Spanish Ad During NBA Finals a First for Broadcast TV

A Hispanic first marked the recently concluded NBA finals won by the Miami Heat: A Spanish language ad aired on an English-language broadcasting network during the finals --a move that may signal a significant change in advertising approaches toward Latinos in the United States.

The 30 second telenovela-esque Ford Motor company advertisement for the 2013 Ford Escape played twice on ABC – once during Game 4 and another time during Game 5. It was a first for the American car company, for ABC, and for the NBA.

When the 30 second national ad spot appeared just days before Game 4, Ford quickly decided to run the spot after being approached by ABC and its ESPN unit, about a large and growing Latino share of the audience for the first three games of the series between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The number of Hispanic households tuning into this year's NBA Finals’ was up 20 percent versus last season thru game 3, according to the NBA.

Miami heavy Latino viewership had something to do with that, but according to Ford, the company was told it was the highest percentage of Latino viewers of a non-soccer sporting event in the U.S.

“The ad breaks through the clutter, for Spanish speaking Latinos watching in English,” said Alvaro Cabal, Multicultural Communications Manager for Ford.  “It’s a clever plan, and we are doing it because it makes sense.”

Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing communications, told Forbes magazine that ABC and ESPN “were interested in testing and learning and observing how the audience would respond to in-language Spanish advertising and asked if we wanted to test and learn with them.”

The NBA ad was the highest profile Spanish-language ad to air since April of this year, when ESPN first introduced Spanish television ads on its English-language platforms for the network’s most popular program, SportsCenter.

ESPN  has seen an increase of it's Hispanic audience by 15 percent over the last five years, outpacing non-Hispanic audience growth, according to the network.

Isabella Sánchez, VP of Media Integration for Zubi Advertising, the firm that created the ad, cautiously believes airing Spanish language ads during English language programming could begin to be a trend but there are risks.

“It’s a gamble,” Sánchez explained. “You don’t want to offend people and you want to make sure that you don’t waste impressions.”

The Spanish language commercial was aired with English language subtitles for that very purpose, Sánchez explained, you don’t want to alienate a majority of  “impressions” or people watching the advertisement that don’t speak Spanish.

“At the minimum, I think advertisements like this one will air with English subtitles in the future,” Sánchez stated.

The reality is most English language networks don’t have a significant Hispanic audience, she said. Even for American Idol, the top ranked English-language show among Hispanics for many seasons, Hispanics do not compose more than 9 percent of the total audience.

Regarding the Ford ad, despite the subtitles, the ad still happened to anger some, and confuse others.

"Ford's use of a Spanish Language commercial, -- albeit with English subtitles -- nationally on such a high profile event at the NBA finals is a bold move that recognizes the importance of the growing Hispanic NBA fan base," Joe Uva, Director of Dunkin' Brand Group and former Univision CEO and President,  wrote in an e-mail to Fox News Latino.

Latinos make up a significant portion of the NBA fan base –16 percent– and in some markets represents close to 50 percent or over 56 percent of team attendance, according to the NBA.

As the Latino population continues to grow in size and influence, expect companies to continue to re-evaluate their approaches.

Follow Bryan Llenas on Twitter @Bryan_Llenas.

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