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MIAMI-They speak the same language and share similar cultures. But Hispanics in the U.S. and Latin America have something else in common-growing numbers and the attention of American marketers.

This was the picture drawn by marketers and advertising executives at the "Marketing to Hispanics in the U.S. & Latin America" conference hosted last month by the Strategic Research Institute.

Speakers conjured an image of an emerging, lucrative market north and south of the border.

"The U.S. Hispanic community is the U.S. of the 1950s," with growing families and increasing brand loyalty, said Luis Miguel Messianu, chief creative officer of del Rivero Messianu, Miami, which presented ad work from client McDonald's Corp. that targets the U.S. Hispanic market. "The future is already here. It's up to us to convince our clients that the opportunity is only going to happen if we invest."

For marketers interested only in Hispanics living in the U.S., the numbers are alluring.

In 1950, 4 million Hispanics lived in this country, said Dick Thomas, senior VP with Strategy Research Corp., a Miami-based market research company. Today, there are 25.5 million Hispanics, 48% of whom are 24 or younger. Hispanics as a group spent $190 billion last year. Some 73.4% of heads of households were born outside the U.S., and are still strongly influenced by their culture, Mr. Thomas said.

Further, a third of all U.S. Hispanics feel "relatively unaccultur-ated" and 89% speak Spanish at home, he said.

Three factors have made Latin America a ready market for U.S. companies, said Filiberto Fernandez, senior VP-marketing with Telemundo, New York. Generally strengthening economies, advancing technology and readily definable cultures make the region attractive and feasible for U.S. marketers. While he called the hemisphere "20 nations united by one dictionary," he said that to view north and south-or even the region-as one market could prove wrong.

Though many Latin Americans desire U.S. goods, few want products that proclaim themselves "Made in the USA," he said. Latin Americans would rather the label read: "Brought to you here in Argentina."

"Marketers underestimate the differences between U.S. and Latin American Hispanics," Mr. Fernandez said. "Grasping the nuances is essential."

Miami has become a cultural bridge. In 1994, The Miami Herald created its Florida Marketplace advertising tabloid to run monthly in the leading dailies in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

For advertisers in Florida Marketplace, technology has proven a sales boon throughout the region: many receive orders via fax.

Though it currently targets 690,000 upscale Latin American households, the numbers and markets can change quickly, said Florida Marketplace Advertising Manager Raul Lopez. The publication doesn't use bound media kits, instead relying on loose-leaf binders to allow quick insertions of new rates or data.

"The South American economy changes from day to day," he said.

Executives from MasterCard International, event sponsor Campbell Soup Co. and Hertz Corp. each reviewed regional campaigns and spoke of successes. But the messages were quite similar: Panregional ad campaigns need to be changed market to market. And even in the U.S., Mr. Messianu said companies must employ sensitivity.

"We want to target Hispanics," he said, "but we don't want to tell anyone in the general market, `This is not for you."'

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