Spirits marketers eye Hispanic niche

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Spirits marketers continue to trail brewers' efforts to connect with U.S. Hispanic consumers, although recent campaigns from Absolut and Jack Daniels signal an increasing recognition of the consumer group.

Liquor industry observers call the 32.4 million U.S. Hispanic population an untapped market, with potential to boost the category's lackluster growth. The group has a mean per-household annual buying power of about $33,800, according to Strategy Research Corp.

Brown-Forman Corp. will expand its Jack Daniels outdoor and radio campaign beyond Miami, New York and Texas to include Southern California and Chicago, said Erin Schlader, national marketing director for the brand. He said it will continue events such as cinco de Mayo celebrations and Latino music festivals.

CULTURAL INFLUENCE

In January, Seagram Americas broke an Absolut print ad titled "Absolut Miami." It featured Spanish text on the iconic bottle.

"Most of our advertising is product-focused, so therefore we don't necessarily see advertising geared toward a particular market segment," Drew DeSarno, Absolut marketing manager, said. "It's a city ad about `Absolut Miami,' but it recognizes the great influence of Hispanic culture on Miami."

The brand also has developed PR and promotions programs in the city and other Spanish-speaking communities over the last several years, Mr. DeSarno said.

Canandaigua's Barton Brands, which has not targeted Hispanics in a national effort, plans to launch a premium tequila summer.

It's unclear how much money the spirits and beer marketers spend on Hispanic marketing because much of it is concentrated on tough-to-track promotional efforts.

"More and more money is going into [the marketing] because marketers recognize that [Hispanic] buying power continues to increase," said Tom Pirko, president of food and beverage consultancy Bevmark.

Nonetheless, not one of the leading spirits marketers has found its way to Hispanic Business's list of top 50 Hispanic market advertisers for 1999. Anheuser-Busch Cos. ranked No. 6 in gross media expenditures on Hispanic Business's list.

A-B, whose Spanish-language ads date to the 1930s, spent $20 million in 1999, up 22% from the $16.4 million spent in 1998. The brewer's spending in the market has exploded 60% since 1997, when it spent $12.5 million, Hispanic Business said.

Its 1999 spending put it behind Procter & Gamble Co. at $46 million; AT&T Corp. at $35 million; MCI WorldCom at $34 million; Sears, Roebuck & Co. at $30 million; and McDonald's Corp. at $26 million

"Clearly Budweiser was one of the first and most pro-active advertisers in the Hispanic community. It realized it had a great opportunity to capitalize on a large niche," said Felipe Korzenny, principal of Cheskin Research, a consultancy on Asian-American and Hispanic marketing.

Adolph Coors Co., which began its Hispanic advertising program in the late 1990s, ranks No. 18 on the Hispanic Business list with $10 million in spending, a 43% increase over 1998 when it spent $7 million.

Miller Brewing Co., which has run Spanish-language commercials for Lite since the '70s and for Miller Genuine Draft since the '80s, is not ranked among the top 50. The brewer would not comment on its spending.

Miller also is aggressive on the promotions front, sponsoring the Mexican national soccer team, Latin music concerts, an Independence Day program for Latin American countries in September, and a scholarship program for Latino youth.

"If you are a national consumer products company and intend to grow and be successful, you've got to find a way to deliver your message to [Hispanic] consumers in a way that is going to be relevant to them," a Miller Lite spokesman said.

Mr. Korzenny said many spirits marketers do not realize Latinos are a growth market for liquors such as gin, vodka, whisky and rum.

"A lot of those brands are not doing almost anything to communicate with the Spanish-speaking consumer," he said. "Latin Americans drink gin and tonic and vodka and tonic; whisky and rum are very popular beverages in Latin America. But many North American distributors and distillers do not understand that and do not see what the opportunity is [in the U.S.]."

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