Bush Hopes Spanish Ads Will Garner Votes


Over a fast-moving shot of a city skyline and an American flag rippling in front of the Texas state banner, a deep-voiced man reassures: “En nuestro pais ha llegado un nuevo dia.” (In our country, a new day has arrived).

The narrator continues in Spanish about Gov. George W. Bush’s family values in a 30-second TV commercial that features good-looking students, scientists and cheerleaders who could presumably benefit from his presidency. The spot concludes with the Republican candidate, wearing a cotton work shirt and jeans, saying four words: “Es un nuevo dia.”

Not only is it a new day, as Bush says, that day has arrived unusually early. The Bush ad is set to begin running today in advance of Arizona’s Republican primary Feb. 22. It’s the first time, industry experts say, that a Spanish-language ad has been used in a presidential primary. It’s also a sign that spending on political advertising in Spanish will reach unprecedented levels this presidential year.


More immediately, the ad will reach out to Latinos who have been steady supporters of the man who trounced Bush in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Usually, White House hopefuls turn to Latino voters only in the final stretch before the general election, often dropping in Spanish narration over English-language ads.

But the Bush commercial appeals to the basic demographics of the Latino population: at 27 it is, on average, eight years younger than the general population. The commercial also adheres to a common rule in Spanish-language advertising, which is to produce images of groups of Latinos, rather than lone characters.

The ad also emphasizes Bush’s role as community patriarch, often surrounded by schoolchildren.

“We relate to family and society differently,” said Hector Orci, who handles the Spanish-language ad accounts for corporations like Honda and Allstate Insurance. “The center of the universe in Latino culture is the family. The center of the universe in non-Latino family is the individual.”

The Bush campaign plans to use the commercial in other states with significant Latino populations, including California, that have become more important to Bush since his loss to McCain. Bush, the most well-funded candidate, knows the benefits of spending campaign resources to court Latino voters. In 1998, he used Spanish-language TV commercials to win a second term as governor, winning 49% of the Latino vote.


McCain has learned the same lessons. He advertised in Spanish--dubbing English-language ads--when he ran for reelection in 1998 and won 55% of the Latino vote. So far, he isn’t planning to advertise in Arizona.

The new Bush commercial in Arizona represents one more indication that Spanish-language voters are increasingly viewed as critical to political success, and that Spanish-language television may well be the best way to reach them.

Census figures show that Latinos are the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group, with voter registration now at just over 7 million, making it the only ethnic group in this country whose participation in the electoral process is picking up speed. Marketing research also suggests that Spanish is the way to reach them. “Advertising effectiveness in the mother tongue is more motivational, even among bilinguals,” said Daisy Exposito-Ulla, president of the New York-based Bravo Group, a leading Latino ad agency.

That does not mean, however, that it is enough to simply hear Vice President Al Gore or Bush unfurl their Spanish skills. Capturing the cultural and language nuances is critical. (Take a look at the highly effective commercial campaign for milk. It had to be rethought for Latinos, since a direct translation of “Got Milk?” would mean “Are You Lactating?”)

So, Bush’s Spanish slogan, “It’s a new day,” is a take-off of his stock English campaign phrase, “A fresh start,” because “fresh” sounds a bit racy in Spanish.

Univision, the largest U.S. Spanish-language television network, will likely benefit the most from the increased interest in Latino voters. It is the fastest-growing broadcaster in the country, reaching 83% of U.S. Latino households.


Before 1998, Univision averaged between $500,000 and $1 million in political advertising revenue during a presidential election. “1998 was a breakthrough year for us in that there was about $8 million [in ad revenue],” said Henry G. Cisneros, Univision CEO and a former Clinton administration official. This year, he predicted during a teleconference with financial analysts, the figure should double.

Stephen J. Levin, executive vice president of sales for Telemundo, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language television network, said requests for air time already show a new kind of election already underway. Compared to 1996, Levin said, “I expect candidates to increase their expenditures on Spanish-language television ads three to four hundred percent.” Telemundo refused to release dollar estimates on political ad revenues.

Democrats, accustomed to attracting a majority of Latino voters, can no longer take that vote for granted, said Lionel Sosa, Bush’s media consultant.

According to a national poll of Latinos by the Republican National Committee released last month, 25% of Latinos “consider themselves independent and open to persuasion,” said Mark Pfeifle, RNC spokesman. “It’s that 25% that we’re going to reach out to.”

Gore’s campaign was not willing to discuss his plans for Spanish-language ads, but his press secretary in California, David Chai, said Bush’s early start on the Spanish-language airwaves is a blatant attempt at recovering some Latino voters lost in the last few elections.

“The Republicans are truly playing catch-up, and particularly in California, where Republicans have put forth policies that are detrimental to the Latino community,” Chai said, referring to Proposition 187, which sought to end government benefits for illegal immigrants, and other anti-immigration policies of former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.