McCann Offers Peek at Lives of Latin America’s Poor

Monday, December 8, 2008

By Antonio Regalado

During presentations at McCann Worldgroup’s office in Bogot?, Colombia, staffers have taken to letting a chicken loose to hunt and peck around clients’ feet.

In Mexico City, the big advertising agency hired a local merchant to install racks of potato chips and otherwise transform its conference room into a bodega, or corner grocery store. Clients lunch on tacos served on a plastic table mat.

The point of these exercises: to give big marketers some insight into the lifestyles of Latin America’s low-income consumer.

Executives at McCann, which is owned by Interpublic Group, are unveiling this month a new division, called Barrio, that will specialize in marketing products to those on the bottom rungs of the economy, from Mexico to Chile.

McCann’s move comes as multinational companies increasingly consider such “emerging consumers” as a big opportunity. But these consumers’ tastes, habits and needs remain largely an enigma to global marketers.

Barrio’s launch follows a two-year, $2.5 million research project in which McCann sent employees across Latin America to live for a week with families earning $350 to $700 a month. The agency says it amassed 700 hours of video recordings and thousands of questionnaires, hoping to develop a nuanced picture of how consumption works in the region’s poorer districts.

“The major discovery is that the way to connect with this target is different than with the middle class, so you need a specialized unit,” says Luca Lindner, head of McCann’s Latin American operations.

Reaching Out to New Customers

A trumpet and bongo-drum jingle airing in Mexico advertises an inexpensive powdered milk brand called Nido Rindes. Its verses play on the Spanish word rinde, which means both “long lasting” and “productivity.” The jingle suggests consumers of the milk will be more productive, as well.

McCann’s research is helping Nestl? SA, the big Swiss food manufacturer, market Nido Rindes Diario, a brand of fortified powdered-milk product. Nicolas Guzman, a McCann executive vice president here, says one of Nestl?’s challenges was to overcome the perception that milk powder is a specialized formula for babies, and too expensive for the whole family to drink.

McCann says its research helped position the product. One of its study’s major findings is that for the poor in Latin America, food means survival. “The study found that the meaning of food is energy and strength to work, to carry through the day, to not get sick,” says Mr. Guzman. So McCann recorded a trumpet and bongo-drum radio jingle whose verses are a play on the Spanish word rinde, which means both long-lasting and productiveness. The jingle suggests consumers of the product, and their money, will “produce more.”

The idea of targeting low-income consumers may raise some eyebrows. But greater access to industrialized products like deodorant, and packaged food, can improve their physical and “psychological welfare,” says McCann’s Mr. Lindner. “We do not pretend to be Mother Teresa,” he adds.

Advertisers say practical insights into low-income groups are hard to come by. “A lot of people talk about the emerging consumer, the bottom of the pyramid, but no one really has a structured approach,” says Marcelo Melchior, head of Nestl? Central America. “We have to do a lot for ourselves, and sometimes fall on our face doing it.”

In Mexico, Nestl? decided to sell Nido Rindes Diario exclusively through mom-and-pop stores, not supermarkets, says Mr. Guzman. That decision came after McCann found that local shopkeepers exert outsize influence in tightly knit, low-income neighborhoods. “It’s the shopkeeper who can recommend or disavow a product,” he says.

McCann has been holding promotional events for bodega owners throughout southeast Mexico, and plans a TV campaign featuring a shopkeeper tutoring a local mother in the benefits of the powdered-milk product.

Continue reading “McCann Offers Peek at Lives of Latin America’s Poor

Source: Wall Street Journal (link opens in a new window)