Editor's note: Jeri Smith is president and CEO of Communicus Inc., a Tucson, Ariz., research firm.

As recently as a few years ago, marketers who identified the Hispanic market as an important target for their products typically hired an ad agency that specialized in Hispanic advertising and allocated some funds to their efforts. The research department was tasked with doing some basic attitude-and-usage research to determine what the best message would be and the agency would develop Spanish-language ads and place them in Spanish-language media outlets. Or, if budgets were tight, the English-language ads would simply be translated into Spanish and placed into the Spanish-language media outlets.

Even more recently, the total-market approach has become all the rage. Many marketers decided that Latino actors and cultural references could be included as part of the larger cultural mix within their brands’ main ad campaigns. This had the added benefit of simplifying the overall marketing plan and sometimes resulted in the Hispanic ad agencies being shifted from campaign creators to a lesser role as consultants on Latino sensibilities.

As my research-based advertising consultancy, Communicus, has analyzed the in-market effectiveness of advertising among Hispanics over the course of the past several years, it has become clear to me that building your brand among – and selling to – Hispanics of all acculturation levels requires more of a blended approach. In examining the performance of advertising of all types – Spanish-language-specific campaigns, translated campaigns, total-market campaigns and even the impact among Latinos of general-market/non-Latino-targeted campaigns – we’ve identified key best practices for marketing to Hispanics.

Three major cross-campaign, cross-category patterns have emerged from our Hispanic advertising research:

1. General-market-targeted campaigns typically achieve strong engagement among most sectors within the Hispanic community. These same campaigns can also be quite successful in affecting Hispanic consumers’ attitudes and behaviors.

2. But, targeted Spanish-language advertising does have an important role to play. It often: produces incremental awareness of the advertising, beyond what the general-market campaign has achieved; engages less-acculturated Hispanics, who are lighter consumers of English-language media; strengthens the persuasive power of the campaign; and builds brand connections and affinity (e.g., the sense that “This is a brand for ‘people like me’”).

3. The digital advertising and social media environments are enormous opportunity areas for Latino targeting – if tackled with the right strategies.

Study of holiday advertising

A recent study, in which we measured the effectiveness of 2013 holiday advertising campaigns for five retailers, illustrates these key takeaways. In this research, we surveyed the same 838 female adult consumers before and after the holidays, assessing the extent to which they engaged with, and were persuaded by, the TV and online holiday campaigns for each brand. The sample included 309 Latina shoppers, with the full range of acculturation levels represented, and 529 non-Latina shoppers.

In the follow-up survey, the advertising evaluation system that we use calls for a determination of each respondent’s prior engagement with a range of specific ads run by all five advertisers. To accurately determine awareness, and to eliminate false claiming, we use a limited recognition cue to trigger the ad memory, followed by a “certification” procedure in which the respondent is required to answer a series of questions that prove that they have actually seen that particular ad in-market. This procedure ensures that respondents who are trying to be “helpful” (a common issue in surveying Hispanic targets) do not appear to have seen an ad that they really haven’t. Our longitudinal design, in which we isolate ad impact via indirect means – comparing changes in brand metrics that occur over time (among those whom we know have seen ads) to changes in brand metrics that occur during the same time period (among those who haven’t seen those ads) – also ensures an accurate read of impact. With Hispanic (and other) samples, we know that the persuasive power of advertising is likely to be overstated with more direct questioning, e.g., “Did this commercial make you more likely to consider buying this brand?”

The 2013 Holiday Advertising Effectiveness study included advertising campaigns for five retail chains, each of which used different approaches to engage and persuade Hispanics.

• JCPenney’s campaign, “Jingle More Bells,” involved choirs singing about savings and deals to the tunes of holiday classics. The choirs for the general-market campaign were multicultural, representing a total-market approach, and one spot in the general-market campaign was set to the tune of “Feliz Navidad.” The brand also had Latino-specific Spanish-language spots that were produced under the same campaign theme.

• Target’s campaign could also be classified as total-market, with Hispanics appearing in its general-market spots, and this brand also ran Spanish-language executions within the same campaign theme and format.

• Macy’s campaign, “What’s in Store,” was only slightly inclusive, with some appearances by acculturated Hispanics in the general-market executions – all of which involved in-store scenarios of salespeople interacting with customers. No specific Spanish-language or Hispanic-targeted equity-building TV spots were involved.

• Kohl’s ran a series of individual general-market executions but did not have a campaign theme, nor were any Spanish-language or Hispanic-targeted TV spots involved.

• The campaign for Sears, “A Better Way to Save,” was comprised of stories involving the fictional Denskie family trying to save money in crazy ways. One Spanish-language execution was run within the overall campaign series.

The campaigns achieved varying degrees of success, based both on their implementation of different strategic approaches and the strength of the creative itself. The overall performance patterns were consistent with what we’ve seen with other Hispanic-targeted campaigns across categories and are useful in highlighting overall Hispanic advertising research findings:

1. General-market targeted campaigns typically achieve strong engagement and persuasion among Hispanics. As shown in Figure 1, all five of the retail TV campaigns measured in the holiday advertising effectiveness study achieved higher branded awareness among Hispanic consumers than among the broader general-market population. This pattern is borne out by our norms, which show that the average general-market-targeted campaign achieves slightly (3 percent) higher awareness among Hispanics than among targeted non-Hispanics.

Results of this study also highlight the extent to which general-market campaigns can persuade Hispanics. Figure 2 shows the impact of the JCPenney campaign on reported holiday season shopping behavior. Looking at just the English-language TV (that is, excluding the influence of the Spanish-language, Latino-targeted spots), this campaign produced a seven-point lift in reported purchasing among general-market consumers but an 11-point lift among Hispanics.

In fact, other research suggests that many Hispanics, particularly those who are within the bicultural group, are relatively heavier consumers of, and more attentive to, English-language media than are other consumers. While marketers tend to think of acculturation groups as more or less static – this person is unacculturated, that one is bicultural – acculturation is actually quite fluid. While some individuals never acculturate, whether through choice and surroundings or other circumstances, many Latinos – by nature of both desire and exposure – do, over time, move up along the acculturation spectrum. The consumption of general-market media plays an important role in this process, and Hispanics who are learning about American culture and American brands pay attention to, and learn from, the media they consume.

2. Targeted Spanish-language advertising also plays an important role. From an advertising awareness standpoint, the role played by Hispanic-targeted advertising is typically to build incrementally over the engagement that Hispanics will have already had with a brand’s general-market campaign. In most advertising effectiveness studies that we’ve done, across a wide range of product categories, general-market-targeted campaigns actually achieve higher awareness among Hispanics than do the specific Hispanic-targeted efforts. This is true even for Hispanic-targeted campaigns with very high levels of media investment.

Further, adding a Hispanic-targeted creative component will nearly always boost overall campaign awareness levels, because some number of Hispanics who have missed the general-market campaign will be exposed to and engage with the Hispanic-targeted ads. In our holiday advertising effectiveness study, Hispanic-specific TV for JCPenney built campaign awareness by an additional nine percentage points over what was achieved by the general-market-targeted campaign, building campaign awareness to 41 percent versus 32 percent for the general-market campaign – a 28 percent gain.

Not surprisingly, Hispanic-targeted advertising adds the greatest incremental awareness among less-acculturated Hispanics, who are less likely to have engaged with the brand’s general-market campaign, largely on the basis of their relatively lighter involvement – versus more-acculturated Hispanics – with English-language media. As such, Hispanic-targeted ads are particularly necessary for advertisers for whom reaching and persuading large portions of the less-acculturated Hispanic segment is crucial.

In contrast, Hispanic-targeted ads tend to add little incremental awareness to that achieved by a brand’s general-market campaign among more-acculturated individuals within the overall Hispanic population. Rather, for this group the Hispanic-targeted ads tend to add to campaign intensity – that is, the total number of different campaign executions seen by an individual with the target.

We know from years of empirical data that the more different ads that an individual engages with during a campaign period, the stronger the persuasive effectiveness of a campaign. In fact, once minimal awareness levels are achieved, seeing more ad executions has a much greater persuasive power than seeing the same ad executions multiple times.

This principle comes into play when examining the value of adding Hispanic-targeted ads to the overall campaign mix. Because Hispanics often see both the general-market-targeted campaign and the Hispanic-targeted campaign, the average number of ad executions seen by any one individual consumer is higher than if the general-market-targeted campaign were standing on its own.

In our holiday retail study, the average Hispanic consumer who saw general-market-targeted advertising for one of the brands included in the study engaged with, on average, three different TV spots. However, when the Hispanic-targeted campaign was added to the mix, the average number of TV spots engaged with jumped to six.

More importantly, seeing Spanish-language advertising along with a brand’s base general-market campaign often boosts persuasion among Hispanics in ways that just seeing more general-market ads cannot do. Specifically, we often see that the combination of seeing general-market and Hispanic-targeted ads builds brand connections and affinity among Hispanic consumers.

As shown in Figure 4, the Target 2013 general-market holiday campaign was effective in improving perceptions, among Hispanics, that the store “has great options for the entire family.” However, these perceptions were strengthened even more among Hispanics who saw the general-market campaign and also engaged with specific Hispanic-targeted TV spots.

On other dimensions, including perceptions that Target “is keeping up with the times,” “offers brands I like” and “is for ‘people like me,’” the campaign didn’t produce a significant impact on Hispanics unless they had seen both general-market and Hispanic-targeted ads. Importantly, campaign impact on purchasing behavior and future purchase intentions were also significantly greater, across the brands and campaigns studied, among Hispanics who had engaged with both English and Spanish portions of the campaign.

3. The digital advertising and social media environments are enormous opportunity areas for Latino targeting – if tackled with the right strategies. A number of researchers, including Communicus, have observed that Hispanics are highly engaged online, particularly with social networks that enable them to converse with and keep up with family members. Our research across brands and across categories clearly indicates that Hispanics also are more likely to engage with advertising that they encounter online.

Based on results from our awareness measurement system, Hispanic consumers are nearly twice as likely to engage with any given online ad execution than are non-Hispanic consumers. Combined with the superior ability to target ads online to specific segments and behavioral targets, online advertising represents a massive opportunity for advertising that seeks to affect brand perceptions and behaviors of Hispanic consumers.

As for social media, the results of our retail study speak for themselves. As shown in Figure 5, across brands, the average retailer experienced twice the consumer engagement with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, mobile apps and blogs among Hispanic consumers as among non-Hispanic consumers. Additionally, most of these social media venues had significantly higher reported involvement among less-acculturated Hispanics than among their more-acculturated counterparts.

What’s more, social media engagements can persuade. While those who engage with a brand in this fashion tend to already be more favorable toward the brand, we often see these engagements build perceptions and loyalties even further. For example, a consumer who visits a brand’s Facebook page is more likely than one who does not to be predisposed to consider purchasing the brand. But if the Facebook interaction itself builds purchase consideration even further, this can be considered a win. Some examples of social media impact from our holiday ad study (Figure 6) highlight the extent to which social media interactions can build brand perceptions (Kohl’s “cares about me”), future purchase intentions (for JCPenney) and store shopped at most often (for Target).

More personal nature

The best uses of digital advertising and social media venues among Hispanic consumers capitalize on the greater ability of advertisers to target the message, and the more personal nature of these conversations. In fact, none of these five retailers appeared to have programs in place to capitalize on the potential power of digital campaigns and social media to communicate with Hispanic consumers during the holiday period. At least two, JCPenney and Target, had Spanish-language Facebook pages, and several produced Spanish-language YouTube videos. However, none included Hispanic-specific modules within their major national online campaigns or promotions specifically designed to engage Hispanics and to motivate them to become involved with the brands socially.

For example, Target’s TV campaign, “My Kind of Holiday,” was extended to include a Pinterest promotion where celebrity event planner David Stark created personalized Pinterest boards for select guests in order to host the “Best. Party Ever.” But the campaign was not extended into specific promotional involvement vehicles that explicitly spoke to Hispanic holiday traditions – a missed opportunity to build Hispanic engagement and affinity.

Likewise, Macy’s ”A Million Reasons to Believe” promotion could easily have incorporated a major Hispanic component – but appeared not to have done so. Nor did JCPenney include a major Hispanic angle within its #JingleMingle promotion; nor did Kohl’s to its “Dream Receipt Giveaway” promotion or its Snapshot with Santa smartphone app.

As such, the opportunity to amplify the impact of the combined general-market/Hispanic-targeted TV campaigns was not fully realized for any of these five retail advertisers during the critical holiday shopper period.

To have made the most of this opportunity, our research for the past several years would have suggested that these advertisers develop promotional programs or contests that tie in with the overall campaign theme but that speak to Hispanic sensibilities, traditions and culture – and that provide reasons to further engage with the brand via social media channels. This type of program, when implemented, has proven to produce strong results for relatively modest investment levels.

For advertisers building Hispanic advertising campaigns, three key lessons emerge from our Holiday Advertising Effectiveness Study, along with numerous other client-sponsored studies:

1. Assume that many within your Hispanic target will engage with your general-market campaign. As such, make it inclusive of Hispanic lifestyles, needs and references.

2. Create Hispanic-specific messages that align with, and build off of, your general-market campaign and that address cultural sensibilities that will enhance your brand’s perceived affinity with this segment of the population.

3. Do not neglect the opportunities provided by digital channels. Create messages and promotions that are Hispanic-specific and use broad-based vehicles to drive Hispanic consumers to these conversations.

Missing a piece of the puzzle

A final note to the researchers among us: When researching Hispanic advertising effectiveness, do not neglect to consider, and measure, how the general-market advertising being run by the brand is interacting with the Hispanic-targeted work. If you don’t include this piece – which often is more or less ignored by those who live on Hispanic marketing teams – you will be missing an important piece of the puzzle that completes the picture of how advertising works among the Hispanic consumers you are trying to reach and influence.