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!