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Sweet spot: Enrique D' Allesandro plays up candy maker Arcor's Latin American roots while fighting foreign competitors in the region. CANDY MAN BITES INTO RIO, BEYOND

By Published on .

[buenos aires] When pan-Latin American media began to sweep through the region early this decade, they were just what Enrique D'Alessandro was looking for.

As VP-communications and public relations of Arcor, Argentina's largest candy company, he had experience trying to develop a regional presence. What he needed was a regional communications strategy.

"It was clear that it wasn't enough to make and sell the product abroad," he recalls. "The growth opportunity came with marketing and adding value to the product-competing equally with local companies in each country." Arcor operates factories in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, and has independent distributors throughout the region.

CABLE READY

As far back as 1989, Arcor was advertising in Argentina's then-nascent cable TV industry, a move Mr. D'Alessandro admits many saw as "crazy."

However, he added: "The exercise we got from being on cable early prepared us to go on international signals as soon as the opportunity arrived."

That came in 1993 with the launch of Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network in Latin America. Arcor designated Leo Burnett as its regional agency for brands the same year. Institutional advertising, highlighting the Arcor corporate name, is handled by Omni Publicidad, Buenos Aires.

Many of the products advertised weren't even available in some countries. "It was a way to plant seeds for the future," Mr. D'Alessandro said.

Since the initial incursion, Arcor has branched out to Turner's other feeds with institutional ads on CNN International's Spanish-language newscasts and TNT Latin America's "TNT Originals." The company also bought regional spots on ESPN and MTV Latino.

Although the pan-regional ad buy in Latin America has yet to be the gold mine many programmers had imagined, Mr. D'Alessandro is a firm believer in the tool.

Arcor's regional marketing budget has grown from $3 million in 1994 to $15 million this year.

"Since we began an international communications strategy, exports have doubled each year," he said.

Indeed, the company expects exports from Argentina alone to reach $192.3 million this year, up from $37 million in 1993. New factories in Brazil and Peru are set for completion this year.

TAKING CHANCES

Mr. D'Alessandro's sweet tooth for cable has led Arcor to pursue new vehicles to accompany the growing sophistication of Latin American consumers.

The sixth three-month chapter of "Arquito's Dreams," a :60 spot produced by Arcor and airing nightly at 10 p.m. on Cartoon Network, is under way. The spot-the only local animation on the channel-mixes live action and animation for a bedtime send-off to kids. It concludes with the company logo and tagline "Your sweet company."

Another Arcor-produced series is set to launch this fall on Much Music Argentina, a highly successful local version of the Canadian music video channel.

"The Top Line Essentials," a series of five-minute spots portraying the lives of well-known musicians, will pitch the company's chewing gum to an adolescent audience.

Further down the line, Mr. D'Alessandro plans to advertise on CNN Interactive through a Web site he is developing for Arcor.

LEARNING LESSONS

But, like many companies developing regional strategies, Arcor has learned its share of lessons.

For example, despite unprecedented economic and political integration in Latin America, some old rivalries remain. After focus groups throughout the region gave an unfavorable response to Arcor's institutional ads highlighting the company's Argentine roots, a new slogan was developed.

"Latinoarcor" broke this July when Arcor ran full-page ads in 31 newspapers outside Argentina, as well as double-page ads in Latin American editions of Reader's Digest, in celebration of its 45th anniversary.

Its ads now include phrases like "With quality there are no borders" and "A megacompany with firm roots in Latin America" that leave no bitter aftertaste.

BATTLE LINES DRAWN

The Latin American emphasis comes at a time when companies from outside the region are looking to take a bite out of Arcor's market.

"The major multinationals are in Latin America today-the players are the same everywhere," Mr. D'Alessandro said. "We now need to improve and optimize our corporate identity with this new challenge. We need to be coherent of a globalized future."

A revamping of Arcor's corporate logo by San Francisco, Calif.-based Landor Associates, has been under way since January.

Arcor's toughest battle may be on its home turf. Since 1993, multinationals such as Britain's Cadbury, U.S.-based Nabisco and France's Danone have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy out some of Arcor's biggest local competitors. Because smaller competitors have been bought out by foreign companies, D'Alessandro claims Arcor is the only fully Argentine-owned candy company left.

The company had to "go from low profile to high profile," Mr. D'Alessandro said, with the Arcor logo figuring more prominently on packaging and in product ads. It also mounted an institutional campaign playing on the company's birth in a small town in Argentina's interior.

Still, Mr. D'Alessandro keeps a global focus, summing up his goal: "To grow and lead the candy market in Latin America."

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