Tough Times in the Motor City Rub Off on Hispanic Market
Anyone with a pulse is aware that U.S. automakers are seeing some of the toughest financial times they’ve faced. For decades, cheap oil and domestic tastes favored the “big car” market, with truck sales consistently outpacing every other category of vehicle in sales. However, this year, for the first time in many years, the pickup truck was not the number one selling car in America. This summer, GM’s stock fell to the lowest level in three decades. And due to through-the-roof oil and gas prices, the American consumer has done what many had predicted he never would: opt for smaller, more gas-efficient vehicles.
“One thing we’re seeing is Detroit automakers spending a lot of money re-vamping their production sites to accommodate this demand for smaller vehicles,” says Mary Luongo, of Detroit-based rep firm Rothman Luongo and associates. The result, she says, has been smaller advertising budgets. “To compound matters, this year has been quite slow for
new product launches,” adds Luongo, noting that these launches are usually accompanied by multi-million dollar ad-spends. This year, they’re just not there. “Our business has been growing steadily for the past 4 years,” says Luongo, “Until this one.”
Roberto Sroka, who sells for Megazines’ auto magazine Sobre Ruedas, concurs with Luongo’s market assessment: “While we do still have activity from the big two—GM and Chrysler—they’ve postponed making their commitments for the upcoming year. They’re waiting to see what happens.” Asked about the trajectory of Detroit’s Hispanic ad investment over the past few years, he says simply that “I think it’s tapered off somewhat.”
Sroka notes that one problem is that Hispanic budgets are still not representative of the U.S. Latino presence: “Look, we’re at 14% of the overall U.S. population. I’ll tell you one thing, we’re sure not getting 14% of advertising budgets,” he says, noting that things would be a lot rosier if they were.
Sroka also points out that, while companies like GM and Chrysler have traditionally invested heavily in advertising their big trucks like Chevy’s Silverado or the Jeep Cherokee, these companies have not yet allocated budgets in Hispanic for some of their smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles—the very ones that more and more consumers are interested in. He also disputes the notion that it is because of a perceived lack of Hispanic interest in these types of vehicles, saying “With gas prices where they are, everybody is interested in these cars.”
Overall Automotive Advertising has also to be seen in the light of the fact that the large Detroit based U.S. car manufacturers (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) have lost market share against Asian competitors, particularly against Japan’s Toyota. Toyota, whose U.S. unit is based in Torrance, CA, has stepped up Hispanic advertising. Toyota’s Hispanic media creative, planning and buying is done through Conill Advertising.
A Size-mic Shift…
According to Mauricio Becerra, multicultural manager for Chevy, the company has made a real shift in the products that it is marketing to Hispanics. “We’re really focusing on marketing our smaller cars over trucks,” Becerra told Portada.
Indeed, given the spiking gas prices of late, American consumers in general have been opting for more fuel efficient vehicles. In May, small cars overtook truck sales decisively after months of slumping truck sales.
When asked how the current downturn in sales revenues have affected the company’s Hispanic marketing efforts, Becerra responded, “Well, we’ve been taking a much more focused approach to Latin consumers, which currently account for approximately 8%-9% of our sales. We’re concentrating our efforts in certain markets that have yielded strong returns for us, such as Los Angeles, Texas and a couple of others.”
One interesting facet of GM’s Hispanic advertising is how heavily weighted toward television it is. Becerra says this is because the online consumer is harder to pin down in terms of language preference and cultural relevance: “We’ve found it harder to reach the Hispanic audience online, because they exhibit completely different behavior online than does the television audience. They’re much more bilingual online.” Still, Becerra says that the online space holds the most growth potential for the company’s Hispanic marketing efforts.
Becerra cites the newly redesigned Chevy Malibu as a big seller among Hispanics and says that Hispanic marketing initiatives for that model are underway.
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