Late last month the Federal Trade Commission and Florida Attorney General’s Office obtained a consent order against defendants who used Spanish-language television and radio spots to advertise a deceptive prize promotion. Consumers who called in response to the ads were told that they had won a valuable vacation package and asked to pay $200-$400 in taxes or fees. But no one received the promised prize.
The U.S. Census Bureau says that over 55 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. There are several dozen languages spoken by at least 100,000 Americans. Of course, the most widely-spoken non-English language by far is Spanish – accounting for over 60% of all Americans who speak a language other than English.
The nation’s Latino population has grown to over 50 million – that’s double what it was in 1990 -- and Spanish-language advertising media have grown rapidly as well. There are a couple of dozen daily Spanish-language newspapers in this country, over 400 weeklies, and a number of popular Spanish-language magazines . As of 2009, there were 1323 Spanish-language radio stations in the United States.
The largest Spanish language television network in the U.S. has an average primetime audience of some 1.9 million viewers aged 18 to 49 during the 2010-2011 television season. That’s not all that far behind NBC (3.1 million viewers in that age group) and ABC (3.2 million). The company's annual revenues (including 70 radio stations) now exceed $2 billion – that’s a lot of TV and radio commercials.
Given the growth of Spanish-language advertising in this country, it’s not surprising that government agencies have devoted an increasing amount of attention to that advertising. It’s been almost a decade since the Federal Trade Commission announced its “Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Initiative” to address the growing problem of deceptive advertising aimed at Spanish-speaking consumers and the FTC has since brought a number of cases challenging Spanish-language advertising. State attorneys general have also been active.
The self-regulatory groups are doing their part as well. Both the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (“NAD”) and its direct-response advertising counterpart, the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (“ERSP”), have handled challenges involving Spanish-language advertising claims. And, the federal and state courts are ready, willing, and able to adjudicate private lawsuits involving deceptive advertising regardless of whether that advertising was in English or Spanish.
If you’re an advertiser, do you devote as much care to reviewing your Spanish-language advertising as you do to reviewing your English-language ads? And do you monitor your competitors’ Spanish-language advertising as closely as you monitor their English-language ads?