish-language programming.
"We have to treat this group a little differently, be cognizant of the different psychographic and demographic traits and match those traits with our offers," he added.
Because Hispanics are so family-oriented, for example, a promotion that awards a single prize, or even a trip for two, might not appeal to the market.
Valle recommended trying to motivate an entire group, rather than individuals, perhaps rewarding a neighborhood that signs up more subscribers by donating extra computers to the local school district.
There's some debate among marketers about whether operators should pitch the Hispanic market with bilingual or Spanish-only mailers. Valle recommended the latter, after operators segment the mailing lists into Spanish-speaking households not only by ZIP code, but by street, when necessary.
Cozzi said his system has not used Spanish-only mailers yet. "If they end up in Anglo hands, sometimes, there is a backlash," he added.
Beyond creating a segmented mailing list, developing an appropriate message is also crucial.
"The last thing you want to do is ever patronize anybody," Backlund said. "When you are presuming to market to an ethnicity, you really need to be in tune with that market."
But ignoring the market altogether also has its consequences.
"Cable operators that are not paying attention to this opportunity are going to be sorry," Honiotes said, adding that they would be underserving one of their constituencies and losing potential audience to their competition-direct-broadcast satellite providers.