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AOL Launches Spanish-Language Service

October 01, 2003|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

AOL's new mantra is: Tienes e-mail.

The Dulles, Va.-based company today officially launches a Spanish-language service to tap into one of the fastest-growing segments of Internet users -- Latinos.

Until now, AOL offered only limited content in Spanish. AOL Latino includes an array of services in Spanish, including welcome screens, toolbars, parental controls and online homework help. News and entertainment sections also play to Latino interests. For example, soccer and boxing -- not football or baseball -- top the sports offerings.

"We're reaching out to a country within a country," said David Wellisch, general manager of AOL Latino. "It's a complex market, and the culture is so much more than just a language."

The service is part of AOL's attempt to bolster its customer base of dial-up Internet users at a time when more people are defecting to high-speed service. Key to the company's strategy of maintaining its base are recruiting and retaining customers by tailoring packages for specific demographic groups.

Earlier this week, the company launched Kids Online to appeal to children ages 6 to 12 with customized features and content from other AOL Time Warner Inc. properties, such as the Cartoon Network and Sports Illustrated for Kids.

AOL is not the only company reaching out to the estimated 29 million U.S. residents who speak Spanish at home. Satellite TV providers offer Spanish-language packages, and cable companies have been gearing up their marketing efforts. Yahoo Inc. has a Yahoo En Espanol site and Microsoft Corp. two years ago introduced an MSN Explorer in Spanish.

These businesses also are chasing the estimated $60 million that will be spent this year advertising on the Internet in Spanish. Analysts predict that amount could double within five years as more companies try to move into the Latino market.

"This is a whole new advertising category that didn't exist a couple of years ago," said Liz Castells-Heard, president of Castells & Asociados Advertising in Los Angeles.

Analysts estimate 12.5 million U.S. Latinos are online, a 25% increase over 2000. In addition, Latinos make up one of the nation's fastest-growing populations: It's estimated they will make up 20% of the population by 2020.

"Corporate America cannot ignore this market," Wellisch said.

AOL currently has 2.3 million Latino subscribers. Wellisch said the company was the leading Internet service provider for Latinos, with an estimated 45% share of the market.

Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research, said AOL's marketing effort was more than an attempt to replenish its customer base for dial-up service.

"Once users get onto the service, they are more likely to stay, even when they decide to go to broadband," Li said. "AOL is trying to create a strong base of loyalty."

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