Disney Open to Running More Spanish-Language Ads on English-Language TV (EXCLUSIVE)

Courtesy of Verizon

When Verizon wanted to speak to viewers of the recent Oscars broadcast in Spanish, ABC had to change its rules to make it happen. Now the Disney-owned network is willing to do it again.

The telecommunications giant aired two commercials in the Oscars featuring people speaking in both English and Spanish. Typically, ABC would require subtitles for the Spanish portions, says Rita Ferro, who oversees ad sales for all of Disney’s TV properties. No longer. “That has been our policy and we are looking to challenge that, when we have the right ad and the right partner, and potentially do things differently,” says Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview.  She says that philosophy could apply to all the Disney TV networks, which also include ESPN and Freeform.

As more Spanish-speaking consumers in the U.S. watch a broader range of TV programs, a sales pitch might just be the same in any language.

Nearly one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 6 and 34 are Hispanic or of Latin origin, according to 2018 report from market-research firm Simmons, compared with 23% in 2013. Meanwhile, 13% of Americans aged 35 or older are Hispanic, compared with 12% five years prior.  Under current conditions, TV networks typically generate more revenue from advertisers when their TV programs reach more people between 18 and 49.

“The older generation still consumes media in-language, but when you are talking about millennials and Gen-Z people, they are definitely more culturally fluid,” says Diego Scotti, Verizon’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. “They move in and out of different groups. They identify with more than one culture.”

Madison Avenue has in recent years broadened the content of its commercials to match changing U.S. demographics. In decades past, seeing anything but a Caucasian male or female pitching a car or a can of soda might have been shocking. Ads in recent years, however, have featured same-sex couples, marriages between people of different races or creeds and people with physical challenges.  It’s the latest signal that advertisers are grappling to keep up with an American consumer base that has become increasingly diverse.

Various marketers have tested ads featuring snippets of different languages for general audiences. Coca-Cola did it to memorable effect in 2014 with a Super Bowl commercial featuring the voices of children singing “America the Beautiful” in seven different languages. CBS has run Spanish-language ads in the past during events such as the Grammys, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Most TV networks will consider running ads in different languages, according to people familiar with their policies. NBCUniversal and Viacom, for example, evaluate commercials on a case-by-case basis.  Fox Broadcasting does the same, along with whether to require the use of subtitles. CBS wants to ensure a viewer can understand an ad’s message, no matter what the language used, the person familiar with the matter said.

There’s good reason for Disney to woo Spanish-language advertising. Marketers put approximately $5.7 billion into Spanish-language TV in 2018, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending That figure compares to $5.6 billion in 2017 and $6 billion in 2016. Among the biggest supporters of the medium are telecommunications advertisers and auto marketers, including Dish Network, Sprint and Nissan.

And yet, advertisers seeking Spanish-speaking customers aren’t likely to abandon Spanish-language outlets like Univision or NBCUniversal’s Telemundo. “Advertising in Spanish is still most efficiently done via Spanish language programming,” says Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. But “when the size of the audience matters, English language networks can be very advantageous” because their programs tend to draw bigger crowds.

Running ads in Spanish can help make a commercial more meaningful to some of the viewers who see it, says Verizon’s Scotti. “My hope is some of the archaic rules that still exist in the marketplace around use of subtitles that are very rigid would eventually change for the whole industry,” he says. “I think the whole world needs to think differently about what advertisers can do.” Verizon spent nearly $1.13 billion on advertising inventory in 2017, according to Kantar, and around $765.6 million in the first nine months of 2018.

Disney’s Ferro has noticed more programming segments in which Spanish is used naturally, such as the appearance of the Mexican rock band Mana on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Some advertisers run ads with Spanish in them on ABC’s owned-and-operated stations, she adds.

She does not anticipate running commercial breaks with ads hawking their wares entirely in Spanish, But she does see reason for letting advertisers have greater flexibility when the occasion seems appropriate. Disney has in recent months worked to help some of its sponsors run content that is tailored for a specific appearance. ABC, for example, has let Procter & Gamble work a product into the plot of an episode of “black-ish” and helped Clorox Co.’s Hidden Valley Ranch weave a real-life commercial into one of the segments of “A Million Little Things.”

“I think commercials can tell great stories,” says Ferro. “And you can fully understand the message when you have one that’s inspired and super simple.”