Response Magazine: “Hooked On English Show Shot In Mexico”

By Thomas Haire

MEXICO CITY, When Mark Mashaw, vice president of marketing at Baltimore-based Hooked on Phonics Inc./Smarterville, saw the success of the company's flagship product in non-English speaking nations, he first considered the idea of marketing a new product under the name "Hooked on English." "When we acquired Hooked on Phonics in 2005, we noticed that the product had gained some success in retail as a learn-to-read product overseas," he says. "Costco tested the product in a couple of Asian locations, and results came back extremely strong, even better than our strong U.S. sales."

According to Mashaw, this interest in such products "fueled the creative process" for the "Hooked on English" product that is just now rolling out in a series of international markets. However, the product is not the only unique thing about this new long-form DRTV campaign. A traditional long-form production was shot domestically in English by Boonton, N.J.-based Concepts TV Productions. However, marketers also wanted a Spanish-language show for the booming Latin American market, and Concepts TV teamed with Mashaw's group to shoot on location in Mexico City earlier in 2007.

"We wanted real testimonials from real Mexican families, in order to be as authentic as possible, we wanted to avoid using the U.S. immigrant population that may already have some grasp of English," says Collette Liantonio, founder of Concepts TV. "We wanted to introduce the product to Mexican families in Mexico with kids who needed to learn to speak English. We had great assistance from a team down there in finding the right families to use and speak about the product. In the testimonials, the children were more articulate in English than their parents!"

Concepts TV's Jaime Schneider was a producer on the project, and contends shooting in Mexico was a "great experience." She adds, "Authenticity was crucial with the market this product is going to appeal to."

Working with a Mexican crew on location, Liantonio, Mashaw and their team were able to shoot testimonials in users' homes. The team also enlisted the services of Martha Debayle, a well-known radio and TV personality and parenting expert. Mashaw says Debayle, who launched a popular parenting magazine and Web site under the name bbmundo (www.bbmundo.com), is "the face" for the product. "She's known in Mexico for her perfect English," he adds. "She's an amazing combination, a media persona and parenting expert. We don't have someone similar in the U.S."

Mashaw calls Concepts TV a "creative and flexible partner" that was "very responsive through the process." For her part, Liantonio credits Edwin Garrubbo of Creative Commerce for bringing her company into the process.

"Because of our ability to produce in Spanish and English, Ed got us involved with the idea of bringing this product to every country in the world," she says. "Over a series of months, we interviewed with Mark and made a deal. The excitement for this product on our end is the international aspect, we're talking about French and German versions right now."

Garrubbo adds, "We wanted to work with Concepts TV because of its decades in 'selling experience.' Of course, the show needed to look good, but it also really needed to sell. Concepts TV is expert at both. We approach every business and product as an international opportunity. Therefore, we had no problem suggesting that 'Hooked on English' start internationally and then work its way back into the United States."