Unilever ramps up Latin effort

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In a growing focus on the U.S. Hispanic market, Unilever is adding Spanish-language advertising for some brands for the first time to some brands, developing multibrand Hispanic promotions, and creating products aimed at acculturated Hispanics who may have forgotten how to prepare traditional Latin dishes.

In fact, the first Spanish-language commercial for Ragu sauce has been such a hit that the simple spot showing a toddler struggling to eat spaghetti will also air on English-language TV starting this week. The ad by WPP Group's MendozaDillon, Irvine, Calif., broke in January, said Carlos Mendez, the agency's chief creative officer.

Leading the way to Latinos is Unilever Bestfoods' Knorr brand, whose Hispanic ad budget has tripled since Unilever bought Bestfoods in 2000. Unlike the company's other brands, Knorr already gets 60% of its sales from Hispanics, many of whom are familiar with the product because it's big in Latin America.

`Havana nights'

Now Knorr is aiming at more acculturated Hispanics with new products and its first bilingual campaign. Knorr is a corporate sponsor for the promotion of Artisan Entertainment's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," including ads by Mass Promotions, Miami, discount certificates to the movie and a bilingual mini Web site.

"It's a perfect match," said Eddie Lindley, Knorr's brand manager, U.S. Hispanic market. "The movie is set in romantic pre-Castro Cuba, shot in Puerto Rico and stars a well-known Mexican actor. It embraces all our consumer groups."

Last September, Knorr launched seven ready-to-serve Mexican cooking sauces aimed at younger Hispanics who aren't cooking from scratch like their parents.

"They love the products and taste, but don't have the time to do it or they've forgotten how," Mr. Lindley said. Flavors include mole and chipotle, and come with recipes.

Last year Unilever Bestfoods tested in Los Angeles "La Plaza del Sabor," a grass-roots sampling of food and fun at Hispanic events and retailers' store fronts, said Lisa Klauser, VP-integrated marketing. Typical fare includes corn rolled in Hellman's mayonnaise and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese, she said. This year "La Plaza del Sabor" will be extended to seven cities including New York, Chicago and Miami. And the Hispanic budget is up 40% for 2004, she said.

On the health and beauty side, Unilever set up a multicultural marketing unit two years ago. The division's first project, about to enter its second year, is "Secretos de Belleza" ("Beauty Secrets"). Unilever partners with Glamour en Espanol to develop a digest-size 32-page booklet sent three times a year as a direct marketing piece to Hispanic households in the top 10 Hispanic markets. The booklet includes coupons for the six skin, hair care and deodorant brands the Secretos program covers: Dove, Suave, Finesse, Vaseline Intensive Care, Caress and Pond's. Unilever also works with independent Hispanic agency PMG, San Antonio.

At Hispanic events, Unilever has a large tent that offers an almost spa-like experience using the six brands, said Multicultural Manager Annette Fonte. "It's all about delivering beauty solutions that talk to her in the way she speaks to her friends," Ms. Fonte said.

So far the multicultural division has targeted Hispanics, but Ms. Fonte said a program for the urban market is "a work in progress."

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