Old Brands, New Faces

With a galaxy of media projects and ad deals, stars like Sofia Vergara are marketing's new mainstream

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Take a look at Sofia Vergara. Go ahead—everybody else is.

The Colombian bombshell is hard to miss these days: striking a pose on newsstands (Cosmopolitan, Shape), selling her fashion line at Kmart stores, hawking Diet Pepsi during the Super Bowl, and keeping us laughing out loud on ABC’s Emmy-winning Modern Family, TV’s top-rated comedy.

Vergara joins stars including Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Eva Longoria, Eva Mendes and Selena Gomez who constitute the face of the “now” America and to whom brands are turning to reach consumers across diverse and evolving cultural and demographic constituencies.

Vergara in particular is “a role model and a poster child for crossing over from Spanish-language media to mainstream U.S. success,” explains Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, a Hispanic marketing expert at the firm Walton|Isaacson in Los Angeles, referring to the star’s beginnings on telenovelas. “Almost no other Latina has done that, and she’s managed to become a powerhouse without ever forgetting who she is and where she came from. She didn’t shed her Hispanic-ness.”

That might not seem so revolutionary more than a half century since Desi Arnaz starred on CBS’ I Love Lucy, peddled cigarettes for Philip Morris, made records, cofounded a Hollywood production company and became a cultural phenomenon. And yet, seeing as one candidate vying for the Republican nomination for president alluded to Spanish as the language of the “ghetto,” it bears mentioning that this is a country where equality is, in many ways, still an evolving ideal.

Most marketers, meanwhile, are more conscious of today’s reality, as they actively court a demographic whose spending power is expected to top $1.3 trillion by 2013, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

“The question from brands and ad agencies used to be: Will that person play in Peoria—is Middle America ready?” says Newman-Carrasco, who works on brands including Lexus and Caesars Entertainment. “But people like Sofia are no longer niche, so that’s making brands more comfortable.”

Before Vergara, Jennifer Lopez’s roster of media, entertainment and endorsement projects had become legend. Recently, she signed the most extensive sponsorship and integration deal in the history of mobile device BlackBerry. The pact revolves around the new TV talent show ¡Q’Viva! The Chosen, which debuted on the Spanish-language network Univision but whose English-language iteration was picked up last month by Fox, where Lopez is also a judge on American Idol.

“She represents a very interesting aspirational figure for the Hispanic community,” David Anon, senior director of marketing, Latin America at BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, says of Lopez. “She has skin in the game because she’s a producer of this show, and she’s extremely business savvy.”

Even though Lopez may be flirting with the saturation point when it comes to celebrity endorsements—having deals with Fiat, L’Oréal and Gillette, to name just a few—the BlackBerry/¡Q’Viva! alliance takes things to a whole new level.

The sponsor’s gadgets are front and center in the program, so much so that no one watching could possibly miss the connection. Lopez talks to her co-host, ex-husband Marc Anthony, using BlackBerry Messenger, while producers share their talent discoveries with each other via BlackBerry PlayBook. All personnel on- and off-camera, including executive producer Simon Fuller, are supplied with BlackBerry products.

Anon says BlackBerry wanted something “real and relevant” instead of the typical “brought to you by” approach, a tactic with limited influence among young Hispanics, he points out. The show itself, which Anon describes as a mashup of American Idol and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for its suddenly life-changing theme, speaks to the cultural histories and connections of many U.S. Hispanics. “It’s a docu-journey built around the idea of opportunity, which really resonates with this audience,” he says. “It goes into these remote areas and discovers people from small towns who would’ve never had the chance to be heard or seen. The contestants, win or lose, will go back as inspiration for their communities.”

Understanding the evolving Hispanic demo also has been key for the California Milk Processor Board, home of the iconic “Got milk?” campaign. That extends to its famous tagline, which was modified for the Hispanic community to “Toma leche” (“Drink milk”), because the question “Got milk?” translates in Spanish to “Are you lactating?”

The board, which has had success in the general market with the fictional character White Gold, created a new mascot, Maestro Positivo, for a Hispanic-targeted advertising campaign it launched last fall dubbed “Master of the glass half full.”

“He’s kind of a mix between Dr. Phil and Stuart Smalley,” explains Steve James, executive director of the board. “Consumers have responded to him like he’s a real person, asking him questions and looking for suggestions. It’s very sweet and sincere.”

For the campaign, the board went beyond traditional media like TV and outdoor to employ Latina mom bloggers and radio DJs, Twitter parties and community events, and Facebook and YouTube.

Even though an estimated 90 percent of Hispanic households in California already keep milk in the fridge, the mission was to grow that number even more by creating an emotional connection with the product, as research showed Hispanic moms already understood the health benefits of drinking milk.

To that end, the campaign featured a contest in which people nominated unsung heroes in their communities who advocated healthy, active lifestyles.

Still to come: so-called “positivity” events like carnivals and walkathons.

Unsurprisingly, brands have made social a key element of their campaigns, as 32.2 million U.S. Hispanics are on the Web, representing 14 percent of the total online population, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. (That number is projected to rise to 42 million by 2015.) Hispanics, early adopters of technology, are also active users of social media. Last year, the number of Hispanics using social jumped 38 percent versus 16 percent for the general population, reports comScore.

With that in mind, a social media-driven campaign from Disney Parks and Buick put influential Hispanic blogger Manny Ruiz, his wife and three young kids on the road for a summer holiday that stretched from Miami to Alaska. The trip, throughout last July and August, dovetailed with Disney’s “Let the memories begin” campaign.

“To me, this is an example of brands doing clever, risky things because they hadn’t done a program as massive as this even for the general market consumer,” says Ruiz, a Hispanic marketing expert who founded Hispanic PR Wire and organizes the industry conference Hispanicize. “It’s a pretty outrageous stunt to begin with, to send a family 10,000 miles around the country.”

Ruiz chronicled his family’s travels via plane, train, automobile (the Buick Enclave) and luxury liner (Disney Cruises) for 44 days on his popular blog, PapiBlogger, as well as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and a dedicated Disney Facebook page. Highlights of the family’s trip—planking in the Grand Tetons, getting caught in a wicked windstorm in rural Oregon, visiting Disneyland and Walt Disney World—were documented via posts, photos and videos. “We could take people on this journey with us,” Ruiz says. “We were their guides, but they came along, too.”

Considering the wealth of PR and traditional media coverage that extended the campaign’s reach even further, expect more marketers to hitch a ride with personalities who resonate with Hispanic and non-Hispanic consumers alike.

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@TLStanleyLA tlstanley8@yahoo.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.