Judges recently brought together for the Advertising Age/Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies' second Hispanic Creative Awards pored over magazine, newspaper, outdoor, radio and TV entries. The general reaction by some creatives, especially those new to the U.S. market, was negative.
"I don't mean to sound harsh, [but] it's like comparing heaven and hell," says Yoel Henriquez, senior copywriter with Zubi Advertising, Miami. Mr. Henriquez, who sat on the judges panel a few months after attending the International Advertising Festival in Cannes. He moved to the U.S. several months ago from Puerto Rico.
The entries reviewed by the AHAA Awards' judges would have fared poorly in the international competition, he surmises.
"The U.S. Hispanic market is a challenge," says Horacio Gomes, president-CEO of HeadQuarters Advertising, San Francisco, and president-elect of AHAA. "We have smaller budgets to work with and a lot of expectations from clients to show a return on investment right away. Clients become extremely conservative when approving Hispanic creative because they don't want a fiasco on diversity marketing taking place on their watch."
"There's a new generation of Hispanic creatives coming from abroad," he says. "They don't realize yet how tough it is for Hispanic agencies to get companies to commit" funds.
Creative shortfalls have many origins. For instance, U.S. clients can misunderstand the Hispanic market, says Michael Markowitz, president of his own consultancy, which often helps general-market clients choose Hispanic shops.
The still-common practice of Hispanic TV commercials being adapted from English-language ads and campaign strategies can lead to ads that don't translate and miss the mark. Indeed, that style of creative decision was decried in last year's Hispanic awards (AA, Aug. 30, 1999).
Mr. Markowitz contends the one bright spot continues to be radio, which is less costly and easier to test. By hiring the right talent, he adds, a message can be inexpensively adapted to fit numerous specific markets.
RADIO DOESN'T GET ITS DUE
Given that Hispanic radio stations compete successfully against general market stations for the top ratings in Los Angeles, Miami and New York, the genre doesn't get its due as an ad vehicle, say Hispanic agency executives.
It's perceived by inexperienced clients or even media directors as having less influence in the Hispanic market than TV, says Juan Jose Quintana, VP-creative director with La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, Los Angeles. "In the Hispanic market, many creatives don't pay attention to radio as they should," he says.
But savvy Hispanic agency executives have found greater creative freedom in radio than TV. Because TV budgets for production and media are higher, many clients get involved in the development of TV creative, Mr. Quintana says.
TV PREFERRED MEDIUM
"Industrywide, TV is still the preferred medium. At the end of the day creatively you still see stronger TV," says Bernadette Aulestia, director of target marketing at HBO and an AHAA Awards judge.
"When you have breakout ideas in radio, they are pretty impressive," she says.. "Creatively, a lot of the creatives gravitate heavily to TV execution."
When Luis Miguel Messianu ponders good Spanish-language radio creative, his mind wanders back to the days of general market radio and "theater of the mind."
He envisions the images that good writing can conjure for the Hispanic listener: stories that can include such whimsy as the crowd noise from a cast of hundreds -- for the cost of a good writer, voice talent and a sound effects producer.
Time was when Hispanic radio creative languished, Mr. Messianu says. Today, TV and radio have seen increases in creativity and production values.
Limited budgets should not be an excuse for failure to master the subtleties that make Hispanic radio effective, says Maite Quilez-D'Amico, president-chief creative officer with Cruz/Kravetz:Ideas, Los Angeles, which handles Hispanic radio for Pennzoil brand, Bancomer and La Opinion, the Spanish-language daily in Los Angeles.
Hispanic agency creatives should be challenging themselves to improve the quality of the work and convince clients to increase spending in Hispanic radio, she says.
"A lot of the clients are based in `Hispanic Marketing 101,' and we're suffering from that," Ms. Quilez-D'Amico says.
NOT A PANACEA
Just because TV or radio has high ratings in certain markets doesn't make it a panacea for marketers.
A spot for American Honda Motor Sales USA or Verizon Communications means adjusting the voice-over or other message elements to fit a variety of Hispanic audiences, Mr. Quintana says. He contends that is true whether it's for Mexicans or Central Americans across the Southwest, Cubans in Florida or Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York. "The most challenging thing is to understand the target audience," he says.
Tony Dieste agrees. The CEO of Dieste & Partners, Dallas, believes both Hispanic TV and radio advertising are delivering culturally relevant creative content to the target. Still, as a whole, the industry needs to raise the bar, he admits.
"No longer are we judging ourselves against Hispanic advertising," Mr. Dieste says. "We're judging ourselves on the world stage of creativity."