Got Spanish?

Anita Santiago helps advertisers bridge the gap between Anglo and Latino cultures

In 1993, when the California Milk Processor Board sought an advertising agency to translate its popular "Got milk?" campaign into Spanish, California adwoman Anita Santiago pointed out a problem. In Spanish, the question takes on a considerably different meaning: "Are you lactating?" Instead, Santiago suggested a folksy campaign, with the slogan "And you, have you given them milk today?" California's dairy industry has been a client of Santiago's ever since. "She's definitely not afraid to voice her opinion. I prize that," says Jeff Manning, executive director of the milk board.

The nation's 31 million Hispanics have some $350 billion in annual buying power. The question for Corporate America is how to reach them. Enter Anita Santiago Advertising Inc. The 12-person, Santa Monica (Calif.)-based agency specializes in negotiating the differences between Anglo and Latino cultures. It's a skill that Santiago, 46, honed growing up in a bicultural household near Caracas, Venezuela. "I can see culture from both sides," she says. "You can't learn that in a book."

Santiago started her advertising career in Caracas, but, frustrated by limited opportunities, moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Signing on with a small Hispanic ad firm, she became an expert in reaching Latino audiences, winning the first-ever Clio award for a Spanish-language campaign in the U.S.--a spot for a now-merged Baby Bell. She ventured out on her own in 1987, attracting clients like Wells Fargo, IKEA, and HomeBase. Revenues climbed from $935,000 in 1997 to $1.9 million in 1999, earning the company a spot on Hispanic Magazine's list of the 100 fastest-growing Latino-owned businesses.

These days, most large agencies have Hispanic specialists and Santiago is no longer so unusual. Complicating matters are cultural differences among various Hispanic communities. But Santiago notes that all groups--whether Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican--are united by Spanish. Rather than assimilating into the mainstream, Hispanic culture "is not going away. It's getting stronger." And advertisers are finally getting the message.

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