NEW YORK — The buck isn’t stopping there — fashion marketing campaigns targeting Hispanic consumers, that is.

Indeed, fashion’s marketing money has been stopping far short of America’s 39 million Hispanics — the country’s youngest (read: most fashion-conscious) and fastest-growing population, making it a must-win audience for the sputtering apparel business.

The 2000 census showed the Hispanic population is continuing to expand 14 times faster than non-Hispanic whites. Further, Hispanics represented half of all new consumers emerging between 2000 and 2001, as the group grew at a rate of 1.7 million people annually. The median age of Hispanics is just 24, versus 34 for non-Hispanics; 58 percent of the group is younger than 30, and 20 percent of teens are Hispanic.

Nonetheless, noted Robert Rosenthal, president of Latin American business at Chiat Day TBWA, “Whether viewed from the perspective of the client, ad agency or media, consumer businesses are underspending relative to the size and spending power of the Hispanic market.”

For instance, the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies has recommended apparel stores dedicate 16 percent of their marketing budgets to targeting Hispanics, or four times spending levels that now average 4 percent, an amount AHAA considers “dismal.” Within the apparel and footwear categories, jeans and athletic shoes command the largest allocation of Hispanic-targeted marketing money — 25 and 24 percent, respectively, the group said. “This level of spending should jump-start successful trends that spread throughout the country’s largest urban centers,” advised AHAA, which was formed in 1996 to help companies appeal to Hispanic shoppers.

A statistic from the Direct Marketing Association puts the issue further in perspective: General market households receive an average of 300 pieces of direct mail annually, versus an average of just 20 pieces received by Hispanic households.

Simply throwing more money at the effort is not enough, however. Equally important is delivering marketing messages that are culturally relevant, reflecting such values as product quality and trust in a brand — generally seen by Hispanics as more important than price. Also, those messages ought to be conveyed via media that strike an effective balance between lifestyle- and language-driven appeals for various Hispanic segments.While it is unwise to paint any group with too broad a brush, J. Walker Smith, president of Atlanta-based market researcher Yankelovich’s Inc., said he has found a particular marketing model tends to be most effective when communicating with Hispanics. “It’s a group extremely focused on new experiences, novelties in life,” Smith observed. “Hispanics also tend to rely more on family members for product recommendations and are more open than average to advice from experts.”

For instance, 36 percent of Hispanics profess to have a “great deal of confidence” in TV news, compared with 26 percent of non-Hispanic whites, while 20 percent of Hispanics express a “great deal of confidence” in consumer information provided by big corporations, found the Yankelovich 2002 Hispanic Monitor.

Such shared beliefs — and the notion so many Hispanics emigrate here to improve their standard of living — suggests brands and products associated with those values tend to resonate most with Hispanic shoppers. And those values imply it takes more than a Spanish-language version of a general market ad to hit home, Smith stated.

If lifestyle-driven marketing is becoming more effective in reaching the 60 percent — or 23.4 million, according to the Census Bureau — of the Hispanics born here, observers point out it’s a strategy easier discussed than executed because of variations in the group’s tastes and cultural perspectives. Although 59 percent of the country’s Hispanic culture, or 23 million people, are Mexican Americans, the remaining 41 percent are increasingly diverse: 10 percent, or 3.9 million, are from Puerto Rico; 5 percent, or 1.95 million, from Central America; 4 percent, or 1.56 million, from Cuba; another 4 percent, or 1.56 million, from South America; 2 percent, or 780,000, from the Dominican Republic, and 16 percent, or 6.24 million, are unclassified, according to Yankelovich’s 2002 Hispanic Monitor.

There is lively debate over the best advertising media to reach this segment of the population, even as the scales slide slowly toward lifestyle-driven, English-language vehicles. But the time it’s taking for corporate America’s perceptions to catch up with Hispanics’ rising education and income levels, plus the financial — and subsequent political — clout of Spanish-language ad agencies, is delaying the process.For example, Alex Lopez Negrete, president, chief executive officer and chief creative officer at Houston-based Lopez Negrete Communications, said Spanish-language media is “where the big [audience] numbers are.” The reason for that concentration is illuminated in Yankelovich’s 2002 Hispanic Monitor, which reports 57 percent of Hispanics speak Spanish all the time and 13 percent speak Spanish more than English. That combined 70 percent share of the Hispanic population, or 27.3 million people, compares with the 17 percent who speak Spanish and English equally; 9 percent who speak English more than Spanish, and 4 percent who speak English all the time, or 11.7 million people.

Nonetheless, Betty Cortina, editorial director of Latina magazine, herself a thirtysomething Cuban American who arrived in the U.S. as a teenager, challenged conventional wisdom. “There is no question the Spanish language is a very important part of our identity, but it is simply not true that Spanish is the language that moves us to buy,” Cortina emphasized. “If you were born here, or grew up here, your frame of reference is different from those who emigrated as adults. As a Cuban American in New York, I have more in common with a Mexican American in Los Angeles than with a Cuban woman in Havana.”

According to the Census Bureau, 60 percent of the country’s Hispanics, or 23.4 million, were born here.

No matter what their origin, Cortina noted, most Hispanic Americans in the 21st century want to acculturate — participate in American life without letting go of their heritage. “It’s a change from the Fifties and Sixties, when people wanted to hide their differences,” she observed.

That strong desire among Hispanics under age 30 to acculturate rather than assimilate is what’s making marketing efforts tricky, as a growing share of the group make English their primary language. Though they may speak Spanish with their parents and other elders, much of the under-30 segment has been schooled in English, speak it with friends and partake of English media and entertainment.

Still, many marketing campaigns currently aimed at Hispanics have yet to make the leap from a language-driven approach to culturally or emotionally anchored efforts. Over the past 30 years, advertisers have found it easier to spend on Spanish media, reasoning they are surely reaching people they wouldn’t reach via general market ads, and those habits are dying hard. As Latina publisher David Kahn observed, though, “The question becomes: ‘Am I reaching the Hispanic customers I want?’”Why do honing such efforts matter? Observed Latina’s Cortina, whose magazine has a paid circulation of 254,833: “Business is all about the numbers and the numbers on the Hispanic market are reaching a crescendo. It’s impossible to ignore.”

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