What is the fastest growing market segment in interactive media? No, it's not the larger U.S. or European markets, but instead the Spanish-speaking markets of Latin America and U.S. Hispanics.
It was these markets that were covered at ad:tech Miami, June 26 and 27, to a crowd of nearly 400, with 1,200 conference hall attendees.
The show's speakers discussed the advantages and challenges of the transitions to digital media for today's modern marketers. Workshop sessions were organized into three tracks: Latin America, Hispanic and Universal, and they were presented in English and simultaneously translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
Bianca W. Loew, director of the IAB Mexico, described the event as, "a necessary platform for the interactive community in Latin America with networking being a key element. It created buzz for the marketplace and an opportunity for clients to learn about which new markets to enter."
Here are the four takeaways:
Latin America: 100 million users
Fernando Madeira, CEO of Terra Networks, opened the conference with a keynote speech that gave an overview of the 100 million internet users in Latin American, 80 percent of whom have broadband access. He profiled two Latin American users: the upper-income youth who shares a computer with his family at home, and the middle-to-lower income user who uses a shared computer at an internet café or university. This second user is a key element of the audience because internet access provides them access to a world of digital inclusion in terms of information and a better future.
Both users are young, cultivate relationships online and use interactive tools such as IM much more than users in other markets. Latin America is one of the most social online regions in the world, and as a result, sites like Okrut in Brazil have built up a user base of 26 million users.
Two main languages, Spanish and Portuguese, are spoken from the Texas border to the tip of South America, which provide one of the key benefits that marketers can take advantage of in pan-regional communications strategies. Considering that Brazil and Mexico represent some of the largest markets in the world -- No. 10 and No. 14, according to the IMF -- these are key markets for global brands. But with the benefit of common languages also comes a challenge as communication styles between each country are numerous. So, panelists often discussed how marketers must understand the differences between each country's culture when creating a communications strategies.
U.S. Hispanic audiences: improved targeting and new products
So does speaking the same language in the same country equal the same mindset? One of the themes throughout the conference was the difference among U.S. Hispanics and how to identify and communicate with each group, which includes different countries of origin (e.g. Mexican-Americans, Puerto-Rican Americans, et cetera), levels of acculturation (Spanish-dominant versus English-dominant), and first-, second- and third-generation immigrants.
Clearly the sophistication used in identifying and reaching these audiences has improved over the last few years and will most likely continue to become better defined.
Fernando Espuelas, founder of Starmedia and currently chairman and CEO of VOY Group, commented on how different Hispanics are from Latin Americans.
"From a product and consumer standpoint, it is very difficult to connect the U.S. Hispanic marketplace with the Latin American marketplace," he said.
Nevertheless, one of the similarities to the Latin American online audience overall is that U.S. Hispanics look for information online first. According to the AOL/Roper U.S. Hispanic Cyberstudy, more than 63 percent of online Hispanics consider the internet the best information source for making their final brand decisions, which ultimately provides new ways for marketers to reach this audience segment.
Shawn Gold, SVP of marketing for MySpace.com, talked about some of his company's projects for Spanish-speaking audiences in a keynote conversation with Alberto Padilla of CNN, en español.
Currently, MySpace.com reaches about 6 million U.S. Hispanics and 2.2 million users in Latin America. The site's rollout of Spanish-language products this year includes a Spanish-language version in the U.S. and MySpace Mexico. Globally, MySpace plans on launching 20 country-specific versions in local languages with local content by the end of 2007, which will include highlights of local bands in each country.
At the beginning of their discussion, Padilla commented with humor that even though he is the host of CNN en español, he is often invited to speak in English at many conferences like ad:tech. Spanglish anyone?
The need for bilingual marketing materials and web pages was another one of the common themes voiced during the two-day conference, since U.S. Hispanics often have different levels of English comprehension. For example, sometimes users react better to a Spanish-language message but then prefer to read the legal language of a sweepstakes contest or online privacy agreement in English.
Are publishers meeting the needs of users?
Fernando Espuelas of VOY Group told ad:tech seminar attendees that "the critical mass of companies and individuals at the event reflects the importance of business opportunities in this marketplace. While the challenges of 2000 and 2001 made some people think that the interactive marketing industry in Latin America would disappear, we see that the current investment levels are part of an important new growth cycle."
This investment has become apparent in 2007, especially with the launch of new products in Latin America such as Flickr in Spanish and Portuguese, and newspapers like El Tiempo in Colombia and La Nacion in Argentina redesigning their sites and offering new blogs and interactive features.
The company I work for, Time Inc., even launched CNNExpansion.com to meet the news and information needs of business people in Mexico and Latin America. It is these developments that reflect how publishers have met the critical mass of online users with new products, or new versions, customized in their native language.
So where did users go before these sites were launched? Pablo Slough, regional director of digital communications for Latin America at Universal McCann, says, "Whenever there is a void of local sites or online services in Latin America, users look to the U.S. to fill that void, for example sites in English like Fotolog and YouTube are used a lot in this market."
Even though publishers have launched new products for the Spanish-speaking world, a recent Yahoo!/Telemundo study highlights how ad dollars have not reached par with usage. While TV represents 65 of all ad spending and 32 percent of media consumption in the U.S., the internet represented 37 percent of consumption and 5 percent of spending.
The disparity in Latin American markets is even greater. Conference speakers agreed that this imbalance will diminish as marketers realize that the interactive space provides both critical mass and highly targeted solutions for their brands. And as ad dollars come into the interactive marketplace, publishers will bring more and better products to Spanish-speakers.
Challenges in the marketplace
Slough of Universal McCann pointed out that one of the major problems in Latin America is research into understanding the audience.
"You can see the lack of expertise in digital research from the questions that are asked," he said. "The questions are outdated and don't reflect the Web 2.0 user experience. Because of this, the market lacks deeper insights and data into the behavior of online consumers, and it is very hard to pinpoint digital habits. For example, there isn't enough research on alternative digital media such as mobile, IPTV, digital TV and PDA usage."
Because of this lack of information, the Interactive Advertising Bureau in both Brazil and Mexico worked with Price Waterhouse Coopers to develop their own online advertising spending studies to fill the research gap. In addition, reports from eMarketer, like the recently released Brazil Online report, have been welcomed for providing a comparison in showing and comparing what is happening in each country of Latin America.
Lastly, many speakers highlighted the need for greater education in the marketplace. Richard Choi, director of sales and marketing operations General Motors, for Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, said that, "Marketing decision-makers, budget approvers and managing directors need to have some common understanding of terms, concepts and use. We can't take it for granted that everyone knows what MySpace is, or that they have been online to use YouTube. Here's an illustration: We all have a good, shared understanding of the traditional way shoppers go through the process of buying a new car. But the internet and other digital devices have changed this. We need to build a new shared understanding of how the online world has created a multiplicity of new ways to seek information, develop opinions and shop for new cars. For us, understanding the benefits of digital marketing starts here."