BREWERS FIGHT FOR HISPANIC MARKET: AS LATINOS DRINK MORE IMPORTS, U.S. BEERS SPEAK MORE ESPANOL

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U.S. brewers are honing marketing efforts to Hispanics in an attempt to keep them from import brews.

Locked in fierce share battles, Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co. and Coors Brewing Co. are rejiggering their ad approaches and revisiting promotions aimed at the 69 million Hispanics -- a high percentage of them young adults -- in the U.S.

Beer "is a relatively flat market, so you have to pay attention to markets where you see opportunities," said Alejandro Ruelas, director-ethnic marketing for A-B.

Opportunities are tougher than ever in the market. While Latino immigrants historically gravitated to major domestic brands, more now are imbibing beers from the old country.

PRIDE AND RESENTMENT

According to industry marketers, wholesalers and observers, that trend is being driven by beefed-up marketing on the part of importers; growing pride in heritage; and, in some cases, resentment against U.S. brands -- stirred by California initiatives against illegal immigrants and tougher national immigration laws.

Brands from Mexico -- homeland to 69% of the Hispanics in the U.S. -- are getting the biggest boost. The most notable example is Corona Extra, a brand popular among Anglo consumers.

BATTLING CORONA

Corona's 1997 sales grew 36%, to 39.3 million cases, knocking Heineken from its perch as the No. 1 imported beer, according to industry newsletter Impact. Barton Beers and Gambrinus Co. import Corona.

To fight back, A-B recently broke a new Budweiser TV campaign tagged "Simplemente Budweiser" from Hispanic agency Castor Group, New York.

The Spanish-language effort, running on Telemundo and Univision, builds on core values of Latino cultures, like family and friendship, Mr. Ruelas said.

This effort replaces last year's "ReBudlucion" spots that focused on contributions A-B makes to the Hispanic community. In the wake of California's initiatives and the surrounding outcry, the brewer wanted to portray itself as friendly to Hispanics, Mr. Ruelas said.

A-B is continuing its 3-year-old Bud Light campaign that features two Anglo guys wishing they were Hispanic, also from Castor.

MORE FROM COORS

Coors, too, is stepping up its efforts. Besides running ads that star Hispanic brewery workers, the No. 3 brewer has expanded its "Hey, beer man" Coors Light campaign to include Spanish-language spots.

The brewery and agency Casanova-Pendrill Publicidad, Irvine, Calif., created Spanish- and English-language versions of a vendor spot set at a boxing match -- one to run on Spanish channels, the other to run in mainstream media.

Miller, meanwhile, is continuing its year-old strategy of running cross-ethnic ads for Lite and Genuine Draft on network TV.

SIMILAR CUES

The No. 2 brewer launched the campaign with the philosophy that its 21-to-28-year-old audience will respond to similar cues -- music, humor -- regardless of ethnicity, although some executions are more weighted to Hispanic and African-American audiences.

But Miller also is running locally and regionally focused Hispanic promotions, as opposed to the national Tongoneo concert series that supported Lite for the past two years.

The shift allows the brewer to run events more in sync with the diverse Hispanic populations in key markets.

SPORTS AND CONCERTS

For example, in Texas, the brewer is running a soccer-theme fund-raising promotion for Lite called "El Kick de Texas," as well as Hispanic-flavor Dallas Cowboys efforts. In Chicago, it's focusing on running more general program extensions and concert sponsorships.

Southern California and Florida are other key markets.

The "Futbol MGD" Genuine Draft sweepstakes offers 80 top prizes of a 35-inch color TV and a catered party for 20 to watch the World Cup.

The effort is running in 12 key markets and is backed by TV advertising as well as point-of-purchase material featuring Mexican soccer player Hugo Sanchez.

Despite the varying approaches, all the brewers have the same goal: holding onto a lucrative segment.

"We're in an evolving marketplace," said Mike Johnson, brand manager on Miller Lite. "We have to find ways to resonate."

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