Monday, April 10, 2006
The commentary below appeared in the April 2006 issue of Marketing y Medios (click on the essay title to visit the website). The MultiCultClassics response directly follows…
What’s Hispanic About It?
Some of my friends who work as creatives in the U.S. Hispanic arena have told me (or rather, have bitterly complained) how difficult it is to come up with good creative work in the market. As if finding a good idea wasn’t difficult enough, you must then go out there and find the damned “Hispanic insight,” or whatever you want to call it, in order to justify the very existence of the idea.
While I have always thought that this situation is what makes this market very complex, my fellow creatives shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the quest for a Hispanic insight was the very argument that sparked the creation of Hispanic advertising agencies.
Maybe I’m being superficial here, but I guess the sales pitch to create the first Hispanic advertising campaign in the United States went something like this: “Hispanics have a completely different culture and do not understand these anglo ads, that are not even relevant to them. Thus, we have to create a campaign that speaks directly to them, in their language.”
It was this very argument that gave rise to myriad ads featuring salsa-dancing Latinos hugging their families in a kitchen, an image that has been dominant in the largest Spanish-language TV networks such as Univision and Telemundo. Of course, those campaigns also contributed to the creation of the multi-million dollar Hispanic advertising industry as we know it.
Personally, I must confess that the argument you need a Hispanic advertising agency to speak to U.S. Hispanics always sounded a little like bullshit. That would amount to saying that only Hispanics can do relevant work for Hispanics, only women can create a relevant campaign for women, or only a billionaire can write and execute a campaign for a yacht manufacturer.
And even conceding that Hispanics are different from everybody else, I could not help but wonder: What does a creative from Argentina, raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, have to do with a poor immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico? What does a creative from Mexico City have in common with a third-generation Cuban in Miami or a Dominican born in Washington, D.C.? I mean, really, is the Hispanic market in Los Angeles similar in any way to the one in Miami? Does a first-generation, Spanish-dominant Mexican immigrant have a lot in common with his U.S.-born grandchildren?
Ultimately, all of us who work in this business, regardless of the market in which we operate, end up speaking to someone who has nothing to do with us. The question is if the argument that originally gave rise to Hispanic advertising agencies is still valid today, in this very complex market where the mere definition of Hispanic is already controversial, as it groups together people with very different backgrounds and cultures.
Stereotypes Versus World-Class Work
After combing through 215 commercial submissions with Marketing y Medios editors for this year’s Best Spots competition, I detected two things about this market. First, I saw that many advertising agencies still rely heavily on Hispanic stereotypes, hammering the Hispanic insight at all times. But I also saw work from agencies that are seeking to do world-class creative, focusing more on making the benefit of a service or product relevant, instead of making the ads “Hispanic” by forcing the concept in the work.
It was clear to me that the agencies belonging to the first group have a much easier time justifying their creative pitch to their clients, and it was also clear that the creativity shown by the second group of shops is much more superior and contributing to improve the creative reputation of the industry as a whole.
Paradoxically, though, is that — with very few exceptions — the better the idea, the more universal it tends to be and thus less “Hispanic.”
After thinking about this, I have only one doubt left (and it might sound a bit stupid). I’d like to know if more unique creativity will be beneficial in the long run, not for the consumer but for the Hispanic advertising agencies. On the one hand, this can make the clients move beyond the Hispanic myth, approving and demanding better ideas. On the other hand, though, we run the risk of weakening the very reason that gave birth to our market: What’s Hispanic about it?
Lalolópez is founder and creative director of Oveja Negra, a Mexico City-based independent advertising agency.
Unfortunately, Lalolópez failed to present many original insights or perspectives. In the multicultural marketing arena, it seems everyone keeps regurgitating the same statements over and over. Perhaps the hope is that a new audience will discover the issues that have been so prevalent for so long. Or the old audience will suddenly be roused from their lethargic cluelessness. Whatever.
But if we’re gonna rehash the same old same old, let’s serve up the whole proverbial enchilada.
Lalolópez believes pitching the first U.S. Hispanic advertising campaign incorporated the following hype: “Hispanics have a completely different culture and do not understand these anglo ads, that are not even relevant to them. Thus, we have to create a campaign that speaks directly to them, in their language.”
Well, the only ones who could confirm Lalolópez’s suspicions are the actual pioneers. Yet these folks rarely reveal the real deals. MultiCultClassics humbly suggests including the following comments when making similar presentations today:
“Our new campaign — and our professional existence — are rooted in a fundamental advertising tenet: Know Your Target.”
“We don’t offer secret formulas or tactics to create Hispanic-focused advertising. We basically use the same processes and disciplines as your mass market agency. We just do it with considerably less time and money. Less resources too.”
“If you consider the personnel of your current mass market agency, you must admit they employ few people with any connections to Hispanics. Not including the janitorial staff, of course. While we wouldn’t say that only Hispanics are qualified to target Hispanics, we do believe your typical campaigns to date have excluded Hispanics. Just as your mass market agency’s hiring practices have excluded Hispanics.”
“Plus, the mass market agency’s concepts tend to speak to the Caucasian segment of the mass market, versus communicating to the broader, multicultural audience that makes up our nation. The truth is, our work may ultimately be more relevant to the modern mass market than the stuff generated by your mass market agency. Go figure.”
“There are inherent problems with the question, ‘What’s Hispanic about it?’ The implication is that Hispanic ads must blatantly feature Hispanic cultural cues. We must avoid allowing cultural cues to become borrowed interest. Would you ever ask, ‘What’s White about it?’ when viewing concepts from your mass market agency? The only question should be, ‘Will this idea strongly appeal to the target?’”
“Hispanics have been under-represented in the media. And being a minority group, the representation is not always positive and accurate. We have a responsibility to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Additionally, we mustn’t create Hispanic advertising clichés. All of your mass market ads don’t feature square dancing. All of your Hispanic ads shouldn’t feature Salsa dancing. If you promise not to request such garbage, we’ll strive not to present it.”
“In many respects, the Hispanic consumer market is an undiscovered country. We have the opportunity to be remarkable and breakthrough. Let’s produce innovative work that everyone else wants to copy.”
“Are you engaging Hispanics for professional or political reasons? That is, do you really believe Hispanic consumers are distinct, demanding unique advertising campaigns? Or are you secretly seeking to fulfill corporate quotas and diversity initiatives? If you’re out to do the latter, that’s cool. But we hope you’re demanding that your mass market agency fully and equally participates in the endeavors.”
Anyway, those are just a few opening thoughts, which may be applied to any special-market advertising. Feel free to add more.