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Distribs step carefully through Latin market

Lines blur for indies

It may be the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., but the Hispanic market is impossible to pigeonhole. While it shares a common language, it also presents a diversity of cultures, tastes and idiomatic nuances. A Spanish word that could be innocuous to a Mexican could be offensive to an Argentinean.

It can be a quagmire for indie pic distributors looking to tap this burgeoning population, estimated at 40 million-50 million strong.

The obvious three target markets are the Spanish-dominant, English-dominant and the bilinguals. But even these lines can blur.

“Every time we sort people into categories, we run into trouble,” says Meyer Gottlieb, prexy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, which released Mexican pic “The Crime of Father Amaro,” as well as English-language Latino-themed pics such as “Raising Victor Vargas” and “Tortilla Soup.”

Like most immigrant groups, the U.S. Hispanic population is driven to assimilate into American culture. So how does a distrib attract the auds that would rather see “Spider-Man 2” than the latest Latino pic?

“An extensive grassroots campaign is vital,” says Marian Koltai-Levine, exec veep of marketing for Fine Line, which released Colombian-U.S. drug-mule drama, “Maria Full of Grace.”

“You need to break out of the clutter with an impactful and meaningful campaign,” says Glenn Garland, creative director of ad agency Eleven-Eleven which, alongside Hispanic marketing outfit Latin World Entertainment, designed the campaign for hit satire “A Day Without a Mexican.” The first release from newcomer Televisa Cine, the U.S. distrib arm of Mexican conglom Grupo Televisa, Sergio Arau’s mockumentary imagines a day in California when all the Latinos disappear.

A provocative teaser campaign for the pic featured a billboard that declared: “On May 14th, there will be no Mexicans in California.” It was brought down four hours after passers-by had complained. When the media covered the snafu, they gave the $1.5 million pic invaluable free publicity.

Televisa Cine invested in billboards, wild postering, bus shelters, print, radio, TV and a grassroots campaign. It helped “Mexican” snag a $3.2 million gross from fewer than 100 screens in Southern California and Texas in the first phase of its platform release.

Arenas Entertainment, a Hispanic marketing group that branched out into distribution in the U.S. in 2001, released Mexican blockbuster “Nicotina” last month with an ad campaign that combined Spanish and English. The unusual move was a bid to attract auds beyond the Latino community.

“As it’s played well in festivals, we are targeting both the specialized as well as the mainstream Latino audience,” says marketing prexy Amorette Jones.

She’s noticed that English-language news outlets have grown more attuned to the importance of Spanish. “For example, Reuters requested a soundbite in Spanish.”

U.S. Hispanic media also has undergone a subtle transformation. “More Spanish print publications have film sections,” says Ivette Rodriguez of American Entertainment Marketing. The 8-year- old PR and marketing agency has worked on such hits as “Y tu mama tambien,” “Amores perros” and “Maria Full of Grace.”

But a clever marketing blitz isn’t everything, execs stress. “If a film doesn’t deliver, then a campaign can only go so far,” says Rodriguez.

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