Multicultural Agency of the Year: Conill

Connecting Cultures via Feelings That Resonate

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NEW YORK ( -- When Toyota's Jim Farley told his Hispanic agency Conill that he liked their concept for a Camry spot so much that he would run it in the Super Bowl, the agency team was stunned.
Conill team of (r. to l.) Carlos Martinez, Pablo Buffagni, Cynthia McFarlane and Antonio Lopez reach acculturate Latinos as easily as the traditional Spanish-dominant market.
Conill team of (r. to l.) Carlos Martinez, Pablo Buffagni, Cynthia McFarlane and Antonio Lopez reach acculturate Latinos as easily as the traditional Spanish-dominant market. Credit: Barbara Fernandez

"They couldn't believe it," says Mr. Farley, group VP-marketing for the Toyota Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Exceptional results
Conill combined exceptional results in 2006 for its clients, an estimated 20% growth in revenue for the Publicis Groupe agency, and creative kudos as one of the biggest winners of Advertising Age's Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards and the Hispanic winner of the Association of National Advertisers' Multicultural Excellence Awards.

After Conill did the first Hispanic spot to ever air on the Super Bowl, featuring a father and son who compare their Camry Hybrid to their own bilingual family, Hispanic Camry registrations grew 32%. Although American football might not seem like the best place to reach a group better known for a passion for futbol, it fits right into a process Conill calls interacculturation. (And, in fact, 25% of Hispanics over 18 do watch the Super Bowl.)

According to Conill, interacculturation is all about the immigrant culture becoming more like the host culture as the host culture adapts to become more like the immigrant culture. VP-Creative Director Pablo Buffagni says he sees this in his own life in Los Angeles, where the mayor is Mexican-American, the music scene features artists such as Shakira and tortillas outsell bread. The agency also looks for ideas that transcend culture to connect with people of multiple backgrounds and ethnicity.

"American culture has a huge influence on Latins and how they act," says Cynthia McFarlane, Conill's managing director. "Conversely, Latins are having a huge influence on mainstream culture as well."

In the 2006 launch for Toyota's Yaris, Conill helped take the car from unknown to a 30% share of the entry-level subcompact segment in the Hispanic market. Conill targeted young Latinos who view themselves as trendsetters leading the way in a new, multicultural world.

The hub of the integrated campaign was the online world, where visitors could mix music and create ringtones. But it also included a Yaris Design Lab for making films, music and art; an alternative career fair; and sweepstakes to win a performance at home by Afro-Latin mash band Ozomatli. TV, print and radio focused on English-language outlets that reflected Nuevo Latinos' lifestyles such as SiTV and Urban Latino magazine.

Carefully staying in touch with Yaris' general-market positioning as stylish and reflecting the driver's creative spirit, Conill also influenced general-market creative. A Conill print ad called "Hypnotized" ran in the general market, too, and the agency created an "El Gordito" character for general-market print.

Toyota 4Runner spot
Conill's "Singer" spot for Toyota 4Runner also ran in the general market. That commercial's soundtrack of catchy indigenous music turns out to be from five genuine Yanamamo tribesmen who are packed with their instruments into the back of the roomy sport-utility vehicle and are reluctant to get out when the driver arrives at their local Indian village.

"The key thing Conill gets that makes them so different is they understand the human element of communications better," Mr. Farley says. "When we see their creative, they consistently understand the way our customers live and how Toyota can relate to that.

"Conill gets to the essence of human connections. In some cases, that's so compelling we've turned it into general-market advertising. Instead of taking the general-market work and translating it, we're now doing the opposite because of their ability."

Sometimes that happens because the client likes the Hispanic market work so much that it tests the creative for the general market, as Procter & Gamble Co. did recently with Conill's Tide to Go spots, says Antonio Lopez, Conill's chief creative officer. But sometimes a young, acculturated Latin target goes back and forth so much between the two markets-and worlds-that they must work closely together as with Yaris, he adds.

Conill was one of the earliest Hispanic agencies, founded by Cuban immigrants Alicia and Rafael Conill in 1968, and is now 100% owned by Saatchi & Saatchi.

Revenue growth
Conill has been transformed in recent years under an unusual new management team, posting estimated 40% revenue growth in 2004, 30% in 2005 and 20% in 2006, topping $17 million.

Relatively new to Conill, Ms. McFarlane, based in Miami; Mr. Lopez, based in New York; and Carlos Martinez, general manager of the L.A. office, have decades of experience with Saatchi's highly creative Latin American network. Ms. McFarlane coordinated regional clients from Saatchi's Miami office, and Messrs. Lopez and Martinez were at Badillo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, San Juan, Puerto Rico's most-awarded agency. Conill quickly added Mr. Buffagni, a top creative from Argentina.

"Although we're part of Saatchi, our strategy was to look outside and begin to compete," Ms. McFarlane says, "and develop the creative product."

Conill won little outside new business in 2006 except for Beam Global Spirits & Wine's Sauza tequila; growth came mainly from existing clients.

Toyota, which gave the agency the Yaris and Camry Hybrid launches, increased its U.S. Hispanic spending by 29% to $24.7 million through the first nine months of 2006 vs. 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. And T-Mobile's Hispanic budget was up 70% for the same period to $32.3 million, thanks to a major World Cup effort.

With so much advertising clutter around the World Cup, Conill decided to position T-Mobile to Hispanics as the company that's just as fanatical about soccer as they are. It worked, according to a Zyman Group post-World Cup study that ranked T-Mobile second after Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser for ad awareness and No. 1 in purchasing intent.

T-Mobile gains with demo
When the campaign ended last August, T-Mobile's Hispanic wireless activations were up 23% over the previous year. The campaign included wonderful attention to detail, like banner ads incorporating the national anthems of different Latin American countries, also available as ringtones.

And other sponsors were jealous of a clever media-buying trick.

On Univision's World Cup broadcasts, major sponsors' brands were part of the on-screen game clock that appeared during critical countdowns.

But only T-Mobile added its familiar jingle whenever the game clock with its logo appeared, creating a powerful mnemonic device and spurring banter among game commentators like "Your phone's ringing!" It became so successful that McDonald's Corp., a much bigger sponsor, went to Univision and insisted on getting its own game-clock sound.

"Conill has a great sense of being able to meld really good insights and what's different about their target group with great creative," says Andrew Sherrard, T-Mobile's VP-integrated marketing.

In a few years, Conill has been transformed from a staid, old-school Hispanic agency to a strategic, creative shop that can compete with the younger Hispanic hotshops and reach acculturated Latinos as easily as the traditional Spanish-dominant market.

"When clients are a little afraid or on edge, that's good," Mr. Martinez says. "If you're not afraid, it's something that's already been done before."
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