What Immigration Rallies Meant for Advertising World

Mass Green Card Programs Could Increase Hispanic Consumer Spending

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hispanic ad agencies were among the hundreds of thousands of people at last week's pro-immigration rallies, filming, talking to demonstrators and trying to figure out what it all means for marketers.
Alexi Hernandez of Milwaukee was one of the participants in the May 1 nationwide rallies staged by legal and illegal immigrants.
Alexi Hernandez of Milwaukee was one of the participants in the May 1 nationwide rallies staged by legal and illegal immigrants. Credit: AP

Changing market
"This market is being changed," said Gino Pacheco, managing partner-director of strategic planning at the Vidal Partnership, New York, the largest independent U.S. Hispanic ad agency. "We don't know yet if for good or bad."

In one possible scenario, Mr. Pacheco said, if the estimated 80% of illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years are allowed to apply for green cards and start working toward citizenship "it would have an incredible impact on our clients."

Legal papers and purchasing power
"If they have papers, that will allow them to make decisions like buying a home, a car, opening a bank account," he said. "I think there would be a major explosion in purchasing. Without the proper documentation, it's that much more difficult. You want to do it but you're not sure what would happen if you got deported."

A guest-worker program, another option, would not offer that kind of security.

Vidal staffers were out with film crews at demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago and at four different locations in New York. Mr. Pacheco said the agency plans to follow up with some of the people they met for more in-depth, multigenerational home interviews, with, for instance, undocumented parents and their U.S.-born children. The agency plans to share insights with clients and do public-service announcements, he said.

Some agencies closed
A few Hispanic shops, including Vidal, closed May 1, and others let staff take time off to attend rallies. Some marketers with heavily Hispanic work forces, like Tyson and Perdue Farms, closed some of their plants, and Hispanic food company Goya Foods suspended most of its deliveries for the day. La Agencia de Orci, a Los Angeles-based independent Hispanic shop, held a lunch for all its employees to talk about what the impact of the pro-immigration marches could be. Afterward, Jose Gonzalez, managing director-integrated marketing, and three of the agency's planners went to a demonstration with video cameras and talked to people in the streets. They plan to edit the video and show it to their clients.

"We think there is something happening in the marketplace that can be leveraged by clients," Mr. Gonzalez said. "When you think about what we do in marketing and advertising, we look at what's happening in consumer behavior and lifestyles. There's a feeling of unity. How can we tap into that from an advertising and marketing perspective? There are different ways. ... Do you feel like an immigrant? Do you feel like you have power?"

Desire for legitimacy
Agency executives who attended May 1 rallies spoke of the desire participants expressed for legitimacy, freedom and respect, and to be acknowledged, rather than hidden or pushed to the side. They also talked about how quickly such big groups came together, and what that could signify in the future.

"Up until one month and a half ago, Latinos in this country had never gathered together in real large numbers," said Tony Dieste, CEO of Omnicom Group-owned Dieste Harmel & Partners, Dallas. "The question is: What happened? What caused this? Why did people get together like this? We are obviously talking to each other through word of mouth, through technology, that marketers can take advantage of. These things come together via personal beepers, IM via cellphones, MySpace.com. We're creating these new social currencies."

The immigration debate is expected to be one of the hottest issues for a bilingual grassroots foundation and online community launched May 5 called Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together (Matt.org), headed by Lionel Sosa, one of the Hispanic ad industry's pioneers and more recently a media adviser to political campaigns. A TV, radio, print, outdoor and online ad campaign by a team of four U.S. Hispanic and media agencies is promoting Matt. In one spot, a man named Robert Morris, speaking alternately in unaccented English and Spanish, says, "I was named after one of my ancestors who signed the Declaration of Independence. I'm Mexican."

Agency executives said that before May 1 they hadn't really talked with their clients about the implications of the immigration issue.

"Not until Monday, when we saw the numbers, did we get a sense of the potential," Mr. Gonzalez said. "I think this will be a topic of conversation with clients now."
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