May 22, 2008

By Federico Traeger

Welcome to “A Cup of Copy.” This space is your company’s kitchen corner, where aromatic coffee, opinions and gossip brew together. Here, things are said without being filtered, just the way they feel to you or to me. So I’ll get started. I’ll pour some copy:
There were two types of clients 19 years ago when I started working in the U.S. Hispanic market: the ones who believed and the ones who didn’t. The visionaries and the opportunists. The allies and the enemies. Today, this hasn’t changed. In my 19 years as a creative director in this ever-expanding market, I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly. The good is getting better, the bad is getting worse, and the ugly is getting cheesier. The US Hispanic advertisement, ad, commercial, however you want to call it, has got to be one of the most miserable creatures roaming the lands of the imagination. The things the poor little babies have to go through before airing (I mean the ads, not the clients). To begin with, a great portion of clients are of an opportunistic nature, and today, as decades ago, they still would rather have their general market ads translated to Spanish without caring if they are culturally relevant. Then there are the expert “Hispanic clients,” who pretty much bring the trembling little ad into the inquisition chamber and torture, twist and crush its limbs until it is virtually lifeless… and then they air it.  But there are the very few smart and sophisticated clients who let the agency do their work and team up for the survival of a happy and healthy campaign that brings results.

Over the past decades, heroic pioneers devoted their best years into building the credibility, the accountability and the wisdom upon which our U.S. Hispanic market is founded. To the advertisers, the ad agencies, the networks and the vendors that have made the “good” happen, may your names live forever and work be plentiful! To the drama kings and queens who have passionately promoted the bad and the ugly… may your epitaphs have a typo!

If you take a look at Telemundo, Univision, Galavision,  Telefutura, or even the bicultural newcomers like Mun2 or MTVtr3s, and you compare the content of the programming against the content of the ads, you will notice the programming is usually more “liberal,” “daring” and realistic than the stilted, conservative majority of the commercials. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but generally speaking, a typical U.S. Hispanic family program seems to better capture, for example, the double entendre sense of humor so characteristic of our consumer, connecting better than the supposed slices of life depicted in the ads. I know there are many reasons for this, from the paranoia of big brands who will not dare to say anything that may cause an adverse phone call from an offended consumer, to the rigorous, if not absurd chain of approval that a little :30 ad has to undergo before airing. I make this point to illustrate what I think will happen to the :30 TV ad in the next five years.

You may think that a :30 TV ad is a dinosaur waiting for the big chill. Since 1998, I’ve been hearing and reading from billionaire dot- commers and advertising visionaries, about the supposedly imminent disappearance of the :30 TV commercial. I even remember how a well-known Latino ad agency CEO gathered us employees at his feet and proclaimed that the :30 TV spot, together with the U.S. Hispanic TV networks, was going to disappear by 2001. Oh, well.

Right now, I think the majority of :30 TV ads feel like they are desperately looking for a look instead of substance, impact or relevance. I think a lot of times it is too obvious that these ads are shot in other countries. And, while they do the trick of communicating a message, they do feel detached. They tend to feel like ads targeting agency people instead of consumers. And I know that as a market and as an industry, we are the sum of several Latin American “paises” in a country where we mostly write in Spanish, visualize in “Universal” and sell in English. And although our :30 TV ad is not guilty, it frequently pays the price of this awkward arrangement.

Today, good and effective U.S. Hispanic advertising, is becoming more universal, simpler, wittier and fresher. However, on the other side of the spectrum, our advertising also continues to rehash old formulas, perpetuating old stereotypes and revisiting common places. And this may be so not by choice, but rather, by default. It is a cycle. If you have been working in this market for more than ten years, you know what I am talking about (the endless discussions with mid-to-lower-level executives on the client side who weigh in on what Latinos do or do not wear, how we talk or do not talk, or even, how we might wear our hair, only to end up with another 30 seconds worth of forgettable sameness).

So how will the U.S. Hispanic TV ads look and feel five years from now? First of all, yes, there will continue to be :30 TV ads, and they will have a little brother, the :15 spot. They will also have cousins, appearing on new screens (your phone, the movie theater and on your computer). These cousins will come in all shapes and sizes.

Five years from now there will still be very bad and ugly :30 spots, and unfortunately these will never die, but the good ones will keep evolving and shining. The best ones will be incredibly surprising. They will capture the insight of being a U.S. Latino. They will use a more vernacular language. They will be free of stereotypes and of the shackles of corporate politics and bureaucracy. They will be more daring, more self-assured. They will feel natural. They will inject a jolt of coolness and pride (the exact opposite of what stereotypes do). They won’t try so hard to “wow,” and that’s why they will do just that. They will encapsulate the brand and the consumer while making an appealing call to action (meaning: they’ll do the job). They will be better aligned with the programming they will air within (which we hope will also evolve). The target audience will be divided in very inventive ways, making the formulaic practice of targeting the very broad demo of 18-49-year-old Latinos/Latinas obsolete.

All in all, there are some good and even some very good U.S. Hispanic TV ads out there, but, if we take a stand for being truly reflective of the audience, then, the best ones are yet to come!


Federico, An amazingly well put historical “contrapunto” with depth and precision of thought. Thank you for sharing this insightful point of view.

Federico, I think we all agree much of Hispanic advertising creative is broken. In a perfect world the highly talented Hispanic ad agencies could get a more proportionate share of the ad dollars through their stellar bottom line results. In reality the marketplace is and always will be driven by the trinity of economy, politics and path of least resistance. Blue chip brands are not ready to make the same investment in Hispanic advertising to have the same per capita reach as they do in the general market. They want it as cheap as they can get it regardless of creative quality. This means they can hire translators that don’t understand the complexities of advertising. I recently had a very similar discussion with a Hispanic corporate TV network executive who was bemoaning the fact of how general market advertisers still don’t see the potential in the Hispanic marketplace. While I was empathetic to his sentiments I asked him how he would overcome the fact that in our city of Houston the purchasing power of Hispanics of 25 billion is dwarfed by the overall market of 176 billion and change. My point is simply this. While the purchasing power of Hispanics has risen exponentially in the last decade in relation to the general market it is not large enough to capture a greater share of ad dollars. Last but certainly not the least of these hurdles is do nothing or little to get the ads out for all the right reasons in the players minds. I am reminded of a current print ad campaign that is running in our daily created by a highly talented small ad agency that I know personally. The design is terrible flawed and the message is wrong. The customer does not know the ad was built for another medium not newsprint. In this case and many others I have seen, it would take too much to correct it once it was launched. Thus you get what you get. I looked up your bio and found we may have traversed similar paths. I did some consulting work at one of the Univsersities you have taught at when they were going through a re-branding and expansion phase. Thanks for your insight, good reading.

Bien dicho Fede. Sorry, I'm late to this one party. Ditto to what you have written. On another front, our industry continues to suffer the dreaded 'back burner' syndrome. As I write this, we are faced with a hard downturn in the economy, and it will likely have a cascading effect on us. We'll be the first to go. Over the years the industry has made great strides, it has matured to highly competitive levels, and the areas of growth are very exciting. Let's hope the creative product continues to evolve in all areas where we touch our demographic. Saludos,

Buenos Dias, An "alien" is blogging in your midst, but my late husband Pablo's insights into the hispanic/latino sector are always part of my thinking. I direct a relatively new non-profit (among 600+ statewide) that seeks to raise private community funds to support a public school district in San Diego County. Most have heard about what's happening with education funding in CA (not good and getting worse), so the urgency of our mission just keeps going up...while potential donors are feeling the same pinch. Anyway, I wanted to ask you "great minds" a question. Background: in much of the discussion about education in the US, there is a lot of scapegoating of latino families because of their growing numbers and the many "challenges" that are part of their experience here in the US. A rant in a recent blog gave me an idea, and I would like to know what you think of it. The rant was about how many low-income latino/hispanic families rent their housing and therefore don't pay the property taxes which support the public schools they send their kids to. My idea is a fund raising campaign addressed to latino/hispanic families of all income levels in our community. The message is: your kids benefit from the schools; help us support them. I have not seen this bi-cultural, proactive approach anywhere in the literature of education foundations, although I am still looking. Often fundraisers just bemoan the "polarized" demographics of their community and look for new ways to tap Anglo donors. I am talking about turning a "problem" (a funding debacle for public education PLUS a genuine disconnect between most latino families and their schools) into some simple, positive action. Does anyone else see a simple campaign here? Can anyone help on a pro bono basis? Thank you and feliz navidad, Katie

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