Not long ago, Alejandro Ruelas, LatinWorks' managing partner and chief marketing officer, asked a senior marketer which of his agencies did the best Hispanic work. The response was a bit of a shock: a general-market shop.
"The agencies that will survive in our space are the ones that behave like general-market agencies," said Mr. Ruelas. He means be rigorously strategic, disciplined, insightful, creative and keenly aware of the precise target . And that pretty much describes LatinWorks.
The Austin, Texas-based shop, in which Omnicom Group has a minority stake, is consistently ranked one of the best Hispanic agencies in the U.S. This is the third consecutive time that Ad Age has named LatinWorks either Multicultural Agency of the Year or to the annual A-List, and it was the only Hispanic shop to be a Cannes Lions winner in 2011, picking up two trophies.
Still, LatinWorks knows it operates in a market increasingly under siege by general-market rivals entrenched in clients' comfort zones. So last year it rolled out some weapons to help it better serve clients, including PepsiCo, Mars, Anheuser-Busch InBev and General Motors.
Financially healthy after years of double-digit revenue growth, LatinWorks has invested in proprietary research about Hispanic consumer archetypes, which led to a planning tool called BrandSteer. The shop also developed an ideas lab to demonstrate that it can craft strategies that go beyond the agency's scope of work.
LatinWorks hired former CPB account planner Todd Widell to run the lab, and added four creatives. Its first concept, for a Livestrong cycling event, was an art project called Pedal Painting. Lowe's and General Motors are also considering ideas from the lab.
"Clients see the agency as constantly thinking about their business and not being limited by the scope of their assignment," Mr. Ruelas said. "The fact that we're bringing them ideas on a consistent basis, whether they buy them or not, elevates our standing."
For the Chevy brand, which has underperformed severely in the Hispanic market, LatinWorks encouraged GM to eschew stereotypical ads about hard-working Latinos reaching for the American dream while playing soccer and raising a family.
Instead, it identified the target consumer for the compact Chevy Cruze as "Unstoppables": young people who demand a car that keeps them moving forward in life. In one spot, the Cruze's superior gas mileage is called the "keep driving until you're ready" feature as a bride, one of her bridesmaids at the wheel, circles the church.
In the first three quarters of 2011, Chevy's vehicle registrations to Hispanics were 33% higher than a year earlier. The Cruze captured 8.7% of Hispanic purchases of compacts, a segment that accounts for 20% of all cars bought by Hispanics.
Chris Perry, VP-global marketing and strategy for Chevrolet, said that LatinWorks helps "identify who our audience is within the Hispanic community and how best to reach them, and make sure we bring our Chevy values to that consumer."
The agency helped AB-InBev's Bud Light tap into the crossover appeal of Pitbull, the Cuban-American hip-hop artist. The first Bud Light spot featuring Pitbull broke last fall on Spanish- and English-language TV. Mike Sundet, senior director for Bud Light, described it as "a multicultural campaign that is going to reach all our core drinkers."
LatinWorks also created Hispanic and general-market ads for the Chelada versions of Budweiser and Bud Light.
"Our objective has never been to do general-market work," said Sergio Alcocer, LatinWorks' president and chief creative officer. "It's to take Hispanic to the mainstream, which is different."
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