As singers croon in Spanish during a new television commercial for Target, three generations laugh around the dinner table long after the food has been cleared away.
This is sobremesa, a common practice in Latin cultures of lingering after a meal to chat. The English language has no comparable term.
“There will always be a part of you that simply doesn’t translate,” says a female voice at the end of the commercial. Those are the only English words in the 30-second spot.
Target Corp. is counting on such TV ads to attract more Latino shoppers to its stores. They are part of a campaign called "#SinTraduccion,” or “Without Translation” — the company’s first Latino-focused effort to rely on cultural concepts rather than merely translate general market advertising, as the chain previously has done.
“What we want to do is celebrate the fact that our bicultural guests live in two different worlds,” said Rick Gomez, senior vice president of brand and category marketing. “One is this Hispanic culture and the other is the American lifestyle.
The ads began airing in early March during prime-time shows, including “Jane the Virgin” on the CW, “Modern Family” on USA and “The Big Bang Theory” on TBS.
The campaign is part of a new focus by Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell, who joined the company in August with a mandate to turn around the retailer.
“As we go forward into the future, our guest is going to increasingly be a Hispanic shopper,” Cornell told analysts recently while discussing the company’s improving earnings. “We want to make sure we are taking that Hispanic consumer and converting them into future Target guests.”
Analysts say the #SinTraduccion campaign is a logical extension of Target’s attempts to capture more customers in the wake of a ragbag of missteps.
The Minneapolis chain has been plagued in recent years by a hacking scandal, an ill-fated push into Canada and complaints that its focus on groceries and discounting had come at the expense of clothing styles and other merchandise offerings.
“What made it wildly successful was the cheap chic thing,” said Paula Rosenblum, an analyst with Retail Systems Research.
Target once reveled in its reputation for offering stylish clothes at affordable prices, prompting many shoppers to nickname the company “Tarjay,” upgrading its ordinary name to designer status by using a faux French accent. The company’s fashion-forward fame also extended into its home goods section, where designer partnerships produced popular products.
“Fast fashion has taken away a lot of their apparel opportunity, but it’s still available,” Rosenblum said. “And I think the home space ... that’s where the money is.”
Joseph Feldman, senior managing director for the Telsey Advisory Group consulting firm, emphasized the importance of Cornell’s perspective as an outsider.
“They have a new CEO in place,” Feldman said. “He’s looking at the world with fresh eyes and trying to see where there’s an opportunity, and obviously, they think there’s one for this market.”
In 2014, Latinos controlled $1.3 trillion in spending power, accounting for 9.7% of all U.S. buying power, according to research by the University of Georgia Selig Center for Economic Growth. This year, that figure is expected to grow to $1.4 trillion, according to estimates from Nielsen and the Selig Center.
“The market has been out there for decades, and companies have known it,” said Laura Castañeda, professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who covered advertising for the Dallas Morning News. “It seems to ebb and flow. I think surpassing that trillion-dollar mark might be the tipping point.”
Target is only the most recent of several companies to focus on the Latino market.
Retail giant J.C. Penney launched a high-profile campaign tied to last year’s World Cup that focused on Latina shoppers. In one Spanish language ad that had English subtitles, female sports fans were the sole focus. “Soccer is for girls,” a narrator says toward the end of the 30-second spot.
The 50 largest spending companies put $3.4 billion into Latino advertising in 2013, according to the most recent figures available from industry publication Advertising Age, which measured spending on Spanish-language ads on broadcast and cable networks and in Spanish language publications. Procter & Gamble Co. was the top spender with $334.8 million, followed by AT&T with $124.7 million. Target came in 28th, with $51.5 million.
The steady increase in Latino purchasing power — and companies’ attention — is connected to the population’s growth.
By 2050, the Latino population is expected to double, reaching 106 million, according to Census Bureau estimates.
That number is about 30 million lower than earlier projections from the Census Bureau, but Latinos are still one of the fastest growing populations in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center. From 2000 to 2010, Latinos made up more than half of the country’s population growth.
Target has ventured into the Latino market before. A few years ago, Target launched its first bilingual television ad and has also made partnerships with Latino artists Prince Royce and Shakira, who attract a young, hip fan base.
The millennial generation, aged 18 to 34, is a big part of this effort. The median age of Latinos is 27, according to a Nielsen report, giving companies the opportunity to capture a young market, one that Target may already have been attracting.
Jeff Jones, the company’s executive vice president, told analysts in March that 54% of Latino millennials said Target is their favorite brand.
The company’s campaign tries to capitalize on that by spanning TV and social media, namely Twitter and Facebook, to court millennial shoppers, Gomez said.
“At its core, it’s a social campaign,” he said. “It’s intended to spark conversations.”
He said the company has already seen evidence of such conversations, as social media posts using the hashtag #SinTraduccion have shared people’s experiences with untranslatable words used in their families.
In Gomez’s family, he said, his grandparents frequently used the word comadre, which roughly translates as a close family friend, particularly a godparent. Like sobremesa, comadre does not have a direct English translation.
Gomez said the campaign gives Target an opportunity to connect with Latinos on a deeper level than in the past. And it’s a move that could pay off.
“Latinos tend to be very loyal consumers,” Castañeda said. “You could have them for decades.”