Fast-food's battleground

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Mcdonald's corp. in late summer rolled out its Fiesta menu throughout the Los Angeles region, a stepped-up attempt by the nation's leading fast-food marketer to appeal to the tastes of Hispanic consumers.

The Fiesta menu additions include chicken and steak burritos; tostadas, the Mexican equivalent of sandwiches; as well as salsa and guacamole condiments. The new menu items are available in the 355 McDonald's restaurants in metropolitan Los Angeles.

This kind of menu fine-tuning, and more Spanish-language advertising and marketing, is popping up with increasing frequency, keeping pace with the upward trend in the U.S. Hispanic population.


In recent months, fast-feeders Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Jack in the Box, Pizza Hut and Wendy's also have intensified efforts to reach Hispanic consumers. These advertisers declined to say what they're spending to reach Spanish-speaking consumers.

"Fast-food marketers think about this segment more and more as the opportunity for growth lies within this fast-growing segment," says Andy Barish, restaurant analyst, Robertson Stephens. "They've barely scratched the surface right now."

"A lot of what is happening now is purely a numbers game in that there are more Hispanics living in concentrated markets such as Los Angeles, Texas and Florida," says Bob Sandelman, president, Sandelman & Associates, a market research company specializing in the restaurant industry.


Sandelman's numbers are compelling: In the Los Angeles market alone, Hispanics account for about 13 quick-service restaurant purchases each month, compared to their average of 12 purchases per month in 1999.

"One of the key elements in advertising to Hispanics is to home in on the important things that drive their visits," says Daniel Cervantes, senior account exec, Bromley Communications, San Antonio, which handles Burger King's Hispanic advertising. "Those elements need to be present in the advertising."

Recognizing that Hispanics prefer chicken over burgers, Burger King touts its chicken sandwiches and combo meals more frequently to the niche.


"Many Hispanics will order by number, rather than stumble through unfamiliar menu item names," says Mr. Cervantes. "It's these little things that help make Hispanics more comfortable visiting the restaurants and shows that the chain is catering to their needs."

While BK's current Spanish-language commercials dovetailed with the chain's summertime promotions, including tie-ins with the Backstreet Boys and the movie "Chicken Run" (the chain offered special `La Gallina,' Little Chicken sandwiches), the company is testing new commercials that highlight the dining experience at Burger King.

Synergy is a must between general-market and Hispanic advertising "because Hispanics don't live in isolation," agrees Eduardo del Rivero, CEO at del Rivero Messianu, Coral Gables, Fla., which handles McDonald's Hispanic advertising. "Hispanics are exposed to both worlds . . . It's a given now that practically all general-marketing advertising will have an Hispanic extension as well as some Hispanic specific promotions."

Mr. del Rivero also believes that the increase in the sheer number of Spanish-language media outlets, from TV to radio and the Internet, also boosts the amount of money fast-food marketers and other advertisers can spend reaching the Hispanic audience.

"It's easier to reach the target audience, and national advertisers are taking advantage of those opportunities," he says.


Hispanics account for 20% to 30% of Jack in the Box's business, says Greg Joumas, divisional VP-advertising and marketing communications. The chain operates primarily in the Southwest region, including Los Angeles and Texas, where Jack in the Box has 75% of its outlets.

While Jack's campaigns for the general market tend to be a bit edgier, a key element to reach the prime male 18-to-34 audience, "that humor doesn't translate well for our Hispanic consumers," he says. "For our Hispanic campaigns, Jack is portrayed as more of a patriarchal-patrician-CEO type."


Recent Spanish-language commercials portray different facets of the Jack character: in the office, on vacation, with his family. Another series, shot on location in Italy, showed Jack on vacation in a country known for great food.

"That particular [family] theme is universal, and the Hispanic market can relate to it as well as the general market," Mr. Joumas says. "Jack, in his own way, speaks to our consumers from both directions and from both of the worlds they live in everyday. We have to work to be sure there's not a disconnect from the messages they're getting from the general market and from Spanish-language media."

Mr. Joumas says Jack in the Box doesn't try to portray itself as anything but a burger chain.

"We know they come to us for burgers, fries, shakes," he says. "We have tacos on the menu, but we're not trying to position them as authentic Mexican tacos."


Hispanic consumers "appreciate a company that tailors its advertising to them," says Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, president, Enlace Communications, Los Angeles, Jack in the Box's Hispanic agency. "Hispanic consumers don't consume media in a vacuum, and they understand how advertisers are trying to reach them in the general market as well as on Spanish-language media. But they do expect when you are reaching them in their language, that it is contextually correct in their culture."

What unifies Jack's advertising, which carries the theme, "We don't make it until you order it," is Jack. "We try to send out the message that this is a positive experience," says Ms. Newman-Carrasco.

Also, accentuating the positive, McDonald's earlier this year kicked off its Hispanic-targeted "Points of Pride" promotional program with a special on Telemundo Network featuring Ricky Martin, Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas.

The program titled, "Lo Maximo de la Musica Latina"("The Best of Latin Music") paid tribute to the new Hispanic artists who have emerged as major forces in music, film, TV, sports and the arts, as well as Hispanic entertainers who paved the way, including Carlos Santana, Ricardo Montalban and Desi Arnaz.

"McDonald's `Points of Pride' is a synthesis of the numerous initiatives we as a company undertake on many fronts to celebrate Hispanic culture," says Larry Zwain, senior VP-marketing.

Hispanic fast-food behavior: Sandalman & Associates includes 400 Los Angeles-area Hispanic consumers in its quick-service telephone surveys.

Source: Sandelman & Associates

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