Hispanics represent the fastest growing population segment in the country, a huge and growing buying power, with an undeniable over-indexing of numbers in multiple categories. The power and magnitude of this group makes success in any field requiring consumer support virtually impossible if not engaged appropriately. Yet, while the need to market to Hispanics increases the appeal for Hispanic marketing agencies is declining.
This is the overarching contradiction of an industry whose code we have not yet been able to crack. Hispanic marketing agencies in their majority have been constantly, and often unsuccessfully, trying to find a way into the bigger pockets of brand marketers. There are of course exceptions to this where the investment, level of ideas and talent are commensurate with the needs of the market, and those are the few success examples we have seen in the past years.
Brands that are winning are those leading with multicultural strategies given the increasing importance of multicultural segments for their business. Yet there are some Hispanic agencies that are still sitting on the sidelines of major marketing strategies. I have seen a lot of contradictions in my 15+ years in the Hispanic marketing world, and I believe that these have led to the fragile situation of Hispanic agencies today.
Among the many contradictions, I believe these to be the Top Five that are stunting the growth of the Hispanic marketing industry and potentially the growth of their clients.
The underpaid best-in-class specialized talent: A Hispanic copywriter is no different than a mainstream agency copywriter in terms of basic skills. The only difference is that the Hispanic one has an added skill, which is an expertise in a particular segment. This is so unique to this industry. Specialized doctors make more money, and this is true in many industries. Hispanic advertising professionals are required to have all the skills of a mainstream advertising professional plus the expertise of a niche segment. I have always seen this as an advantage but it has been tough to justify this to clients. There is an expectation that Hispanic agencies deserve smaller budgets. As a consequence, specialized talent gets paid less. Often they turn to mainstream agencies for more equal pay, even if this means walking away from their specialty.
The big-impact, low-budget campaign: Enough has been said about budgets and anybody that has touched this industry in one way or another knows that Hispanic budgets are the first ones to be cut when times are tough. And times are always tough. The expectation is, however, that small budgets deliver big results. Hispanic agencies are evaluated under the same microscope as mainstream agencies, yet the conditions are not the same. In many cases, when the smaller budgets do not deliver the big results, these budgets are cut completely, losing all communication with consumers and breaking a relationship that was being built with them. This is due to a misconception that a smaller segment requires smaller efforts. A Facebook ad costs the same regardless of who you are targeting. Why should Hispanic agencies be expected to do more with less?
The integrated targeted campaign: In most cases, Hispanic agencies are asked to “Hispanicize” already existing campaigns for the sake of integration. This is a formula for failure. Campaigns should be thought of as integrated from the get-go, and they should be inclusive of all segments, given the composition of the US market today. When a Hispanic agency receives a campaign concept, they are asked to find an insight that can lead to targeted executions under a pre-existing box that might not be strategically relevant to the Hispanic consumer, regardless of what insight the agency discovers. For a campaign to be targeted within an overall strategy, it needs to be thought through in an integrated way from its inception.
The multi-media TV-focused campaign: Marketers need to stop thinking that Spanish media, and particularly TV, is the way to reach this consumer. Campaigns need to be as diverse in their media outreach as consumers are in their everyday lives. This segment is multifaceted. So should media choices be to communicate with them. Only through a deep understanding of who this consumer is today, along with more sophisticated and diverse media plans will brands be able to truly engage in a meaningful conversation in the right place with Hispanic consumers.
The traditional approach to an ever-changing demographic: The Hispanic market is still covered in stereotypes. Client approvals are often the result of a lack of understanding of deep insights about the segment. Thus, executions default to the expected and antiquated norms no longer relevant to today’s consumer. Most marketers still fail to deeply understand the behaviors that drive the Hispanic consumer today. Marketers need to be culturally invested and immersed in this demographic. To do so they need to hire talent that lives and breathes and represents the group’s present and future.
The main reason why Hispanic agencies are still standing is because they are not and have never been in the spotlight. When the Hispanic market is not your priority, your Hispanic agency isn’t either. This has been a blessing in disguise for Hispanic agencies. Not too much budget equates to not too much attention. This has driven the industry to a stagnant area full of conformism.
The Hispanic agency world needs to reinvent itself pronto. Less delayed reaction to changing consumer behaviors and more anticipation of the real client needs to get to this consumer. Become an insider versus remaining an observer. I have the feeling that while Hispanic agencies are dressing up and getting ready for the party, many of their clients are already at the party flirting and dancing around with non-Hispanic agencies.
If Hispanic agencies want to be part of the conversation, they need to stop talking to themselves and push their chair to the main table to participate in the conversation. Nobody will do this for them. Clients, in turn, need to make room for them. Agencies need to move outside of their comfort zone and lead the change with forward-thinking, unapologetic ideas that can transform the market to meet the new consumer needs. The only way this industry can be saved is by stepping out of what it is today and reinventing itself with the current landscape in mind instead of holding on to outdated standards that are making it obsolete.
Maybe what has always been feared as the decline of the Hispanic marketing industry is actually an opportunity for a revalorization. This will only come in the form of more diverse representation in mainstream agencies, an increase in integration of better insights about Hispanics into bigger marketing strategies and the capacity of cultural infusion into general ideas – something Hispanic consumers are doing in their everyday life and that has changed this country forever.