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Charlotte-based AC&M Group forging cultural connections for Bojangles’

Bojangles' debuts ¡Es Bo Time! commercial

Bojangles' and Charlotte-based AC&M Group, the restaurant chain's agency of record for the U.S. Hispanic market, worked together to define the chain's new Spanish-language tagline, ¡Es Bo Time!, which debuts in this commercial airing on Spanish-la
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Bojangles' and Charlotte-based AC&M Group, the restaurant chain's agency of record for the U.S. Hispanic market, worked together to define the chain's new Spanish-language tagline, ¡Es Bo Time!, which debuts in this commercial airing on Spanish-la

As founder and CEO of Charlotte-based AC&M Group, a firm with a deep background in advertising to Hispanics, Jaime Cardenas is familiar with a particular scenario:

It’s the late, “translate-this” requests from clients who think reworking an ad from English to Spanish is all that’s needed for an effective promotion.

Cardenas says fortunately for him, he’s also worked with companies who get it. They appreciate his firm’s deliberate style of researching audiences so that businesses can reach customers in a culturally relevant way.

That’s the approach the firm is taking now with Bojangles’ Inc., which has tapped AC&M as its agency of record for the U.S. Hispanic market.

AC&M is now conducting research into who the Charlotte-based restaurant chain’s current and future Hispanic customers are, what motivates them to shop at certain times of the day and how they use mobile technology for a multimedia campaign combining traditional and online media. Terms the AC&M and Bojangles’ collaboration were not disclosed.

“We like it when companies are committed enough to take a couple of months to study the markets,” says Cardenas.

“They are one of the clients that wants to do this right...They are actually asking us, what should we be doing?”

AC&M has already come up with a new tagline -- ¡Es Bo Time! -- now seen and heard in a commercial airing on Spanish-language channels for the chicken-and-biscuits chain’s new BojAngler fish sandwich.

It’s an effort that illustrates the buying power of Hispanic consumers, and the steps big companies are taking to attract these customers. A 2015 Nielsen report projects Hispanic-buying power in the U.S. to hit $1.7 trillion by 2019.

Once AC&M completes its research, which is expected in the spring, the chain will then know how to approach its television, radio, digital, outdoor and social-media advertising, according to Doug Poppen, senior director of marketing and corporate communications for Bojangles’.

“All of these insights will help us make decisions about how to communicate with both first-generation Hispanic consumers, but also second- and third-generation Hispanic consumers whose primary language may be English,” Poppen said via email.

Beyond billboards

For its Bojangles’ work, AC&M will use the broader marketing strategies it has developed since its beginnings as a specialized firm called Just Hispanics.

That was the company that Cardenas and classmate/company co-founder Alfredo Amparan developed out of the business incubator at Wake Forest University. Cardenas moved to Winston-Salem in 1998 from Coahuila, Mexico, where he worked for Hanes as a mechanical engineer at one of its plants. Attending Wake Forest allowed Cardenas to stay with Winston-Salem-based Hanesbrands Inc., while also pursuing his goal of an MBA.

Cardenas’ and Amparan’s work focused on migration patterns from specific towns in Mexico to parts of the U.S. They used that data to help companies tap into that growth in the Hispanic market.

Charlotte-based Bojangles' turned to another Charlotte business, AC&M Group, to be its agency of record for the U.S. Hispanic market. CEO Jaime Cardenas talks about the marketing agency's mission of forging cultural connections. Video by Celeste S

Through additional partners Pacino Mancillas, director of brand integration, and Vicente Navarro, vice president of business development, the company evolved into a global marketing firm. Now with 25 people who work out of an office on West Morehead Street, the company brands itself as a cultural, soccer and social media marketing agency.

Current clients include national companies like Charlotte-based drywall company National Gypsum, power-tool company DeWalt, and paint company Sherwin-Williams. Former clients include Mooresville-based Lowe’s Home Improvement.

For client Matthews-based Family Dollar, Cardenas says the firm has been doing more African-American initiatives lately, including proprietary research to help promote Fabulous, a beauty products line by the retailer.

Other representation includes sporting-goods focused Soccer.com, and of companies looking to maximize their sponsorships of Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer, including current and former clients New Balance, Pepsi, 7Up and American Airlines.

He’s learned it’s smart marketing to use more than a language-only approach to reach customers.

Here’s why: There’s the inevitable, we-speak-English-in-this-country blowback from some customers over Spanish-language signage, Cardenas says. So having more advertising tools gives companies more strategies.

Another reason is what statistics show. Cardenas says two-thirds of the Hispanic market in the U.S. was born here. “Those guys are more comfortable in English...but you can still communicate with them in a culturally relevant way.”

That’s the approach the firm took with the National Gypsum promotion, debuting El Chapulin Colorado, a four-decade-old character from a comedy television series who transcended Hispanic nationalities. Known in English as “the red grasshopper,” the character with a reputation for “honesty, integrity and the ability to get the job done” was chosen to appeal to Hispanic construction workers, according to a 2007 press release.

That packaging image would go over the heads of customers unfamiliar with the character, says Cardenas.

But if you’re Hispanic, “there’s an emotional connection right there.”

Hispanic buying-power booms

Clients seeking to make the biggest impact with their Hispanic-promotional dollars tend to focus on the biggest markets, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Miami and others, Cardenas says.

Among the top 500 U.S. advertisers, spending that targets Hispanic media rose from $4.3 billion in 2010 to $7.1 billion in 2014 - a 63 percent jump, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

Still, Cardenas notes that “Charlotte comes to the attention to a lot of people,” too - especially “when you look at the growth markets.”

In Mecklenburg County, the non-white Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and 2014, more than double the white growth rate, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year, Hispanics made up 12.7 percent of the county's population, an estimated 128,473 people among 1.01 million residents.

With most of its 650-plus restaurants primarily in the Southeast, Poppen said the chain selected AC&M Group among several agencies after hearing about the firm from other large advertisers in the region. “We felt confident that they were best suited to help Bojangles’ maximize our connection with Hispanic customers,” according to Poppen.

Bojangles’ collaboration with AC&M makes good business sense, according to Roger Beahm, executive director of the Wake Forest School of Business Center for Retail Innovation.

Companies used to take a less-sophisticated approach in advertising: “People used to dub English language commercials with a translated voice over,” Beahm said.

“That’s not really effective, because it doesn’t really acknowledge the alternative language as being that important.” Beahm said. “You really do need to create messaging that’s specifically aimed at the market.”

By crafting culturally-relevant messages that AC&M is known for, “You’re more likely to generate a positive response,” Beahm says.

“‘ These people care about me, they take the time to speak to me in nuances in my culture that demonstrate authenticity,’ and as a result of that, you get higher brand equity.”

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