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September 29, 2004
Grandmas and Mustaches
 

"What's Hispanic about them?"

The first time I heard that phrase was eleven years ago, while working on Hispanic market efforts for an automobile account. The principal of the agency was referring to concepts developed by the creative team. They were on strategy, entertaining, relevant, compelling and apparently not Hispanic enough for his taste.

"Hispanic?"

The principal explained that the commercials did not have a single icon to merit it being "Hispanic." "Relevance," he explained, "is not enough to make it Hispanic, it needs an iconic representation such as family, art, music, grandmas." In other words, stereotypes.

With a bit more than a half decade on the business, albeit not necessarily targeting the Hispanic consumer, I was stubborn, or foolish, enough to argue the "Hispanic" qualifier with the principal.

My logic, at the time more academic than practical, stated that consumers were not defined by the product or brand. Instead, the attributes of relevance to our consumer dictated the communication. Adding a mustache to the dad, or a grandma to the family did not make the spot more relevant, or more Hispanic.

In the end, I persevered, and eleven years later still in the business, while my old principal, thankfully is not.

A couple years later, I worked internationally managing Pan American ad agency efforts for Mars' Pedigree dog food, and I can't think of a single instance where an agency global manager asked: "What's Brazilian (or any other country) about it?" I also never had requests to add gauchos or mariachis to make concepts relevant to the country. Instead, we always strived to find the relevant points of a well-established brand to cultures where the concept of prepared dog food was just starting to develop.

A global brand promoted across different cultures does not change, the consumer does. And in some cases, where the brand and category development are parallel, the consumer does not change very much.

We, as advertisers, have become efficient in managing global brands and consumers. However, we continue to experience stereotypes in domestic Hispanic creative that fail to deliver brand relevance. I still see communications presented as "Hispanic" simply because of added icons to the brand and images. This is not unique to ethnic segments; anyone living in California can tell you about the overabundance of surfing Santas at the end of the year.

While humorously exaggerated stereotypes can serve a purpose in setting a mood, holding a mirror to segment consumers and sticking a brand in it usually appears contrived and hardly engaging. For example, a fiesta in the midst of an antacid commercial does not make it a Hispanic spot—it is actually more relevant to non-Hispanics who might have experienced stomach problems while eating Mexican food.

I could list a dozen current creative pieces where I find the stereotyping insulting and wasteful, but I rather leave the creative critique to my left brained colleagues. The reason it bothers me is a lot simpler; as a "suit" I like to see efficient creative work. I enjoy smart strategy—even when it comes from competing agencies, and smart strategy usually results in compelling creative. From my perspective, using broad stereotypes is a wasteful and lazy use of client's resources.

Admittedly, international markets are easier to define than domestic segment markets. Domestic segments—particularly those stereotyped, include various degrees of acculturation and assimilation, language preference, socio-economic situation, and several countries of origin.

But the difficulty of defining the segments, the challenge of finding the answer without having to rely on broad stereotypes, is part of the reason I got into this business. It's the reason I look forward to coming into work every day.


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With hispanic marketing growing more rapidly than any other facet of the ad business, Carlos Arambula's expertise is in high demand. He's the Director of Client Services at al Punto Advertising. Carlos has over 17 years' experience on both the client side and agency side.
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