The subtleties of marketing beer to Latinos

Corona, a Mexican brand, is the second most popular beer among Latinos in the U.S., after Bud Light.
Corona, a Mexican brand, is the second most popular beer among Latinos in the U.S., after Bud Light. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Any industry looking for major growth in the U.S. market can't ignore Latinos, who make up 16 percent of the U.S. population and nearly half of all Angelenos. As the Latino population grows, beer marketers are trying more nuanced ways of influencing this key segment.

"We segment them by their attitudes as well as demographics," says marketer Jim Sabia, whose company distributes Corona and other Mexican beers.

"They love beer," says Jim Sabia, chief marketing officer for Crown Imports, which distributes Mexican beers including Corona and Modelo. "Hispanics are 19 percent more likely to purchase beer than the rest of U.S. consumers." On top of that, Hispanics will make up a large portion of the legal drinking-age population in the future.

Mexican brands would seem to have a leg up with the Latino market. But Bud Light is the No. 1 beer of choice. Corona is No. 2. For the most part, the way all of the brands have tried to reach Latinos is through Spanish TV and radio, sponsorships of Major League Soccer events and concerts.

Juan Tornoe — whose favorite Mexican beer is Pacifico — is a marketing consultant based in Austin, Texas. Originally from Guatemala, he has watched the beer industry court Latinos for years, with mixed success. He points to a Corona campaign from 2008 called "Nuestro orgullo. Nuestra cerveza," or "Our pride. Our beer." Tornoe says it backfired.

"It makes sense for Mexicans, which is the largest percentage of Latinos living in the U.S., but if you're Puerto Rican or Salvadoran or Colombian, you're like, 'That's not my beer,' " he says.

Tornoe says it's important for advertisers to be aware of certain general cultural characteristics. "But don't overdo it. You don't have to make the culture the center of the show or be the spotlight of your ad," he says.

To reach bicultural Latinos, Tornoe tells his clients, treat them like you would the general U.S. market but give them subtle touchstones they might appreciate. He says Bud Light got it right with the 2007 Super Bowl commercials featuring comedian Carlos Mencia.

In one ad, Mencia teaches a class of nonnative English speakers from all over the world how to ask for a Bud Light. Tornoe says the commercials work because they're funny and because Latinos relate to Mencia "as a fellow Hispanic and relate to the experience of learning English." Also, they aired during the Super Bowl.

"It basically tells you, 'You understand that I am not glued to Spanish-language TV all the time and I am not glued to soccer but that I actually enjoy watching the Super Bowl,' " Tornoe says.

The Latino population in the U.S. is so diverse, Sabia says, that it's broken into groups, and not necessarily by nationality. "We segment them by their attitudes as well as demographics," Sabia says. The segment names include "life indulgers" for Corona drinkers and "proud traditionalists" for Victoria.

Generational differences have influenced commercials for the Mexican beer Tecate, which is imported by Heineken. Felix Palau, vice president for Tecate's multicultural marketing, says until recently, the company's ads targeted only first-generation Mexicans, whom he calls the "newcomers."

"A consumer that has to work three jobs, who sends most of his earnings home to his family in Mexico — he's had a tough life," Palau says.

But he says many second- and third-generation Latinos would not relate to those ads. So now, instead of showing Latinos working at a restaurant, for example, the ads show them eating there. Palau says these ads show "a much more joyful, celebratory slice of life."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio

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