Upfronts 2013: Searching for Best Route to the Multicultural Mainstream

Specialized networks still considered top way to connect with consumers

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2013

It has become a fascinating, volatile time for TV networks trying to reach multicultural viewers in the U.S., with some Darwinian choices being made among specialty and general interest broadcasters. Likewise, advertisers and agencies are mulling strategies, wondering when and how to get deeper into the mix to reach the endlessly growing segment of the population.

The numbers continue to stagger: A recent study by Horowitz Associates found that 46% of Americans under 18 are multicultural, with Hispanics (23%), African- Americans (14%) and Asians (4%) making up a bulk of the total. In the 18-34 group, multicultural totals account for 42%.

“People who are multicultural are the mainstream,” Depelsha McGruder, senior VP of business operations for African-American network Centric, said at Horowitz’s 13th annual Multicultural Media for Multicultural America Forum last month. “These are the people who are the general market of the future, and now.”

Gonzalo Del Fa, president of GroupM Multicultural, said brands have more than taken notice, with clients asking about how they can better market to multicultural consumers—chiefly Hispanics. “Many companies realize that this is a big market; it’s growing,” he said. “Clients are really interested…[they’re] actually coming to the market.”

Isabella Sanchez, VP of media integration for independent multicultural agency Zubi Advertising, sees auto, financial and movies as categories that should continue to grow in their multicultural involvement; Fandango’s recent partnership with Telemundo on Fandango Cine is one example. “There’s a lot of categories that still haven’t tapped into this market as much as they could,” she said. “The multicultural space in general is still on a growth trajectory.”

And the “influence” of the Hispanic population, with a majority of them being millennials, is what should drive advertisers to this marketplace, said Mike Rosen, executive VP, advertising sales, Telemundo Media. “Marketers have come to realize that the power of the Hispanic population as a future business driver lies well beyond the well-publicized census data,” he said.

Fording the Mainstream

With multicultural demographics becoming mainstream, it has caused media spending to go through the big buyers instead of specialized agencies. “A great deal of the multicultural media spending has consolidated and moved to the big general-market agencies,” said Sanchez. That, however, could be changing—she noted that Zubi recently acquired three assignments that had previously been consolidated. “The clients realized that there is a benefit to integration with creative and have true specialists working on their business,” she said.

Sanchez added that there has “been a lot of discussion” in not only multicultural but also the general marketplace about moving back towards specialized agencies.

Added Rosen: “The agency business has always been a balance between subject- matter experts and cross-athlete generalists.”

New Nets Offer Opportunities

While the general market has tried to capture multicultural audiences, they still can’t compete with specifically targeted networks, which generally are recognized as still the best way to connect with those consumers. “It’s definitely the specialized networks,” said Sanchez. Del Fa added: “The reality is that spill [on the major Englishlanguage networks] still is very small.”

New broadcast networks such as MundoFox, as well as a trio of cable nets launched by Univision, will only make it tougher for broadcast. “There are more and more networks coming into the fray,” said Sanchez. New African-American-targeted nets such as Bounce TV and Aspire (owned by Magic Johnson) have also joined the crowded marketplace.

And MundoFox so far has encountered challenges with distribution, pointing to how difficult it can be for newly launched nets. “They’re still on a growth mode,” Sanchez said.

“While there is no debate that a portion of U.S. Latinos consume English-language TV,” said Rosen, “the importance of Spanishlanguage as the single most important cultural connector among Hispanic families and friends has made Spanish-language TV more vital than ever.”

For del Fa, reaching Hispanic consumers isn’t about simply putting an ad in front of them; there has to be a connection. “It’s not just about reaching eyeballs; it’s about reaching hearts and brains,” he said.

While this idea is not new, the methods for doing so remain a hot-button point of discussion. Last fall, during an Association of National Advertisers Multicultural conference, Fay Ferguson, co-CEO of Burrell Communications, which specializes in African-American marketing, took aim at those who think a general-market approach will suffice.

“The general-market approach which has dominated advertising communications for the past 70-100 years is not relevant,” she said. “It’s an old, outdated model. Marketers must have a multicultural consumer marketing strategy and plan.”

And as the industry moves farther away from the traditional TV set, it’s more important than ever for marketers to build strategies for reaching consumers elsewhere. It’s even more key when you consider that multiculturals—especially Hispanics—are among the most active early adopters in the digital space. “Hispanics are growing really fast on online consumption,” del Fa said. “Digital is becoming a big component of all the plans we’re putting out there.” He also specified that Hispanics are “really strong” in terms of mobile and tablet devices.

Rosen agreed that Hispanics are among “the most connected of all consumers,” saying their use of social and mobile media vastly outdoes the general market. “To fail to expand marketing efforts to all platforms and connection points would be to ignore the leadership position Hispanics occupy in virtually all new communication channels,” he said.

Toward that end, every program on Telemundo and mun2 includes a digital, mobile and social component so the company’s marketing partners can “tap into the full potential of the paid, owned, earned and shared experiences that our viewers have with our content,” Rosen said.

When it comes to online, however, Hispanics are more likely to visit the same websites as the general market. “Yahoo, Google and Amazon are huge across the board,” said del Fa. “When they go online, they navigate [in] both languages.”

Del Fa added that if he only advertised on Spanish-language websites, he would miss “a big portion of people.” It is more advantageous, he argued, to dig a little deeper and target by behavior instead. “It’s much more efficient for me to know who you are and follow you wherever you go than assume you’re going to go to a place that I have my ad,” del Fa said.

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays