SAN FRANCISCO — Tracking growth of the nation’s Hispanic population, the Cinco de Mayo holiday has become a bull’s-eye for businesses targeting a largely untapped market.
Never mind that May Fifth is little hyped in Mexico, where re-enactments of a fleeting victory over French forces in 1862 are far more sober than the beer-soaked bashes that erupt in U.S. cities.
“It’s a promotional opportunity for corporations, because basically marketers have invented Cinco de Mayo as a holiday,” said Carlos Santiago, founder of a Newport Beach-based multicultural consulting firm.
Once the domain of food and drink suppliers, the holiday has become a shortcut for companies that seek access to America’s 35 million Hispanics. Credit card firms, retiree service groups and even corporate recruiters are joining the likes of Taco Bell and Corona beer for a chance to pitch the Hispanic market.
Though it commemorates Mexico’s most famous military triumph, Cinco de Mayo has become both an expression of Mexican-American pride and a fiesta with crossover appeal to the entire country. This Saturday, places as far afield as Park City, Utah, and Rogers, Ark., will throw their first Cinco de Mayo festivals.
They’re examples of how Hispanics – led by Mexican Americans – have fanned out from major immigrant states such as California, Texas and New York. Recent census data report that, nationally, the Hispanic population grew by 58 percent in the 1990s.
Their purchasing power appears to be growing at least as fast.
The disposable income of Hispanics jumped 118 percent during the 1990s to $452 billion in 2001, according to a study by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. That increase dwarfed the 68 percent rise in disposable income among non Hispanics. Nationally, the study pegged total disposable income at just over $7 trillion.
More people with more money to spend – it excites advertisers, who are bounding toward a market that’s not yet overwhelmed by product jingles.
Santiago estimates Hispanics should command about $16 billion of the estimated $200 billion spent on advertising each year. Instead, Santiago said, the total is around $2 billion.
Groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons are looking to catch up. AARP spent about $100,000 paying for a performance stage and literature at Los Angeles’ Cinco de Mayo festival last Sunday.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Nancy Franklin, the group’s director of membership development. “A lot of people are not aware of AARP in the Hispanic community.”
Western Union will co-sponsor New York City’s Cinco de Mayo event this weekend. And Minnesota-based credit card issuer Metris Cos. plans to sponsor Cinco de Mayo festivals, part of its aggressive marketing to Hispanic customers.
That’s not to say that traditional supporters of the holiday are beating a retreat.
“It’s really a cornerstone of our annual marketing plan,” said Don Mann of San Antonio-based Gambrinus Co., the largest U.S. importer of Corona beers. “We’re promoting it to the general market. Some of these other companies that are new to it are focusing on the Latino market.”
Cinco de Mayo also has become an occasion for companies to push not just their products, but their work environments as well. Federal Express set up a booth at the Cinco de Mayo festival in Fort Worth, Texas, and logged 300 job applications.
And the schmoozing doesn’t have to take place at a street stall.
On Wednesday evening, the Fox Entertainment Group sponsored an event at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. It attracted dozens of Hispanic professionals, who heard pitches from Fox as well as other companies such as Wells Fargo and Deloitte & Touche.
“Right now there’s a big demand to recruit,” said Miguel Figueroa, president of the Los Angeles-area chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, which organized the event. “The company gains exposure, they also gain talent.”
On the Net:
Santiago & Valdes Solutions: http://www.santiagovaldessolutions.com/
National Society of Hispanic MBAs: http://www.nshmba.org/
Fox Entertainment: http://www.fox.com