Break Media is no stranger to niche marketing. The Los Angeles-based company, which builds websites targeted at guys 18 to 34, runs eight sites about things such as Nascar, cage fighting, and beautiful women. Their success has made Break Media one of comScore's top 50 Web properties in terms of unique visitors; last year, revenue grew 90 percent.
Now, the company is taking aim at a much more lucrative niche: the Hispanic population. It's uncharted territory—and a potentially risky move—for the eight-year-old company, which is run by white, non-Spanish speakers. After all, ethnicity is a bit more complicated than sports. One misunderstanding, and you risk alienating customers or losing them altogether. But despite the high stakes, Break Media's CEO, Keith Richman, says the opportunity to expand to that market was too good to pass up.
Over the past decade, the Hispanic population in the U.S. has grown 43 percent, faster than any other demographic. Other studies estimate Hispanics have $1.1 trillion in buying power, a figure expected to grow some 50 percent by 2016. But as the community balloons, marketing to it gets tougher. It's not enough to add Google Translate to a website or slap a Spanish label on products anymore.
"Marketing to Hispanics is nothing new—what's new is businesses are trying to connect with them at a cultural level, instead of with language alone," says Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University. The grocery giant Publix recently took a stab at it, launching five now thriving Publix Sabor stores in Florida. Less successful, Korzenny says, was an attempt by Men's Wearhouse to market to Hispanic businessmen by selling traditional Hispanic items, such as guayabera shirts. "If I work in an office with American guys in America, I'm going to wear what they're wearing," he says. "The strongest differentiators for businesses are cultural insights like that."
Break Media's approach is a site called TuVez. The impetus came from the company's sales team, which feared that it was missing out on hundreds of millions of ad dollars set aside specifically for Hispanics. McDonald's and Toyota, for instance, both were eager to reach young Latino men. "We couldn't even get a seat at the table," says Andrew Budkofsky, a top sales executive at the company. Meanwhile, Jonathan Small, Break Media's senior vice president of editorial content, noticed that most websites for Latino Americans were limited to news, telenovelas, and celebrity gossip. "Those sites were light on what we do best—humor and video for guys," Small says.
Once Richman gave the green light, Small oversaw TuVez's creation. His first move: hiring Fidel Martinez, a 26-year-old Mexican American editor from the Latino news site Guanabee.com, to be the site's managing editor. ("Being a Jewish guy from Westchester County, I didn't feel that I was an expert," Small says.)
Small organized a series of focus groups of young Hispanic men with different national origins. He and Martinez gauged the groups' opinions on story ideas and video content. Not surprisingly, topics such as women, cars, games, and all sports—except golf—went over well, as did classic movies and old-school music. The groups also voted on the site's proposed logo, a cartoon of a Mexican wrestler, and whether he should be wearing a mask. "Those are the little decisions I wasn't equipped to make," says Small.
Then they got around to the site's name. TuVez means your turn. Says Martinez: "It's like saying, 'It's your turn, Hispanics.'" The groups also responded to the similarly pronounced but differently spelled tu ves, which means you see or check this out.
Meanwhile, Budkofsky got to work rounding up advertisers. He talked with auto companies, movie studios, and video-game makers, and landed Toyota, Nissan, and Universal Studios as the site's first advertising partners. He also formed relationships with several Hispanic-oriented ad agencies. "There was enthusiasm across the board," says Budkofsky. "We're talking about a market that was really underserved."
Choosing a language for the site was tougher. The sales team said its clients preferred Spanish, while the editorial team, especially Martinez, insisted upon English. Latino teens, he argued, constitute a distinct generation, one that has been brought up speaking English. His argument prevailed. "We're Hispanic, but we're also American," Martinez says.
On October 13, 2010, just six weeks after Martinez joined the company, TuVez.com went live. Like many of Break Media's sites, TuVez covers sports, gadgets, entertainment—and, of course, girls—but with a decidedly young, irreverent, Latino voice. The sport of choice is soccer, George Lopez is a running punch line, and the name Sofia Vergara is always trending. Its stories have headlines such as Top Five Latinos in Sci-Fi and Soccer Brawl Breaks Out in Costa Rican League. Within two months of its launch, the site had received 1.7 million unique visits and 6.5 million page views. Most of that traffic has come from the 75 million people who visit Break Media's other sites every month. But some serious word of mouth seems to be happening as well: Break's total Hispanic audience has grown 58 percent since TuVez launched.
So far, Small says, TuVez has yet to fall into any of the major traps he initially feared, though his writers are quick to skewer those from other sites who do get things wrong. When the hosts of BBC's Top Gear recently poked fun at a new Mexican sports car, TuVez called the hosts "straight up racist." And in September, when ESPN and the NFL celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with a traditional Mexican song and dance at halftime, TuVez called it ignorant. "[Mexico's] just one of 20 countries that constitute Latin America," a blogger wrote. "I don't need a large media company and a professional sports organization telling me how and when to celebrate my heritage."
That lesson, Small says, has been crucial to maintaining TuVez's credibility. "There's a big BS detector in this community," he says. "If you shove the Latino thing down people's throats, you're going to fail."