THE HISPANIC Agency Model (Modernism vs. Romanticism)…

23/06/2012 § Leave a comment

Hispanic Heritage Month - sombrero from MexicoPresident Obama’s recent courting of the Hispanic vote got me thinking about some of the issues I pondered whilst working for an Hispanic ad agency. Here’s one of the topics I opined upon, which still seems to have some merit in 2012. I might be wrong, but I think it may also have relevance when considering how the culture of a country – or a company – or an individual for that matter –  shapes the insights and output they produce. So here goes:

A man stops to ask a farmer for directions to London. The farmer takes a straw from his mouth, scratches his balding head, and says, “Well, if it’s London you’re wanting, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”

You could say the same about Hispanic marketing.

If we had the chance to design a Hispanic marketing agency from scratch, it probably wouldn’t look like many of the agencies working in the market today.

That’s maybe a bold statement, but consider this: The current advertising model, accepted and adopted the world over, grew up to sell, amongst other things, soap to an industrialized, Victorian society. The first ‘consumers’ had been town and city dwellers for several generations, during which society had undergone a hundred years of deconstruction brought about through migration from the land to the harsh conditions of urban industrialized life.

Underlying all of the advertising of this time (which itself had become known as an ‘industry’) was the assumption that happiness can be bought – and that ownership can make you happy. This modernist idea, which reflects Western left-brained, science based thinking, has been the starting point for advertising ever since.

In this scenario, brands are seen as reward for labour. Yet this assumption does not hold true for all consumers or all societies.

Research shows that Japanese consumers are less loyal to brands and can dismiss them on a whim. They take marketing less seriously which, in turn, leads to advertising that is more playful.  In America, brands are more serious and aspire to have more gravitas and, on the whole, tend to be granted the right to be more assertive. In Australia brands are more practical and less intellectual and in the UK brands are more stable and rational.

These different relationships are a reflection of the culture in which the brands operate and this dictates the parameters within which the marketing must work. Hispanic culture is no different.

Compare the western model with the drivers of Hispanic or Latin societies. Latin American societies have developed more recently than ‘Old World’ counterparts and  their agrarian roots lie closer to the surface. Mindsets and outlook retain more of the folklore and culture of an older society that hasn’t yet (and possibly never will) fully experienced the desensitising effect of urbanisation.

This less materialistic culture is more emotional, intuitive, ritualistic, religious and superstitious. It remains romantic in the broadest sense; more animistic than acquisitive, more Rousseau than Ralph Lauren.

From a cultural point of view, Hispanics often demonstrate characteristics that are the opposite of trends in Western culture:

  • Group-oriented, larger families, collectivism, interdependence
  • Success defined for the family, rather than the individual
  • Lower need for immediate gratification
  • Overt emotions
  • Careful attention to clothes and appearance
  • Fatalism
  • Spontaneous
  • Relaxed about time
  • Low reliance on institutions
  • Strong preference for personalized service
  • Authority is respected, trusted and rarely questioned

What’s more, Hispanic culture has retained its oral tradition. It’s all about tight-knit communities telling stories to itself, as seen in the tradition of corrido, the narrative songs still written and sung today and through magical realism which could only come from Latin America – an amalgam of Western structure and Latin symbolism.

Within this more expressive and experiential context, brands are seen less as rewards for labors undertaken and more as tools for enhancing good time. Hispanics work to live, not live to work, so the reward for hard work is best expressed through quality time spent with the people we love. In this respect, a brand’s role is more to enhance that experience than to have an intrinsic value of its own.  A brand is part of the romantic, narrative package rather than an end in itself.

So, we come back to the question posed at the top of this piece; if you had the chance to design a marketing company specifically for an Hispanic audience, would it take the form of the rational, message-and-image-based models we still generally see today? Probably not.

By stepping back and assessing the underlying cultural drivers we cold discern an advertising model that serves up brands and products in a fashion that better suits the Hispanic consumer and the role of the brands they seek.

Latin consumers gravitate to more intuitive, emotional, symbolic, service-driven brands that engage through experiences, not just messaging. Hispanics relate to brands that aren’t obsessively driven by data, numbers and averages. Sell products to Hispanics by lecturing them with rational arguments works somewhat, but its hardly optimal. It’s a bit like teaching math at a school for musicians.

Marketing to this audience needn’t begin with a rational positioning statement, but perhaps with the question “what is this brand?”  This approach more quickly brings us to an understanding of how the brand fits into the Hispanic mindset (that list defined above), and gets us on the path of defining the brand as a character in the lives of Hispanic consumers, a character that helps fulfill the criteria of our world.

Brands most fully come to life for the Latin consumer when they appear as characters. Presented like this, they can accomplish active engagement through their actions and through real brand experiences. Hechos, no dichos.  Actions speak louder than words.

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