Web Exclusive | April 2015 | By Nicole Duncan

The Untapped Demographic

With Hispanics accounting for 20 percent of quick-service sales, operators beef up their engagement efforts.
Quick service restaurant brands appeal to Hispanic cusomters through advertising.
Kelley Fechner (left) and Peter Filiaci discuss how the "Trailblazers" have engaged the Hispanic community. image used with permission.

A teenage boy lounges on a couch with Jack in Box—the puppet-like mascot for the San Diego, California–based chain. They talk about what dinosaurs they’d like to be while promoting the Chick-n-Tater Melt Munchie Meal. The ad seems pretty standard—except that the dialogue is entirely in Spanish.

With Hispanics accounting for half of its consumers, Jack in the Box has a collection of Spanish-language ads that air in targeted markets in California.

“Given most Hispanics are bilingual, and they are consuming content in both English and Spanish, it’s important that the message resonates in both environments,” says CMO Keith Guilbault via e-mail. “By communicating in-language, it allows us to drive greater brand affinity.”

Such outreach is especially important in the quick-service sector where Hispanics account for $1 out of every $5 spent. Hispanic consumers—particularly those who speak Spanish as their primary language—tend to be more frequent visitors, says Peter Filiaci, vice president of strategy and insights and Univision Communications Inc.; they also have higher average checks. With census data indicating that the Hispanic population will grow 20 percent in the next decade, operators stand to benefit from paving inroads to those communities.

For Jack in the Box, it’s already paying off. These commercials, along with other outreach tactics, earned the brand the honor of “Regional Trailblazer” at the inaugural Restaurant Trailblazers award ceremony at the Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC) in March. A collaborative effort by Spanish media giant Univision and The NPD Group, Restaurant Trailblazers spotlights restaurant chains that have gone above and beyond to engage with Hispanic consumers.

“If you make that effort, this consumer really appreciates it, and if you make them feel welcome and know that they're going to be welcome, it really means a lot.”

“We wanted to acknowledge the chains that we felt were doing a particularly good job connecting with Hispanic consumers and then highlight again through that NPD data the fact that they were actually growing their businesses as a result of connecting with this consumer,” Filiaci says.

In addition to Jack in the Box, Restaurant Trailblazers honored Papa John’s, Starbucks, Sonic, Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, and Chipotle, along with casual-dining chains Chili’s, Denny’s, and IHOP. Kelley Fechner, executive director of product management for the NPD Group, presented the awards along with Filiaci. She says that the response was very positive, with recipients eager to participate and others eager to make the Trailblazers list next year.

John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s, even joined in a Q&A session for Restaurant Trailblazers. As “Newcomer of the Year,” Papa John’s has moved its focus away from price and deals and more toward quality, which Filiaci says resonated with Hispanics. In the ads, Schnatter spoke in-language to further strengthen the connection.

“He spoke a very little bit of Spanish, but we think that little bit went a long way,” Filiaci says. “[The chain] ended up highlighting [its] authenticity from the authenticity of the man himself, Papa John, who was very present in these ads.”

Schnatter also emphasized that sometimes the marketing strategy depends on the targeted area, and Fechner believes that is an important sticking point. “There are going to be different markets where you’re going to push Hispanics first,” she says, naming California and Florida as two examples. “For some chains, it might not be as relevant if they’re located in less Hispanic population markets.” While markets like Chicago might not have a large Hispanic population overall, the greater metropolitan still encompasses very dense pockets of Hispanics, Fechner adds.

Some operators may be daunted by the prospect of marketing to a new demographic, especially one that is growing so rapidly. But Filiaci says he hopes the Restaurant Trailblazers will demystify the process.

“In most cases I think what you'll find is it was not a dramatically different approach,” Filiaci says. “These marketers, they need to stay true to who their brand is. They just need to communicate it in perhaps a different way to the Hispanic community.”

Rather than overhauling the menu to feature more Mexican, Salvadorian, or other Latin American fare, operators can market in-language and emphasize values. Filiaci says that while family is important for all consumers, it is paramount for the Hispanic population with Millennial Hispanics being more likely to have children than non-Hispanics. Operators would do well to communicate a family-friendly atmosphere that accommodates larger parties, he says.

Other cultural touchstones such as telenovelas, music, and sports (soccer over football) are other paths to reach more members of the Hispanic community. Jack in the Box, for example, has positioned itself to engage consumers through multiple interests and media platforms.

“Television provides mass awareness in primetime and sports content, but it’s also important to reach consumers across screens and devices,” Guilbault says. “Music is central to Hispanic lifestyle and culture as well, as there is a strong connection to their favorite music artists. Pandora-streaming audio is critical to reach this target segment, while terrestrial radio provides a local connection by aligning with trusted and active Spanish-Language DJs in the market.”

Univision and NPD Group will continue with the Restaurant Trailblazers program and already plans to hold another round of awards at RLC in 2016.

“If you make that effort, this consumer really appreciates it, and if you make them feel welcome and know that they're going to be welcome, it really means a lot,” Filiaci says. “We’ve seen over the years that you really experience positive results as a consequence of that outreach.”

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