Univision sees new census as secret weapon

Apr 2, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Attention must be paid to the fifth-largest full-service network in the United States and its loyal and growing audience.

That’s the clear message to advertisers from Tom McGarrity, the co-president of network sales for Univision, the Spanish-language network that regularly claims prime-time shares of the Hispanic American audience that have not been seen in the larger world of anglocentric U.S. television since the dawn of the medium.

Univision is fifth-largest of all networks “programming a full prime-time schedule,” according to Univision research, and its prime-time household and adults 18 to 49 shares over the past half-decade have averaged above 80 percent among Hispanics.

Heretofore, the network’s own research and Nielsen’s projections could be discounted by wary advertisers, according to Mr. McGarrity, but official U.S. Census statistics are a different matter.

Now Mr. McGarrity and his colleagues are armed with the data from the recent U.S. Census, which is conducted only once a decade, showing that the Hispanic population surged by 58 percent in the past 10 years to some 35.3 million persons in 1990, or one out every eight Americans. Notoriously averse to talking to the press, Univision is now looking to break through to the mainstream with a message for the CEOs of America’s largest companies.

“Really, our chore was, is and always will be getting to all the highest levels of these companies and telling that story,” Mr. McGarrity said.

Extensive recent TV news coverage about the census and the so-called Latin explosion is being compiled into a videocassette that will be sent out to 1,000 CEOs and other potential advertisers, he said.

Mr. McGarrity characterized the census numbers as “the Holy Grail,” adding that the U.S. Census Bureau has been acting “almost as if [it is] this industry’s public relations firm.”

One agency that’s already gotten the message is the Publicis Groupe, which just recently formed Publicis Sanchez & Levitan to handle Hispanic-oriented advertising.

Advertisers that were hard to reach B.C. (before the census) are now returning Univision’s phone calls, according to Mr. McGarrity, who cited as an example a “major financial company” that he’d been “chasing for over a year.” The elusive would-be client suddenly rang him back when the census data were released and showed there were 21/2 million more Hispanic-Americans than even the Census Bureau had predicted. “You probably think I’ve been waiting for the census information to call you back,” Mr. McGarrity recalled the advertiser saying.

One mark of Univision’s new cachet will be the actual advertiser count at its upfront presentation on May 16 in New York. Ninety-one advertisers attended last year’s upfront, according to Mr. McGarrity. Just a few years ago, only around 30 advertisers came. By comparison, around 200 to 250 advertisers attend each of the major English-language networks’ upfronts, and the Association of National Advertisers lists 314 member companies.

One part of the message advertisers are likely to hear from Univision is that a Spanish-language creative embedded in a Spanish-language program is 61 percent more persuasive to viewers than the very same commercial in English on an English-language network. “It’s a language of comfort” for the viewers, Mr. McGarrity said.

Another part of the message is about the next census, in 2010, and what it will show. By then, according to Univision’s interpretation of both census numbers and Nielsen data, roughly one of every five children and teen-agers in the United States will be Hispanic. That’s a message not lost on Hollywood film studios looking to reach their target demos.

Other national categories getting the Hispanic-language message: financial companies, pharmaceuticals, automotive companies and retailers, according to Mr. McGarrity.

Yet another part of Univision’s message to advertisers will be about the network’s marquee event, the World Cup, which it is broadcasting in the United States in 2002 and 2006 and for which Univision is in the process of selling sponsorships. “The world watches soccer like the world watches no other sport,” Mr. McGarrity said. “And in the United States we are the home of it.”

Between now and its upfront presentation, the network will be meeting with 80 to 100 “key” clients to assess the marketplace. “We have cut early deals in the past,” Mr. McGarrity said. “I’m not sure if the economy or the softness is going to drive us to do anything more unusual or not … This is the first day of freshman year; in the next six weeks we’ll become seniors in a hurry,” he added. “Then we’ll know how we want to start pricing upfront.”

The biggest issue for Univision’s sales force is that “many people who are making decisions for their companies in terms of advertising aren’t Spanish speakers or Hispanic and don’t understand our product,” Mr. McGarrity said. “It is simply, simply, simply not on their radar screen.”As for Mr. McGarrity himself, “Yo hablo un poquito.”