Reaching Latinos: Agencies Update Ad Approach

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Eliot Tiegel

Special to TelevisionWeek

Hispanic ad agencies are responding to the cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of the nation’s exploding Hispanic population with a new wave of creative concepts in TV commercials.

Those include more precisely targeted ads, more contemporary story lines and a greater use of hip new musical styles, all designed to connect with young Hispanic adults. Generic 30-second spots are also being updated to appeal to acculturated second- and third-generation bilingual Latinos.

While Spanish-language marketers are dealing with these creative alterations, they are also under siege from major Anglo agencies, which seek to siphon away growing Hispanic media budgets. “I’m not really threatened,” said Mauricio Galvan, The Vidal Partnership’s VP and creative director, “but it’s also a mistake to feel safe.” Of the encroachment, Catarino Lopez, chief creative officer for San Antonio-based Bromley Communications, contends agencies specializing in Spanish-language ad campaigns are better qualified to deal with the complexity of the marketplace, but adds the caveat: “I don’t feel threatened but at the same time, it’s a sign of the times.”

An additional issue is how to reach bilinguals. “There’s a debate over whether we need English-only ads to target this audience,” said Court Stroud, Azteca America’s senior VP of sales and marketing. “Hispanics tend to respond more passionately to Spanish-language television,” he said. Agency executives emphasize this point by noting the hard line taken by market leader Univision, which carries only Spanish-language commercials.

Whether doing a generic or a regional spot, the key story line elements have to be emotional and insightful, stressed Jose Molla, owner and creative director of Miami’s La Comunidad, which walked away with a record six honors at Advertising Age’s seventh annual Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards ceremonies in New York, held Sept. 30 in conjunction with a meeting of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

A commercial for Citibank revolved around the concept that money plays a particularly important and specific role in the lives of immigrant Hispanics. “They make sacrifices and send money back to their families, and that’s a big deal. It also shows they’re doing well,” Mr. Molla said. Casting commercials in Miami, where the agency is located, is a problem “because the talent pool is very small. So most of the time we go to L.A. or New York. It’s hard to find talented actors who speak perfect Spanish in the U.S.”

Unlike other agencies, La Comunidad rarely does regional spots focused on a specific ethnicity. “If it’s a national product, we try to use neutral Spanish, which means no slang. If the spot is for Mexicans, we go deeper into their language and, of course, cast Mexican actors,” Mr. Molla said.

He said that the 2000 U.S. Census, which revealed the extent of the Hispanic population and its spending power, stimulated mainstream agencies to go after Hispanic media budgets. “There’s always this dynamic where you have to prove your work and prove you are the best way to reach the Hispanic market,” Mr. Molla said.

Powerhouse New York agency The Vidal Partnership responds to the challenge from mainstream agencies by stressing to clients that “It takes much more than a few people” to deal with the complexities of the nation’s diverse Hispanic community, said Mauricio Galvan, the agency’s VP and creative director. The agency was the recipient of three Advertising Age Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards.

Mr. Galvan said Hispanic agencies are best attuned to dealing with the modern image of U.S. Hispanics, whose mixture of Spanish and English cultures places them in “two worlds.” The challenge is to find the right formula of story line, graphics and music that connects with their backgrounds and lifestyles, he said.

“When we cast actors, we’re looking for the way they act and dress,” he said. “The pool is not as big as for the general market, so it’s very common to see the same actors at casting calls” and the same faces showing up on the screen. “The visuals can be fast-paced or slow, depending on the idea,” he added.

Heineken, Mr. Galvan noted, wants music relevant to the target audience, staying away from “mainstream Latin music” in favor of “being a little bit underground.” One Heineken commercial used classical music. Mr. Galvan said Vidal stays away from trends “because people see them over and over” and they lose their freshness.

The Vidal Partnership shoots the majority of its commercials in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Argentina and Mexico have also been locales for a client list that includes DirecTV, MasterCard, Home Depot, Nissan and Heineken. A 30-second spot can cost from $300,000 to $900,000. The award-winning 2004 total-darkness “Blackout” spot for Heineken cost “less than $10,000,” Mr. Galvan said.

English or Spanish?

How do marketers reach bilingual Hispanics? One way is to create a commercial for Anglo TV, said Bromley Communications’ Mr. Lopez. “It’s fair game to go after Hispanics in English. People like myself tend to navigate in both cultures. We’ve done spots for Coors targeting the Mexican consumer in Spanish and gone after young males in Spanish and English for Burger King. Two key outlets for English are Telemundo’s mun2 network and SíTV.”

Today’s commercials are aimed to a lesser degree at Hispanics whom Mr. Lopez calls “one-dimensional,” and more at a person who has lived in the U.S. a bit longer, is a little more educated and lives in two cultures. “Everything used to be pan-Hispanic,” Mr. Lopez said, “with a neutral accent. Now it’s OK to show someone with a dialect from Argentina, Colombia, Cuba and Mexico. We’re getting away from stereotypical themes. Music is no longer just mariachi or flamenco guitar. We use reggaeton (a currently popular mixture of rap with Jamaican reggae and electronic instruments) in some instances … throw in a jazz or techno beat.”

Finding new faces to reflect the broadened Latin society is often challenging. “While the market is growing,” Mr. Lopez said, “the talent pool isn’t. We’re going out on the street, trying to turn over rocks to find new talent. By filming in Mexico and South America, even in Canada, it opens our casting opportunities. When we do casting calls, actors tend to be of light skin. But now we’re seeing a little bit of diversity from people with an Afro or Caribbean background.”

The modern Latin culture is driving major trends in Spanish-language commercials, said Hector Orci, CEO, co-founder and co-chair of La Agencia de Orci & Asociados in Los Angeles. “There’s less storytelling and more vignettes and a lot more humor,” Mr. Orci said. “There’s less creative barriers, more musical styles which are not generational, visuals whose modern editing goes beyond cuts and dissolves and production budgets which in the last five years are up 25 to 50 percent. There’s also a tendency to be more sexual in dress and behavior.”

The Orci agency works in both Spanish and English for clients American Honda, Verizon, Allstate and Johnson & Johnson. “If it’s more than one cast, that’s what it is; we don’t do any overdubs,” Mr. Orci said. English-language spots are run on local channels, selected markets on the cable networks, S%ED;TV and on UPN and Fox, which have shows that register a high viewing index among Latinos.

Gary Bassell, The Bravo Group’s chairman and CEO, is philosophical about the creative trends in advertising. “Our biggest movement is looking beyond our culture to broader things like the human truth,” the New York executive said. “The challenge has always been finding the ‘universal touch points.’ In the early years, we were paid to differentiate differences [from the mainstream market] and now we’re looking for things we share in common.”

Mr. Bassell, the former president and founding partner of La Comunidad, speaks of seeking “human insight rather than
the Latino insight,” looking for behavior that’s common to more than one segment of the Latino population.

“Every marketer is trying to address this challenge, opportunity or problem their brand faces. We kind of pushed ourselves into this corner where everything had to be about our culture,” Mr. Bassell said. “We can walk away from an approach that’s always defined us for three decades, where all advertising did was hold up a mirror to the Latino consumer and said, ‘We recognize what defines you.’ Now we’re looking beyond being Hispanic to define what makes us a consumer.”

Azteca America’s Mr. Stroud appreciates the greater emphasis on special effects in commercials, “which makes them look high-tech and like video games,” he said. Video games are a new product category for the 4-year-old network, and they indicate that the youth market is watching Spanish-language television, Mr. Stroud said.

Mr. Stroud believes that modern technology is also a growing factor in product placement, with virtual reality imagery augmenting the actual placement of products within a show.

“Our company has a 12-year history of product placement in Mexico (on the parent TV Azteca network),” he said. That experience has translated to the U.S. market and been enhanced by new technological capabilities.

“We’ve dropped in virtual Kmart shopping bags in novelas after the shows have been shot,” Mr. Stroud said. “We’ve placed virtual Gain detergent on the set of a novela for Procter & Gamble. We’ve created virtual sets for General Motors during soccer coverage so they look like they own halftime, [and] we’ll have Colgate products on the set of our ‘La Academia USA’ [a Spanish-language version of ‘American Idol’].”

Despite the Hispanic community’s cultural and ethnic diversity, Mr. Stroud believes generic spots can appeal to a wide audience “if you find common-ground themes like mother, family, food, friendship and fond memories. That commonality can be used in a warm and fuzzy way” to reach people with different backgrounds, he said.

Commercials airing on Fox Sports en Español must be within the network’s boundaries of decency, eschew cheesecake and be targeted to adults, especially males. “The creative is not especially for sports, but rather to reach the Spanish consumer,” explained Tom Maney, the network’s senior VP of sales. The products traditionally favored by male audiences-cars, beer and soft drinks-are being augmented by cellular phone manufacturers and service providers, quick-serve restaurants, consumer electronics product manufacturers and retailers and insurance companies.

The biggest time buys go to soccer, the network’s most popular sport, followed by baseball and boxing.

“While we’re a single-feed, Spanish-dominant programmer, some advertisers do produce a regional creative for spot TV, which can be part of a total rotation,” Mr. Maney said.