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Some pharmaceutical marketers have approached the U.S. Hispanic market in about the same way some people would handle a mouth-searing Jalapeno pepper -- cautiously or not at all.

In particular, prescription-drug marketers perceive the Hispanic consumer niche as small and lacking insurance coverage.


That shouldn't be an issue, says Ingrid Otero-Smart, exec VP-client research at Mendoza, Dillon Asociados, Newport Beach, Calif. "When they need the health coverage they'll pay for it."

About 66.4% of all Hispanics carry some form of health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those who don't carry insurance are likely to pay cash for any goods and services they believe are important, say industry experts familiar with Hispanic cultural values.

Strategy Research Corp. estimates that there are 8.9 million Hispanic households with a mean per household income of about $33,800. Drug marketers now are taking another look as statistics prove their perceptions wrong.

"Any marketer who's not jumping in with both feet ought to have his head examined," says Andrew Erlich, president of research firm Erlich Transcultural Consultants. "For prescription and over-the-counter drug makers, there is a big-time opportunity because there's a big-time need to be filled."

The opportunities also present challenges to marketers new to the niche. Those challenges include developing in-language marketing efforts as well as an understanding of cultural cues.


For example, general market advertising may encourage an individual to seek healthcare. A Hispanic-oriented effort is likely to encourage an individual to care for him/herself for the good of the family, says Mr. Erlich. Similarly, a general market ad may portray a sick child restored to health as highly active. A Hispanic-oriented ad is more likely to draw a line between overactive and energetic.

While Hispanic households are considered family-centered, they are "a lot more disciplined," says Augusto Esclusa, account supervisor at JMCP Publicidad, New York.

"In the general market approach, a lot of kids are shown as hyperactive. In the Hispanic household, kids can't be portrayed as running around and messing up the house."


JMCP, which handles Hispanic marketing for Novartis Consumer Health's OTC remedies Triaminic and TheraFlu, will roll out a $700,000 radio and outdoor campaign for the brands in top markets -- the brands' first major outreach to U.S. Hispanics -- to coincide with the start of flu season in November.

Hispanic consumers also are more likely to self-medicate than seek out a physician. That makes them an attractive prospect to the makers of OTC drugs, but also provided an opening wedge for Schering-Plough Corp.'s antihistamine Claritin when it rolled out a print, TV and patient education campaign. Mendoza, Dillon & Associados handles Hispanic marketing for Claritin.

Research by the agency shows Hispanic allergy sufferers had little or no knowledge of non-sedating prescription antihistamines, such as Claritin, due to their reliance on OTC remedies.


While Hispanic healthcare consumers generally aren't attuned to prevention, it's a theme that dominates much of consumer health communication in the general U.S. market.

"Traditionally, we're a little cautious -- we don't like to think about negative possibilities; it can almost feel like tempting fate," says Ms. Otero-Smart.

One result, she adds, is there is a void of healthcare information available for Hispanic consumers. This has prompted some advertisers to embark on educational events and promotions.

"TV itself can't do the job in a 30- or 60-second spot," she says. "That's where local events and providing Hispanic doctors with educational materials comes in."

Hoechst Marion Roussel, maker of the prescription diabetes drug Amaryl, supports its growing diabetes franchise with educational events and promotions.


In June, Hoechst Marion Roussel sponsored an educational forum on diabetes for Hispanics in New York. At the same time, it kicked off a monthlong series of four half-hour programs on diabetes on a local cable show hosted by a Hispanic physician.

Later this year Hoechst will expand its educational outreach to top Hispanic markets with a video, a cookbook for diabetics, and a branded, culturally-sensitive product brochure in Spanish -- all available at physicians' offices.

One of the goals of the effort is to debunk cultural myths about the disease, says Nancy Lang, multicultural marketing manager at Hoechst. She notes some Hispanics believe they are powerless to control this disease.


"With limited resources, drug manufacturers have to decide where to spend their marketing dollars. We've talked to Latino doctors in Houston, Los Angeles and Miami, and they tell us they'd rather see us spend the money educating patients about diabetes, because that's their hardest job," Ms. Lang says.

As in the general market, drug marketers are more likely to ante up for DTC advertising in the Hispanic market when the product improves on available treatment. Recent issues of Medico de Familia, a consumer title published by the InterAmerican College of Physicians and Surgeons, for example, carry ads for Glaxo Wellcome's Valtrex for genital herpes and diabetic drug Rezulin by Warner-Lambert Co.'s Parke-Davis unit. Both ads highlight the convenience of reduced dosing schedules.

Though Hispanics haven't been big consumers of mental health services and medication, Miami-based IAC Advertising Group will launch in October an integrated campaign to support Pfizer's Zoloft, a prescription antidepressant.


The goal is education, says Ana Maria Fernandez Haar, president-CEO of IAC Group.

"Among Hispanics, there's a stigma attached to anything even resembling mental illness," she says.

The campaign will increase awareness of depression among Hispanics, reduce the stigma, and underscore that depression is a treatable, physical ailment. The print, radio, direct response, community education and physician outreach campaign will begin in south Florida and expand later to key Hispanic markets nationwide.


According to Competitive Media Reporting, pharmaceutical marketers spent $1.17 billion in 1998 on all DTC advertising for prescription drugs.

While DTC spending on Hispanic media isn't yet tracked, Ms. Otero-Smart estimates it totaled about $40 million last year in OTC and prescription drug ads combined. However, that number could grow fast as Spanish-language media outlets seek to harness the increasing size and power of the U.S. Hispanic market.


A growing number of Spanish-language consumer and health-focused magazines are aggressively seeking to expand their prescription and OTC advertising categories.

This November, they'll be joined by a new player, Prevention en Espa¤ol from Rodale Press and Ideas Publishing.

"The Hispanic market has not gotten a proportionate share of pharmaceutical advertising dollars, but that's partly because we haven't gone after them

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