Verizon Wireless Sees Life With Viva In Hispanic Media

With cell-phone use among Hispanics approaching the same levels as the general population, Verizon Wireless, now the largest mobile carrier in the U.S. with 39 million subscribers, last week named Viva Partnership as the first Hispanic media agency on its estimated $20 million account.

The San Antonio- and Miami-based independent, which has handled some Verizon Wireless media duties in the South for two years, bested several other, undisclosed Hispanic shops for the business.

“Viva Partnership was selected because of their extensive background and capabilities where Hispanic media is concerned,” said Nick Montes, marketing director of Verizon Wireless, citing the previous work Viva did for Verizon South. He said the goal nationally is to focus on offering Hispanic consumers the same level of customer service that Verizon provides to the general population.

Verizon Wireless already operates a Spanish-language Web site, and offers bilingual customer service and programs such as wireless data applications, some 30 of which are in Spanish.

GlobalHue in Southfield, Mich., handles the telecom’s Hispanic creative. Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson in New York works on general-market creative. Publicis Groupe’s Zenith Media in New York handles the client’s $300 million mainstream media business.

“Over the past five years, a great deal of change has taken place in terms of the marketing surrounding Hispanic cell-phone use,” said Linda Gonzalez, president of Viva. “Past thinking was the way to market cellular phones to them was to focus on emergency use.”

Gonzalez added that today, “Hispanics are buying a wireless phone more out of necessity, because they have become a part of American life.”

February figures from Scarborough Research show that 64 percent of Hispanic households nationwide have cell-phone service, just behind the 66 percent average for the general population. The percentage is higher in the major Hispanic markets. In Miami, for example, 74 percent of the Latino population has cell phones, compared with 72 percent for the Miami metropolitan area as a whole, according to Scarborough.

Monthly household cellular bills for Hispanics are higher than the country as a whole, at $67 versus $60, according to Scarborough. Hispanic wireless subscribers are 22 percent more likely than all wireless subscribers to switch carriers within the next year.

“I don’t think that anyone is doing much [for Hispanics] when you compare how specialized the telecoms are,” said Carlos Santiago, president of strategic consultancy Santiago Solutions Group in New York. “They have not replicated that from a wireless point of view. But the one who breaks into it will end up getting market share.”

Verizon Wireless is not the only telecom targeting Hispanics, especially in the predominant medium, national TV. In 2003, Cingular spent $10 million on Univision and Telemundo ads, Verizon Wireless spent $5 million, and AT&T Wireless spent $2 million, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.