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 Alejandro Clabiorne turns the spotlight to Maria Teresa Hernandez, head of multicultural marketplace and senior VP, brand partnerships North America, at Mirriad, who writes about creating a multicultural virtual product placement (VPP) marketplace.
Chi town is the city that raised me, and while I wear my hometown pride like a badge of honor, growing up in Chicago in the ’80s meant most of the barrios (neighborhoods) were in despair, schools were grossly underfunded, community programs were getting shut down and drugs and gangs were running rampant.
But one thing about Latinos is that we thrive in the face of adversity. My mom was holding things down on her own—single, young and juggling three kids with full-time work and college. It was my mother’s grit and relentless work ethic that became my inspiration, propelling me through school, enabling me to put myself through college and eventually graduate studies.
Life after college was a stark contrast to my upbringing in inner-city Chicago. It was immediately evident that my life experiences were vastly different from those of my new professional peers. No one looked like me, no one spoke like me, and no one moved like me. The underrepresentation was painfully clear as I grappled with imposter syndrome.
However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my unique journey and Latinidad were not obstacles but rather strengths. My success was rooted in owning my Mexican-American identity and acknowledging that our industry needs diverse voices like mine to let it be known, “Estamos aqui!”—we are here!
Fast-forward to 2019: My commitment to DEI&B became even more pronounced when I joined my current company, Mirriad, an AI tech company pioneering a new advertising model called virtual product placement (VPP) that enables advertisers to place their brands and products into popular programming using AI-powered digital effects. The technology lives as an extension to media owners who partner with Mirriad, unlocking new media inventory and revenue. I immediately recognized the growth opportunity our tech could unlock for Black-, Hispanic-, Asian- and LGBTQ-owned and/or targeted media owners and creators, including game-changing access to music videos with emerging genres such as Reggaeton, Punjabi and Afrobeats. And with the commitment of my team, the wheels were in motion toward creating a multicultural VPP marketplace.
Then came the murder of George Floyd, forcing a global reckoning with social injustice. In advertising, the call for systemic change was deafening, with a spotlight on the underrepresentation of people of color and the glaring disparity in investment between the general market and multicultural media. Despite the overwhelming helplessness we all felt that year, my determination to drive meaningful change grew only stronger. And so I spent the next three and a half years building a solution that would drive incremental campaign dollars directly to the diverse supplier community, with key insights proving campaign effectiveness.
Today, Mirriad powers our industry’s first and only multicultural VPP marketplace, having onboarded more than 40 minority-owned and targeted supply partners (including Univision, Canela, BET, The Shade Room and ItalkBB), introducing an innovative ad format that addresses media inequity head-on. This new pipeline of ad inventory enables advertisers to not only show up in TV, streaming, music and digital programming using AI, but also accelerate and scale their multicultural media commitments and pledges with ease and transparency.
I’m proud of the incredible work Mirriad has done to date in evolving DEI&B into the ethos of our organization, from top leadership on down. I’m also grateful to my scrappier early years that prepared me for the good fight.
While there’s still so much work to be done, my feet are planted firmly to continue to create a more inclusive and representative media landscape for my fellow Latino, Black, Asian and LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. We are stronger together. As I’ll always say, “Estamos aqui!”—we are here!