The Player: Davila widens multicultural marketing focus at Disney

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At a gathering where most attendees are non-Hispanic white executives, Gilbert Davila and the multicultural panel he will moderate will be new faces at this week's Association of National Advertisers conference.

Mr. Davila organized the group's first-ever multicultural session, bringing to the ANA the heads of three leading U.S. Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American ad agencies to talk about the fast-growing multicultural market.

Mr. Davila is a new face himself at Walt Disney Co. He joined the entertainment group in May as the first VP-multicultural marketing, a newly created corporate post that reports directly to Disney's chief strategic officer, Peter Murphy.

"The vision I have is to make the Walt Disney Co. the preferred and premiere entertainment company to the ever-growing multicultural market," Mr. Davila said.

He works with all four Disney divisions, helping to outline strategy and develop programs for media, theme parks and resorts, consumer products and movies. Rather than running a marketing department, as he did in his previous job at Sears, Roebuck & Co., he might provide research, offer a point of view on culturally sensitive issues, or look for opportunities to create new products, in English or Spanish.

More than 15% of moviegoers are Hispanic, he said. And genres such as animated films, a Disney strength, are especially popular. Because Hispanics and African-Americans have more children at home than non-Hispanic whites, they also offer a good market for Disney product lines like kids' clothes, he said. "It's important to take a look at the entire customer experience Latins and African-Americans have with Disney."

The company's next big multicultural effort will be the launch of 24-hour Spanish-language sports channel ESPN Deportes in the first quarter of 2004, he said. ESPN Deportes is about to name an agency from three finalists..

Merchandising, publishing

Disney doesn't have a multicultural agency roster, but Mr. Davila has started using LatinSphere, a small Los Angeles shop owned by two Hispanic agency execs he worked with at Sears, for strategy and research.

Before Disney, Mr. Davila spent almost eight years at Sears. As VP-multicultural marketing, he developed a wide breadth of knowledge ranging from merchandise to publishing. While there, he transformed Sears' Spanish-language publishing effort from a catalog to the largest ABC-audited Spanish-language magazine, Nuestra Gente.

"Gilbert is among the country's leading experts in multicultural marketing and provides Disney with unprecedented expertise and experience in marketing to an increasingly diverse U.S. population," said Disney's Mr. Murphy.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and educated in the U.S., Mr. Davila's first job was in sales and promotions at Procter & Gamble Co. After five years, he joined Coca-Cola USA as Hispanic and ethnic marketing manager, then became Coke's director of marketing for the North East region.

Fast Facts

Name: Gilbert Davila

Age: 40

Now: VP-multicultural marketing, Walt Disney Co.

Challenge: To make Walt Disney the preferred entertainment company for the fast-growing Hispanic and African-American markets

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