The Miami Herald
Thu, Nov. 18, 2004

Toy-makers make pitch to U.S. Hispanic market


For Fisher-Price, it's all in the numbers.

One in five babies born in the United States is Hispanic. Hispanics are 33 percent more likely to buy toys than non-Hispanics. Growth in the population of Hispanic kids younger than 9 is expected to outpace non-Hispanics by 23 percent by 2010.

Adding it all up, Hispanic families are a natural market for toys.

''This is not a hard sell,'' said Brenda Andolina, Fisher-Price's senior manager of marketing and brand development. She was brought on board a year ago to develop a campaign to pitch the company's early childhood toys to Hispanics.

LeapFrog Enterprises is another toy-maker wooing Hispanics in a big way. It introduced bilingual products last year, Spanish-language advertising and brought in children's author Alma Flor Ada to advise on Hispanic projects.

But as an industry, toy manufacturers have been slow to exploit the potential of a group that tends to have more children and large extended families, which means plenty of presents on birthdays and at Christmas.

''I think they're late to the game,'' said Raúl López, president of The Cultural Access Group, a market research firm in Miami. ''TV networks, such as Nickelodeon, have done a better job marketing to multicultural kids.'' He mentioned shows such as Nick's Dora the Explorer and PBS' Maya and Miguel as examples.

Toy-makers may believe they do not need to tackle Hispanics as a separate market because many Hispanic children are bilingual and watch English-language television, including mainstream toy ads, especially as they get older, marketers said.

But the toy industry could use some pizazz. According to the research firm The NPD Group, sales of traditional toys dipped from $21.3 billion in 2002 to $20.7 billion in 2002. It was the fourth consecutive drop in sales.

''It's kids getting older at a younger age,'' said NPD analyst David Riley. ``They want cellphones, computers, video games starting at kindergarten and going up from there. These are high-ticket items so there's less money to be had for traditional toys.''

Hispanics are already helping to boost that bottom line. Simmons Hispanic Study 2000 found that 67.2 percent of Hispanic adults had bought games and toys within the previous 12 months, as compared to 50.4 percent of non-Hispanics.

And Toys 'R' Us stores in heavily-populated Hispanic areas report ''a lot more foot traffic,'' spokeswoman Susan McLaughlin said. ``Hispanic customers are very responsive to our promotions.''

Hispanic marketing analysts say that more could easily be done. One avenue is to appeal to Hispanic parents and other adults in the family, many of whom are immigrants and may not be familiar with U.S. brands or simply view them as unaffordable.

In many Latin American countries, U.S.-brand toys sell at premium prices and are considered products within the reach of only the upper-middle-class family.

That's one reason Fisher-Price chose to focus its campaign on the young Hispanic mother with its tag line ``Juegue con ellos. Ríe con ellos. Crece con ellos.'' That translates to ``Play with them. Laugh with them. Grow with them.''

''It's meant to bring Mom to the shelf so she can understand our value,'' Andolina said. ``We want to educate Moms about the role of play in development, that learning happens naturally through play.''

Fisher-Price launched the campaign, which features festival promotions and ads on TV, radio and billboards, earlier this month. The company is already lined up for Miami's Calle Ocho next year.

LeapFrog has developed several bilingual products aimed at the U.S. Hispanic market, such as its LeapPad books, singing plush toys, the talking Explorer Globe and ABC Karaoke machine. It also has about 25 Spanish-language toys, which are also sold throughout Latin America.

Fisher-Price also has ideas in the concept stage for toys especially for Hispanic kids.

Andolina said that it makes good business sense to get toy brands established in Hispanic households as families can span several generations.

''The whole demographic is younger, even grandparents are younger,'' she said. ``That makes a lot of gift-givers.''