COMMENTARY: Why Break Into the Lucrative Hispanic DRTV Market?

By Susan Pensabene and Michael Saray

Marketers that have successful direct response television (DRTV) programs confined to the Anglo marketplace might be missing a massive opportunity for profitable expansion. While recreating a successful Anglo campaign in the Hispanic market takes work, for the right product or service it is well worth the effort.

The Hispanic audience represents the largest minority group in the U.S. with 43 million (and counting) — 14.6 percent of the population. This segment has demonstrated tremendous spending power, with income growing four times faster than the U.S. average. Hispanic households also tend to be larger — 3.5 persons vs. 2.5 persons for the total market.

Hispanics have unique characteristics that make them an important segment, particularly for direct marketers. They tend to be family-and community-oriented. Family is an important responsibility and spending leisure time with family is part of the Hispanic lifestyle. While Hispanics are typically not as aware of financial tools and investments, they are keenly interested in learning how to protect and to provide a better future for their families. Hispanics are also known to be brand conscious and once they find a brand they prefer, they are loyal.

Why Target Hispanics With Television?

There are several unique aspects of the Hispanic DRTV marketplace that make it attractive to direct marketers. For one, television today is a clutter-free landscape for Hispanics. Spanish television networks and stations are much less saturated with DRTV ads than their English counterparts. Therefore, your message will have a much better chance of standing out in the Spanish arena as opposed to the English.

Spanish television is also much less fragmented. There are far fewer Spanish television channels, which translates into a higher concentration of potential viewers on any given Spanish station.

Hispanics tend to value advertising and are typically more receptive to commercials and less cynical about the content of advertising than a non-Hispanic audience. Hispanics actually rely on Spanish-language commercials as valuable sources of information and are open to receiving a multitude of marketing messages.

What about viewing habits? Hispanics spend an average of 11 more hours per week watching television as compared with non-Hispanics. The Hispanic viewer becomes more involved with both programming and commercials and is less likely to flip channels while watching Spanish television. Hispanics tend to watch television with family and friends and are more likely to watch an entire program, including the commercials — and even discuss them. Plus, the typical response tool of DRTV, the 800 number, is the preferred response channel for Hispanics.

These aspects work in a direct marketer's favor in terms of response and return on investment.

Habla Español?

When planning a Hispanic DRTV effort, it is important to understand the key role that language plays in establishing trust and motivating Hispanic viewers to take action.

About 90 percent of U.S. Hispanics speak Spanish in the home, and the vast majority of Hispanics are more inclined to purchase brands that are advertised in Spanish. According to a Roslow Research Group study, Spanish-language commercials (as compared to English-language commercials) are 61-percent more effective at increasing awareness, 57-percent more effective in message comprehension, and nearly four-and-a-half times more persuasive. Even among bilingual Hispanics, Spanish-language commercials are 3.4 times more effective.

In addition to literally speaking the Spanish language, it is essential to "speak the culture" when communicating with a Hispanic audience. A simple translation of an English marketing message will not only fail, it may be damaging. To connect with and persuade action, you must understand the traditions of Hispanic culture, which may not necessarily sync up with "mainstream society" or the "American Dream."

To gain share of wallet within the Hispanic community, one must gain share of heart. The most effective approach, therefore, is to foster cultural relevance while using the audience's native language.

It is also important to create continuity across all touch points — telemarketing, fulfillment materials, Web site and all avenues of customer service must be presented in Spanish. If the offer is made in Spanish, then your whole infrastructure must work in Spanish. If not, a strong initial response can quickly turn into unqualified leads or dissatisfied customers.

When you consider that Hispanic DRTV performs today much like English DRTV performed in the golden days of the 1980s, the opportunities are virtually limitless. Those that approach the market by leveraging traditional direct marketing strategies and tactics will be the ones to create a win-win for Hispanic consumer and brand alike.

Susan Pensabene is president of a Hoboken, N.J., media company with a specialty in per-inquiry and Hispanic DRTV. She can be reached at (201) 418-0050 or Michael Saray is president of a full-service direct marketing agency specializing in the Hispanicmarket and can be reached at (212) 277-8027 or