Grassroots efforts are a popular way to market to Hispanics, but the scale and complexity of the 15-product program branded VidaNuestra (OurLife) reflects the growing sophistication of Hispanic marketers. And for a company as determinedly decentralized as Johnson & Johnson, it's an extraordinary feat.
"It hasn't been easy because it involves 15 brands and seven individual operating companies," said Rosalinda Markels, franchise director of the Hispanic Business Unit at McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals. "We started a year ago." Ms. Markels said the company was looking for a way to provide a lot of educational information about healthcare brands in a manner that wasn't "way too boring," adding "You hear about the power of grassroots marketing" but "it's oh so expensive."
So J&J's operating companies combined forces. "Everyone contributed what it could, then we went to corporate, and it was spread over two years, starting in 2004," she said.
The VidaNuestra experience starts when Hispanic consumers come upon a Spanish plaza blaring Latin music at a Wal-Mart or a local fiesta. They enter the trailer and go from room to room to see how different products are used by the Buenos' extended family including parents, grandparents and four children ranging in age from infancy to 16. The story is narrated by preteen daughter Sofia in a series of bilingual print bubbles modeled after foto novelas, a print version of the popular telenovela, said Shelly Lipton, executive director of AIM-Alternative & Innovative Marketing, a San Diego-based Hispanic marketing and promotions company that organized the program.
Consumers are asked simple multiple choice questions, and the answers are behind oversized product packages of each featured brand.
At the end of the five-minute tour, consumers get product samples, a VidaNuestra custom magazine and the chance to do health tests. A bilingual VidaNuestra.com Web site coming soon will have tour dates, content from the magazine, and links to Johnson & Johnson brands, some of which have content or sites in Spanish. The Web address will appear on the truck and in the magazine, and a national public relations campaign will help drive consumers to the site.
During a typical VidaNuestra day, the Bueno home parks at a Wal-Mart for eight hours. The tour kicked off at the Calle Ocho festival in Miami in mid-April and will end in California in October.
Ms. Markels said this is a trial year but that VidaNuestra has the potential to skyrocket as J&J masters the complexities of the multibrand promotion. "We quickly had to rein ourselves in and focus on the basics-the tour, messaging, the partnership [with Wal-Mart]-then we can talk about how to create more buzz and marketing," she said.
Ms. Markels' own role has changed since planning began for VidaNuestra. She was a retail marketing manager for Johnson & Johnson but since December has been leading a new dedicated Hispanic-only marketing team for McNeil, a departure from Johnson & Johnson's usual brand-by-brand approach. "It goes a little against our natural brand focus, but the operating companies are paying attention."
All 15 products participating in VidaNuestra have some affinity with the Hispanic market, but their efforts range from only TV or just promotions to fully-integrated programs. J&J spends about $50 million a year on Hispanic TV and print media, according to TNS Media Intelligence figures.
"TV is great, but it's a little impersonal," Ms. Markels said. "This is the kind of connection that matters."