Get in the Game, Amigo

We have all seen General Motors Corp.'s witty Super Bowl ads and Ford Motor Co. has engrained itself in our minds with its slogan Built Ford Tough. The automotive industry has struck a chord with American consumers through the sheer volume of ads it produces on an annual basis. Furthermore, its connection to sporting events within baseball, basketball, soccer, golf and football has led to the industry's

We have all seen General Motors Corp.'s witty Super Bowl ads and Ford Motor Co. has engrained itself in our minds with its slogan “Built Ford Tough.”

The automotive industry has struck a chord with American consumers through the sheer volume of ads it produces on an annual basis. Furthermore, its connection to sporting events within baseball, basketball, soccer, golf and football has led to the industry's continued growth. Beyond “Joe Public,” however, automotive manufacturers are beginning to understand the incredible purchasing power of “Jose Public,” the Latino consumer.

With 40 million-plus Hispanics living in the United States with a purchasing power of more than $675 billion, the automotive industry can no longer afford to put this significant demographic on the back burner. In the first half of 2004, Hispanics accounted for 7.5 percent of all new car and truck registrations, an increase of 3.2 percent over the previous year. It is estimated that Latinos will spend 5.4 percent more a year than their non-Hispanic counterparts on new vehicle purchases, according to R.L. Polk & Co. So what can automotive dealers do to tap into this demographic? One way they are starting to drive success with Latino consumers is through sports.

Consider these numbers: Nearly 25 percent of all Hispanics attended at least one Major League Baseball game last year. Professional football is watched by a higher percentage of Hispanics (64 percent) than African-Americans (58 percent) and Caucasians (52 percent). Latino males 18-49 are 25 percent more likely to play basketball than the general population. In addition, Hispanics have also expanded their interest to golf and NASCAR. This represents multiple opportunities to connect with an audience that is waiting to be tapped!

The major automakers — General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota — have begun using a range of media to reach Hispanics, including print and radio, with the heavy push in Spanish-language television. While advertising through traditional outlets is effective, dealers need to capitalize on Hispanics' affinity to sports by complementing media buys with promotions, grassroots programs and community relevance. Nowadays, it takes more than a creative commercial or media buy on highly-rated programs to send a message; brands must connect with Latinos on a personal and relevant level.

In an era of dwindling marketing dollars, companies must implement programs that go beyond presenting one “Hispanic Day” event, sponsorship of a Hispanic athlete or spots within a Spanish-language broadcast. Here are a few tips that will help identify effective ways to connect the Latino population with the automotive industry through sports:

  1. It is apparent that Latinos love sports, so why not match the right sport with your various consumer segments? Be willing to try something new as long as you're educated about the opportunities and are shown how they will be implemented.

  2. If already involved with sports at the professional or amateur level, demand that the property demonstrates how they will help you grow your Latino consumer base on a national and/or local level.

  3. Analyze your own organization and audit your Latino sports marketing plan as needed. Understand how much is already allocated, evaluate if it is effectively being managed by experts in this market niche. Are you being relevant and connecting at all levels?

  4. It is important to know what the league's or organization's plans are for delivering this massive consumer base opportunity to you. How do they plan on growing their Latino fan base so you can benefit? Are they providing you with relevant research? Do they know what has worked before and what has not, so you don't repeat mistakes?

In the coming years, the Hispanic population will continue to be an important market segment in the United States, lending their purchasing power to the brands that connect with them. Hopefully, automotive dealerships will use Hispanics' connection with sports to build lasting relationships with their stores.

Anthony Eros ([email protected]) is president of Latino Sports Marketing LLC in San Diego. Eros consults and advises corporate America, sports organizations, advertising agencies and media groups on how to integrate Latinos and sports.

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