Old Brands, New Faces

With a galaxy of media projects and ad deals, stars like Sofia Vergara are marketing's new mainstream

Take a look at Sofia Vergara. Go ahead—everybody else is.

The Colombian bombshell is hard to miss these days: striking a pose on newsstands (Cosmopolitan, Shape), selling her fashion line at Kmart stores, hawking Diet Pepsi during the Super Bowl, and keeping us laughing out loud on ABC’s Emmy-winning Modern Family, TV’s top-rated comedy.

Vergara joins stars including Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Eva Longoria, Eva Mendes and Selena Gomez who constitute the face of the “now” America and to whom brands are turning to reach consumers across diverse and evolving cultural and demographic constituencies.

Vergara in particular is “a role model and a poster child for crossing over from Spanish-language media to mainstream U.S. success,” explains Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, a Hispanic marketing expert at the firm Walton|Isaacson in Los Angeles, referring to the star’s beginnings on telenovelas. “Almost no other Latina has done that, and she’s managed to become a powerhouse without ever forgetting who she is and where she came from. She didn’t shed her Hispanic-ness.”

That might not seem so revolutionary more than a half century since Desi Arnaz starred on CBS’ I Love Lucy, peddled cigarettes for Philip Morris, made records, cofounded a Hollywood production company and became a cultural phenomenon. And yet, seeing as one candidate vying for the Republican nomination for president alluded to Spanish as the language of the “ghetto,” it bears mentioning that this is a country where equality is, in many ways, still an evolving ideal.

Most marketers, meanwhile, are more conscious of today’s reality, as they actively court a demographic whose spending power is expected to top $1.3 trillion by 2013, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

“The question from brands and ad agencies used to be: Will that person play in Peoria—is Middle America ready?” says Newman-Carrasco, who works on brands including Lexus and Caesars Entertainment. “But people like Sofia are no longer niche, so that’s making brands more comfortable.”

Before Vergara, Jennifer Lopez’s roster of media, entertainment and endorsement projects had become legend. Recently, she signed the most extensive sponsorship and integration deal in the history of mobile device BlackBerry. The pact revolves around the new TV talent show ¡Q’Viva! The Chosen, which debuted on the Spanish-language network Univision but whose English-language iteration was picked up last month by Fox, where Lopez is also a judge on American Idol.

“She represents a very interesting aspirational figure for the Hispanic community,” David Anon, senior director of marketing, Latin America at BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, says of Lopez. “She has skin in the game because she’s a producer of this show, and she’s extremely business savvy.”

Even though Lopez may be flirting with the saturation point when it comes to celebrity endorsements—having deals with Fiat, L’Oréal and Gillette, to name just a few—the BlackBerry/¡Q’Viva! alliance takes things to a whole new level.

The sponsor’s gadgets are front and center in the program, so much so that no one watching could possibly miss the connection. Lopez talks to her co-host, ex-husband Marc Anthony, using BlackBerry Messenger, while producers share their talent discoveries with each other via BlackBerry PlayBook. All personnel on- and off-camera, including executive producer Simon Fuller, are supplied with BlackBerry products.

Anon says BlackBerry wanted something “real and relevant” instead of the typical “brought to you by” approach, a tactic with limited influence among young Hispanics, he points out. The show itself, which Anon describes as a mashup of American Idol and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for its suddenly life-changing theme, speaks to the cultural histories and connections of many U.S. Hispanics. “It’s a docu-journey built around the idea of opportunity, which really resonates with this audience,” he says. “It goes into these remote areas and discovers people from small towns who would’ve never had the chance to be heard or seen. The contestants, win or lose, will go back as inspiration for their communities.”

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