Unilever to Increase Hispanic Advertising Budget 47%

'Iron Chef'-Like Contest and TV Show Campaign Kicks Off New Effort for 10 Brands

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Unilever is playing on a Latin love of cooking and the surprising dearth of food programs on Spanish-language TV for the company's biggest-ever Hispanic effort for its food brands. "Desafio del Sabor" (The Flavor Challenge) kicks off this week,
A fleet of trailers will fan out across the country as part of the cooking contest and reality show promotional efforts. Click to see larger photo.

starting with a call to submit favorite recipes at storefront events across the country and ending with a televised cook-off on national television. Recipes must include at least one of 10 participating Unilever food brands.

This is no Betty Crocker bake-off. Ricardo Martinez, Unilever's director multicultural marketing, said Unilever will increase its Hispanic advertising and promotions budget by 47% this year. The program taps into the Latin conviction that "they have the best sazon [seasoning] or sabor [flavor]," Mr. Martinez said. They also spend almost twice as much time preparing home-cooked meals as non-Latinos do, he said.

Mobile vans
Besides collecting recipes at stores, Unilever is readying half a dozen mobile vans to go to big grocery chains and local Hispanic festivals. Bilingual culinary students will help with demonstrations and tastings at the storefront events. Consumers whose recipes are selected will enter the next level of competition, cooking at Desafio del Sabor regional challenges at Hispanic festivals in five cities: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

"It will be like the 'Iron Chef'!" Mr. Martinez said, referring to the Food Network cooking show that pits top chefs against each another.

The winners from each regional event will compete in a cook-off aired nationally on Spanish-language TV network Univision. The grand prize: $10,000 cash and a trip for four to Univision's top music awards show, "Premio Lo Nuestro a La Musica Latina." The winner's recipe will also be featured in a Unilever recipe book.

The effort will be backed by TV, radio, print and online advertising, plus public relations, promotions and in-store advertising, a Web site (desafiodelsabor.com) and a giveaway recipe book called Viva Mejor (Live Better). The campaign is being handled by Mass Promotions, Miami. Unilever's other Hispanic agency for food brands is Mosaica MD, New York, part of WPP Group's Bravo Group. Although ads will be in Spanish, the Web site and promotional materials and other efforts will be bilingual wherever possible.

Bilingual campaign
"When the environment can be bilingual, we tend to go bilingual to cover all levels of acculturation," Mr. Martinez said.

Unilever reorganized its multicultural efforts less than two years ago, bringing in Mr. Martinez, a Panamanian who was previously the director of Hispanic marketing at Colgate-Palmolive, to head a multicultural unit in June 2004.

"Before it was more of a brand-by-brand effort, without internal coordination," he said. The unit now has about eight people, mostly Hispanic brand managers but also activation and consumer insight executives, he said. Last year Unilever spent $27.4 million on Spanish-language TV and print, up from $22.8 million the previous year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Unilever also did its first behavioral research into Hispanic shoppers, finding that they are more involved with food preparation than general market consumers and are excellent planners when it comes to shopping and cooking.

"[But] their level of satisfaction with the shopping experience is much lower, pointing to big opportunities for retailers and manufacturers," Mr. Martinez said. "They would enjoy stores that are easier to get to, offer more personal attention and speak Spanish, and where they feel more welcome. That's not new, but no one realized the level of dissatisfaction."

No Martha Stewarts
Although more than 70% of Hispanics said they are confident in their cooking abilities, according to People en Espanol magazine's Hispanic Opinion Tracker (HOT) study, the Hispanic market has no Martha Stewarts, Nigella Lawsons or Iron or Naked Chefs. (One of the few celebrity chefs, Cuban immigrant Chef Pepin, already does promotional activity for Unilever's Knorr brand and will help judge the cook-off.) There is intense rivalry between Mexican, Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisines, and even within those national cultures, cooks typically customize their recipes. And everyone has their own dishes. Dominicans, for example, typically make sweet beans (habichuelas con dulce) on Good Friday, but no one else does. Mr. Martinez said the contest is open to all but expects entries to be largely Hispanic.

The participating Unilever brands are Ragu, Knorr, Hellmann's, Lipton tea, Lawry's barbecue sauce, WishBone salad dressing, Lipton Sides, Country Crock, Lipton Noodle Soup and Skippy peanut butter.

As part of the kickoff this week at Miami's Calle Ocho festival, 75 people in chef's hats and aprons walked around the city's high-traffic areas, from malls to South Beach and Lincoln Road, handing out information about Desafio del Sabor.

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