When I first walked in, I saw that Grupo Gallegos looked like a pretty cool advertising agency. Behind the receptionist, there was an impressive amount of hardware. I don’t know what I was expecting to see. I’m sure I wasn’t expecting the receptionist to be wearing a sombrero, but I didn’t see anything that made the place particularly Hispanic.
Past the workstations and the main conference room, I saw that not one creative person had a Che Guevara poster.
It was a three to six-month freelance/consulting gig. An “interim CCO”; that’s what they said I’d be. While I had never been an “interim CCO” before and hadn’t heard of anyone who’d ever been an “interim CCO,” I figured that working with people who know first-hand how the demographics of the country are changing would give me insight into one of the biggest challenges clients face these days.
It would give me an edge. In addition, I expected I’d enjoy the easy commonality of being the minority among minorities. I didn’t, however, expect to learn that even if you don’t realize you need to be taken down a notch, it’s healthy to be the gringo once in a while.
During World Cup, to be one of the guys, I rooted for the South American teams over the European teams, which I unfortunately undermined each time I referred to a match as a game. I butchered peoples’ first and last names. I learned that saying “hola” made me sound like a jerk. I learned I could be nobody but my gringo self.
More importantly, I began to appreciate how difficult clients have it, as most of them come from the general market as I do, and, like I did, they have to confront their own preconceptions.
On top of that, I imagine that they have the additional pressure within their organizations to prove that they are advertising to minorities. So, to make sure that the communication is speaking, indisputably, to the Hispanic consumer, there’s a yearning to see obvious, physical cues of Hispanic culture in the work.
John Gallegos calls it being “overly ethnicized,” but I get it and I sympathize. When you don’t speak the language, you want a guarantee that you’re talking to the right folks, and having these cues, points to hard evidence. I hope that’s the case, anyway. I mean, I hope no one is thinking that Hispanics won’t recognize themselves unless they see a piñata in the family room.
Of course, such cues aren’t always necessary for clear, compelling communication. Recently, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez died, the entire world mourned. The fact is, all the time, works of art communicate across borders. My friend Juan pointed out that Nike was a great Hispanic campaign long before it went global. Juan has a point.
I wonder, if a film projected only title cards and a soundtrack, like one of those charming Google spots, could it, potentially, resonate with the general market? So, why can’t the same be true of advertising to Hispanics? Cue-less is not necessarily clueless.
I learned something else, too. To what degree it’s inherent in other multicultural agencies, I can’t say, but here at Grupo, I encountered an uncanny ability to find an insight, particularly one in fertile ground. I have a theory about this. While the rest of the world has been distracted by technology, data, holding company agendas and a host of other shiny objects, my friends, here, have kept their eye on the consumer.
Clients have been coming to them for their knowledge about, and insight into, their target. That’s been their raison d’etre –– I mean, razon de ser. Consequently, they tend to want to do more than connect with a consumer, because when you know someone deeply, as they do, you tend to want to forge a meaningful and important connection. And whatever muscle it takes to forge such a connection has only become stronger, while it has atrophied for others.
Why isn’t our business being led by more Hispanic agencies? Certainly, force-fitting those cues can’t help. And relegated to a secondary role on a client’s roster, many Hispanic agencies don’t want to jeopardize their core business by competing with AORs. Meanwhile, the best and brightest among our junior talent enter our profession with the assumption that the big leagues reside in the general market. All I know is that a lot of potential is left untapped, and great work should be able to come from anywhere.
Over the past several years, I’ve believed that the quality of our industry’s work has slipped. John Hegarty has been very vocal about this, and I agree. As I see it, the industry hasn’t been applying the new tools to the fundamentals and all that we know to be true about how human beings change. To do that, we have to be consumer-obsessed.
I’m not saying general market agencies need to become Hispanic agencies, or vice versa. These distinctions are as superficial as the cues that profile the consumer. But the agencies that will rise to the top in this new demography will, I think, have a talent for connecting to people, their creativity in sync with their empathy. If you have that, everything –– technology, data and innovation ––falls into place.
And whether it’s intentional or not, the folks at Grupo put those things in that perspective, making Grupo inclined to tell the big, meaningful stories that move people –– like “Battle” for Milk–– even though they don’t get nearly enough opportunities to see them realized.
Perspective is everything, I suppose. And to think I went outside the general market to find the inside track.