Ad Age is marking Hispanic Heritage Month 2023 with our Honoring Creative Excellence package, in which members of the Hispanic community revisit some of their favorite creative projects. (Read the introduction here.) Today, guest editor Angela Rodriguez, senior VP, head of strategy, Alma, writes about building campaigns “driven by both data and our collective intrinsic knowledge of actually living these cultural truths.”
A core truth about a culture is that it’s hard to truly recognize your own. Culture is learned naturally, and the mores of culture are inherent in one’s default understanding of the world. It’s a hardwiring process that runs so deep, it is subconscious.
I grew up in Miami, where Hispanic culture is so commonplace that it has long played a dominant part in the city’s identity. So imagine my surprise when I arrived at my college campus and promptly realized I was “Hispanic.”
Who knew I would experience culture shock without ever leaving my state? Yet, there I was, looking at who I was and what I believed through a new lens.
Suddenly, all around me was evidence that I was somehow different from everyone. This was the ’90s, Bad Bunny wasn’t playing on college radio, so my cultural self-discovery was much less tangible. It was in values and beliefs and behaviors that suddenly were in stark contrast to my peers.
I could have stopped with this new understanding of myself, but that wasn’t enough. I looked around and wanted to understand the cultures that drove others, too. Where did they all come from? What might we share? Just how different are we?
In hindsight, my insatiable curiosity about culture has been a driving force all my life. In fact, I probably could not have been anything but a planner. I somehow landed on just the right path. As a result, I’ve been lucky enough to craft the strategies for more campaigns targeting Hispanics than I can count.
Some stand out more than others, such as the first campaign I ever worked on for McDonald’s—a project on which I was able to demonstrate that for Hispanic moms, independence for their children meant something wildly different than for non-Hispanic parents. The resulting brief inspired an iconic Hispanic Happy Meal commercial.
But more than any one campaign, it’s the approach to understanding culture that we built at Alma over the years that comes to mind when I think of projects I am proud of.
In what we call our Culture Lab, we refined an approach to authenticity through specificity that was, in its infancy, rooted in understanding Hispanic values and mindset. It led to a segmentation approach that was first launched in 2008 and updated twice since, which has become the de facto industry standard for understanding today’s Hispanic market.
The journey along the way to understand Hispanic culture at the deepest level, driven by both data and our collective intrinsic knowledge of actually living these cultural truths, has led to some of the agency’s most iconic Hispanic work, such as McDonald’s film “First Customer” and newer classics like QuickBooks’ “Adios Cuadernito.”
It also led to white papers and research that over the years gave me a deeper understanding of my roots while also allowing me to unlock for corporate America the richness and nuance of being Hispanic (as well as highlighting the business growth possible by connecting with them).
Over the years, we’ve filled gaps in understanding with research that revealed the unobvious and connected the dots from heritage countries to the future of the U.S.
Without a doubt, seeing work you’ve had a hand in shaping out in the world is thrilling. But have you ever had someone’s eyes well with tears as they tell you that your work made them feel seen and understood? Or received a heartfelt email from someone who saw a TV commercial that showcased stories that looked like their real life? That’s what I’m most proud to play a part in.
Now, we are deploying that same approach to understanding culture to craft strategies that go beyond Hispanic audiences. We are “unlocking culture” to get to the nuances that lead to work including Pepsi’s “Better With” campaigns and Coors Light’s “Iceman to Canton,” both of which stand out for their creativity but resonate across cultures because of their authenticity.
I am grateful to that incoming college student so many years ago, who allowed herself to fully experience the shock of being different and used that to fuel an understanding of herself and the world. That personal curiosity about what being Hispanic means has grown into an understanding of authentic culture that a kid who didn’t realize Hispanic Heritage Month applied to her would find fascinating.