NIELSEN PROGRAM LIKELY TO UNRAVEL BUYING SECRETS; UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: SCANNER DATA, ESPECIALLY FROM HISPANIC-DOMINANT HOMES, DEVELOPED

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It took four years, but when a panel comprehensively reflecting Hispanic lifestyles was finally devised, ACNielsen Corp. began to reap its first truly useful data on the purchasing patterns of this market.

The pilot program, launched in March to explore the purchasing habits of 725 Los Angeles-area Hispanic households, concludes its first phase this month. Although the sample comprises a mere fraction of the 8.9 million U.S. Hispanic households, Nielsen says it hopes to extend the program to other regions including New York, South Florida and Texas. It is awaiting word from sponsors to see whether or not they will invest the dollars necessary to expand the program.

DOLLAR POWER

Strategy Research Corp. estimates the Hispanic market has more than $301 billion in buying power.

Initial Nielsen data reveal the purchasing patterns of diversified Hispanic households, ranging from families who shop at chain supermarkets to those who go to neighborhood bodegas.

Those households also reflect people from a variety of Latin cultures who are Spanish-dominant, English-dominant or bilingual and those who are acculturated, or not. Acculturated people have adopted some of the U.S. cultural values -- including watching English-language TV.

FIRST FOR NIELSEN

Nielsen says this is the first time it can identify, measure and compare the various households through its sample.

One finding shows that Spanish-dominant households buy significantly higher proportions of certain product categories such as soft drinks, diapers and yogurt.

Media buyers and marketing agencies welcome the news, which is expected to help them convince advertisers of the size and clout of the Hispanic market by providing specifics rather than general information.

SHIFT IN FOCUS

Previously, Nielsen gathered data about Hispanic households from a general-market sample of English-dominant acculturated households without ever reflecting the non-acculturated market segment, says Meredith Spector, VP-marketing for Nielsen's Homescan Hispanic panel data.

"Most retailers are already aware of the buying power of Hispanics," says Kathleen Bohan, VP-media and marketing of the media rep Katz Hispanic Media, New York, "but having scanner data from Hispanic-speaking households is a very convincing tool to help plan marketing and advertising programs."

The void in specific data has restricted marketers' opportunities to invest in co-op marketing and tie-ins directed at Hispanic segments. Those vehicles ought to get a spending boost as a result of the new data, say experts.

Says Iliana Pappas, president of Chicago-based Accent Marketing "We've been desperate for real numbers and hard data that will help prove to advertisers

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