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When Montgomery Ward & Co. begins a direct-marketing effort to Hispanics this year, the retailer will send to 70,000 Los Angeles households mailers written in "Walter Cronkite broadcast Spanish."

Though not a Hispanic, the former TV newsman was known for using plain language, easily understood by viewers.

This plain-talk strategy masks the intelligence direct marketers are developing in reaching Hispanics. Although there are lessons yet to be learned about how to reach this segment, Hispanic direct-marketing programs are becoming more sophisticated.

Because Hispanics receive fewer direct mailings than the general population does, marketers have an opportunity to speak to them in their own tongue via this medium.

According to some estimates, Hispanic households receive less than two dozen Spanish-language pieces annually, compared with 350 for English-speaking homes.

For Ward's, its efforts will go beyond printed words, as bilingual support staff will handle telephone and in-person responses, says Brian Pussilano, director of special marketing with Signature Group, the retailer's direct marketing division.

Mr. Pussilano believes the care given the effort will result in success.

"We think our understanding of the customer and the market has increased significantly," says Mr. Pussilano. "We understand some of the issues better."

While some are only now testing the waters of direct marketing to Hispanics, others have perfected their efforts.

Hogarama, a twice-a-month household magazine for women published by JSA Publishing, boasts a controlled distribution to 1.2 million Hispanic homes. The title is dropped in 10 cities, including New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas.

Already, product marketers including Clorox Co., Dow Chemical Co. General Mills, Nestle USA and Quaker Oats Co. have participated.

The magazine's plastic delivery bag can also bear an advertiser logo or message and can hold product samples.

Using U.S. Census Bureau data, the women's title claims a national average of 93% saturation in its given areas of distribution, says Jim Wexler, marketing director with JSA.

Next month, a marketer with a product for Hispanic males can conduct the same program with JSA's next title, Mundo Deportivo, a sports publication also with 1.2 million controlled circulation.

"That's a pretty sophisticated entry into the home in what is a very uncluttered environment," says Mr. Wexler. "That is the opportunity these advertisers are latching on to."

This range of opportunities includes integrated direct-marketing programs.

With Hispanics receiving fewer direct mailings and having common media consumption habits-unlike the mainstream audience-integrated direct-marketing programs can be more cost-effective than similar programs for the general population, says Howard Gladstone, exec VP with market researcher Symmetrical Research.

"Basically you've got a brand new audience of people who live in your current channels of distribution who are underpenetrated by direct mail and have very unfragmented media habits," he says. "If I put a bag on their heads and said they weren't Hispanic, you'd be breaking down the doors to advertise to that group."

For some marketers, the target audience might as well have bags on their heads. Few marketers divide groups by little more than language or surnames-both limited in ability to target Spanish-speaking households-effectively leaving out critical data like cultural preferences and countries of origin.

If key employees in a company's marketing department are Mexican, they won't have a thorough understanding of how Cubans in Miami or Dominicans in New York would react to a promotion.

Another subtlety: Some Hispanic consumers may choose to receive solicitations and catalogs in English, but want to read contracts in Spanish.

"Even people who are pretty fluent in English actually feel more comfortable signing a contract in Spanish because they really get the nuances of it," says Abbe Alpaugh, subscription manager for Reader's Digest LatinoAmerica.

The desire by Hispanics to be targeted in their native tongue highlights a trend away from "blending in" and toward retaining one's culture, says Beatriz Mallory, president of HispanAmerica, a Hoboken, N.J.-based direct-marketing shop.

By creating a fulfillment package reflecting proper skin color, characteristics, experiences and "aspirational positives" representative of Hispanic life in America-plus copy about family as opposed to individual success-the marketer will win friends in the community, she says.

Follow that mailing with a telephone call from a Spanish-speaking operator, and a bond will be created.

On the other hand, direct pieces with English copy translated directly into Spanish or an unfamiliar celebrity endorser may get thrown out, says Ms. Mallory.

"Because the [Hispanic] consumer is so undersolicited, if they get anything in Spanish they will read it," she says. "They might laugh or throw it away, but they're not going to respond."

Some marketers, though, have chosen to address the similarities of Hispanic nationalities rather than their differences.

McMoms, a year-old program from McDonald's Corp., does not address cultural differences. Targeting mothers of children age 2 to 7, the program uses identical bilingual response cards inserted into Happy Meal boxes at select restaurants. In return, mothers receive the same Spanish-language newsletter and promotions, says Marta Gerdes, McDonald's director of Hispanic strategic marketing.

The need to separate Hispanics culturally is a "myth," Ms. Gerdes says.

After all, the issues facing target mothers are "universal," says Ms. Gerdes, who called the Hispanic market "one culture, one language."

"We're selling hamburgers. It's not brain surgery," says Ms. Gerdes, who works with agency Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, on the program. "We have one language, and all Hispanics speak one language. The cultural similarities far outweigh the differences."

Since Hispanics receive few direct mailings, marketers have less clutter to compete against, says Marcelino Miyares, president of Tamayo-Miyares & Sherman, a Los Angeles-based shop.

"All of the reasons why direct mail grew up are now more relevant," Mr. Miyares says. "Immigrants come to this country with an open mind toward learning about how to be successful here."

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