To Dub or Not to Dub?

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By: Marcelino Miyares, Jr., Director Mercury en español

Something happened in the sports world in mid-May that will go down as a watershed moment in media. It wasn’t about the NBA playoffs or the NFL draft. It was a Sports Center advertisement on ESPN.

For 17 years, the “This is SportsCenter” advertisements have always been in English. But when Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano followed the path of Tony Romo, Albert Pujols, the Manning family, and dozens of others around the ESPN headquarters, giving high-fives to staff members, it was the first time ever that the ad was broadcast in Spanish, and it marked the first time the network showed a Spanish ad on both ESPN Deportes, its Spanish-language sports channel, and its English-language sister channel ESPN2.

Take note that ESPN opted not to dub a SportsCenter spot. It created a new one in Spanish and it took them 17 years to do it. Of course, like most media, ESPN has seen a huge Hispanic audience spike over the past five years. For ESPN, it’s up 15 percent. Each quarter, 29 million Hispanics connect with ESPN either through the cable channels, websites or apps, according to the network. Some 60 percent of those viewers will watch only ESPN’s English-language channels, while 20 percent watch only ESPN Deportes.

The ESPN stats and language change mark an important milestone, and it should be noted by all Hispanic marketers. Some reasons are obvious. One is not: It brings up new questions about language strategy for TV spots, and specifically, direct response TV spots. I’ve seen several clients recently struggle with the issue of dubbing. In short: All commercials on a Hispanic-language program for DRTV should ideally be spoken in Spanish. But is there room for dubbing? Should natural language be the only option, even when budgets are tight? Does dubbing work better when the show it appears on is dubbed? The answer depends on several conditions that I’ll address here. The questions are important to answer as the audience for Hispanic TV and Hispanic DRTV continues to grow.

First, let’s take a look at the language differences at the household level. According to Nielsen, approximately 23 percent of U.S. Hispanics speak Spanish exclusively at home, while 77 percent speak at least some Spanish at home and only 53 percent claim to speak English “very well.” Therefore, Spanish-language ads are likely necessary to effectively market to U.S. Hispanics. That means DRTV ads that are targeted toward the Hispanic audience at the very least must be dubbed in Spanish. But we also know that the Hispanic audience demands authenticity in their advertising. Dubbing doesn’t mean an ad cannot be effective, but it does mean it’s perceived as being less authentic.

A Millward Brown study released late last year addresses this. Its research showed that ads adapted for the Hispanic audience with an original Spanish soundtrack are more widely received and often, general market ads (i.e., dubbed TV ads) may not suffice. It claims: “Hispanic respondents may outwardly reject ads that are mere translations of English-language advertising, as the setting and behaviors do not commonly reflect Hispanic culture, lifestyles and values.” I think that might be a little severe. I agree with the later Millward Brown statement that shows that message understanding scores can tend to be lower for Hispanic targeted ads than general market ads. It’s simply more difficult in the case of DRTV to layer in culturally relevant content with an effective single-minded brand message. However, this does not mean a dubbed ad is bad, it’s just not the best case scenario.

In DRTV, we recommend that ads are not dubbed. That’s our best case scenario. In fact, Univision won’t run dubbed DRTV ads. But there are cases where dubbing has been used successfully, and it will continue to be used. What I see in the current market shows that engagement, response rates and collected data are better for ads that are crafted for the Hispanic viewer in terms of messaging, product positioning and language. The evolution of the Hispanic DRTV market definitely points toward authenticity.

Having said that, let me make the following points about authentic language and dubbing:

1. It should not be a barrier to DRTV. Recording an entire new voice track – and maybe even an entire new Hispanic version of DRTV ad – adds cost and can be a budget buster for some companies. If dubbing is a budgetary necessity, then dub. It will still accomplish the ROI, data collection and response advantages of DRTV. And it gets the brand and product in front of the Hispanic audience at a much more efficient cost.

2. Don’t test. As said earlier, non-dubbed ads will perform better. Don’t stack the two up against each other. That’s a waste of money. If you have the money for an authentic language track, spend it.

3. If you have to dub, do it right. Don’t hire an actor to read a cold voiceover script and think that a Hispanic audience won’t be put off by that. Make sure the dubbed script takes into account the Hispanic audience, the differences in language and the viewer experience. We’ve all seen Japanese monster movies. Be professional if you’re going to dub a voiceover. Make sure the outcome is still data collection and sales. Don’t assume that because the audience is tuned into a Hispanic show that they won’t flip the channel or tune out because a DRTV spot is unprofessionally produced.

4. Consider the hybrid. I’ve seen increasing interest in these “two language ads.” DRTV has a chance to embrace crossover advertising. It’s possible to use original Spanish footage in some parts of a DRTV ad, especially long form, and then revert to dubbed English where it is effective. It can be an attention getter and positively impacts results. With more than 77 percent of Hispanic households claiming to be bi-lingual, they can relate.

So, from ESPN to Univision, the issue of authentic language versus dubbing is out there. For DRTV, it should not be an obstacle, but it should be an important consideration when planning budget, outcome and future strategy. We are quickly moving into a media environment where we can address Spanish-language ads to consumers watching English language programming. Reverse crossover is a reality, just watch ESPN.

(As printed on, August 2012 )

Marcelino Miyares is director of Mercury en español, the first full service Hispanic direct response specialty practice in the U.S., where he has expanded the agency’s current in-language direct response television offerings to include a full suite of Hispanic, in- language general market, integrated direct response services.  Miyares has developed marketed communications programs for varied clients such as Body-by-Jake, Citibank, MCI, Signature Group, Montgomery Ward, PepsiCo, Ameritech, PharMor, American Stores, Beneficial Finance, Chrysler, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Toys R Us, Philip Morris.

Contact him at


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