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Inside the New Vanguard of Hispanic-American Agencies

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Curro Chozas' best idea could easily have turned out to be his worst.

The Los Angeles-based creative director scattered 100 cell phones around the streets of Guatemala on behalf of the wireless provider Movistar a few months ago. The idea was to see how many of them would be returned. The odds were not good: "It wasn't a safe idea," said Chozas, who happened to be in Guatemala with fellow Spaniard and famous chef Ferran Adria, the global ambassador for Movistar parent Telefonica. Guatemala is rife with official corruption and its reputation has suffered.

"Everyone believed no one would return any of the cellphones," he said. But in the end, 87 came back. "Latin Americans are more honest than people thought. It gave Guatemalans self-confidence."

The experiment, shared and avidly followed on social media, got more than 40,000 comments and was viewed by more than 7 million people, making it Guatemala's most successful social media campaign, he said.

Curro Chozas (standing) and Juan Oubina (right)
Curro Chozas (standing) and Juan Oubina (right) Credit: Courtesy of o1

It's also a door-opening case study for a new agency. Chozas and fellow creative director Juan Oubina have joined the wave of recent U.S. Hispanic startups with their new Los Angeles shop o1 Agency, named as a tribute to the O-1 work visas they obtained when they moved to the U.S. from Spain and Argentina respectively.

Oubina and Chozas worked together for eight years at Grupo Gallegos (now called Gallegos United), where Chozas was creative and innovation director until he left late last year. Oubina was recruited by Deutsch in October 2014 to lead creative for DLAtino, a new effort to do Hispanic work for Deutsch clients Dr Pepper, 7 Up and Taco Bell. He left his job as EVP, executive creative director at Deutsch in November, and hasn't been replaced. (Deutsch said it is expanding its multicultural efforts by embedding Hispanic experts in some brand teams).

"When we explain [the story of] the o1 name, everyone has a positive reaction," Oubina said, in keeping with the new agency's mantra "Stories That Matter."

At a time when U.S. Hispanic agencies and general market shops like Deutsch and Anomaly are competing to target their clients' Latino consumers, a number of well-known Hispanic creative directors are opting for a different path and setting up their own small, nimble shops. They tend to do a mix of work, including U.S. Hispanic, projects for Latin America, and even general market jobs, especially in states with big Latino populations like California and Texas where multicultural consumers are becoming the majority in many cities.

At o1, a similar mix is underway. Chozas said the agency hopes to work, and grow, with tech startups in LA's Silicon Beach. Already onboard are Chef'd, a non-subscription meal kit delivery company, and Revox, which mixes art, meditation and technology for stressed startups.And then there's Movistar Guatemala, which has already commissioned another social media campaign, to tout the benefits of the new Samsung S8's camera phone. (Spoiler alert: It's about the start of relationships. So many people meet through apps these days that with a spectacular camera-phone photo, you can meet the love of your life).

Here's the "100 Cellphones" campaign:

The o1 Agency is following in the footsteps of several recent U.S. Hispanic startups.

Probably the biggest name, Sergio Alcocer, returned to the ad industry in January 2017 following the end of his non-compete agreement with Omnicom Group, where he was president and chief creative officer of Omnicom-backed LatinWorks. Based in Austin, he launched Rest of the World, which he describes as a multicultural mission founded in and for the Trump era. "I want to bring Latin-inspired creative to the mainstream," he said.

Also in Austin, former LatinWorks creative Norbi Zylberberg last August set up his own social media-oriented shop called Socialisssima. So far, he has launched Mexican craft beer Calavera in the U.S. and works with Mexican discount airline Interjet, among other projects.

In Los Angeles, Pablo Buffagni, former chief creative officer at several U.S. Hispanic shops, opened the BBQ Agency in late 2014, and does everything from Pepsi's Christmas campaign for Central America to a U.S. Hispanic video campaign for Dodge. He just started a small business unit to help local companies with social media needs.

The breakthrough agency is We Believers, started less than three years ago by Gustavo Lauria, a veteran of The Community, and Marco Vega. Although Lauria and Vega are from Argentina and Mexico respectively, much of their work has been for the general market, including the "Edible Six-Pack Rings" project that won four Lions at last year's Cannes Lions festival, and earned Lauria a slot on this year's Titanium jury at Cannes. He also did a social media project for Burger King and PepsiCo in Argentina; "Rejected" is doing well on the awards circuit now.

"The business is changing," o1's Chozas said. "The social media target needs fresh content every day. Clients need more agile and simple structures, to get work really quickly. Traditional agencies are a little behind."