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 Pedro Lerma turns the spotlight to MEL Founder, President and CCO Luis Miguel Messianu, who writes about creating authentic work that’s not “retrofitted or simply adapted to get it out of the way.”
As if Hispanic Heritage Month didn’t mean so much to me both personally and professionally, this one in particular is truly sweet!
Leveraging the momentum behind HHM (we love acronyms ;), we launched our new enterprise under the moniker of MEL. MEL is short for Messianu/Edelman/Lerma, but it’s more than just that. Please keep on reading, I’ll get to it further down!
We have to be grateful to U.S. Congressman George E. Brown of California, who in 1968 proposed the original idea of Hispanic Heritage Week to Congress. Fifty-five years later, it has turned into a month-long celebration that pays well-deserved tribute to our community’s contributions across culture, art, science and so many other aspects of life.
While we have come a long, long way, and we should feel both proud and thankful, I take this opportunity to ask those companies that haven’t opened their eyes to the Hispanic growth opportunity to wake up and smell the cafecito!
And to put the amazing opportunity in perspective, let me share some eye-opening facts: (*)
Unappreciated: Only 42% of Latinos feel their values are shared and reflected by the majority of Americans; this represents a 26-point drop from 68% in 2018.
Undervalued: Only 45% of Latinos believe big brands represent their values in 2023, down from 54% in 2018; in contrast, 67% feel small businesses better reflect them.
Underrepresented: 64+ million living in the U.S. have less than 3% of the representation on TV and entertainment media, and only 6% of mentions in news media.
Our ideas and our creativity can certainly help bridge this Latino inclusion gap, but we should keep in mind some best practices in order to avoid what we should start calling “Latino coating” or “Latino washing,” which gets magnified by the opportunistic marketing efforts of a number of brands during the aforementioned HHM.
We are still seeing a lot of work that feels “trans-created” (I hate the term, BTW)—retrofitted or simply adapted to get it out of the way! It’s not about adding percussion to the soundtrack that makes the connection—and more importantly, reaching is not connecting! This is not an eyeballs game. It’s about emotionally and even viscerally engaging with brains and mostly with hearts.
There’s so much clutter when it comes to how Hispanics are portrayed through family reunions, fútbol and music scenes, and the people we are trying to sell something to can see right through those obvious and exaggerated executional elements.
It’s important to point out that from nuance to cliché, there’s a very short distance. There are intangibles that tell the audiences that we really get them, and from authentic and deep cultural representation you can derive the “sweet art of subtlety” that our audiences appreciate so much!
It’s not only the stories you tell, but how you tell the stories! You can call it the “wink factor,” and I can assure you we can be insightful and clever, but also subtle. There’s a sense of connection when you convey real cultural knowledge and you’re able to dial down to be relevant instead of dialing up and getting into cliché territory. It’s a matter of striking the right balance and making sure it is enough but not too much.
It’s about uplifting the Latino presence, dignifying and amplifying our contributions to this great nation, and celebrating those cultural moments that lend themselves to specifically and authentically translating into creative expressions that are both timeless and timely!
Speak with your heart in your hand. Find that voice that feels authentic and resonates. The best work is based on our life experiences and cultural upbringing, and it’s relatively easy to spot work that wasn’t created by people that live the culture. You cannot just scratch the surface. You have to go deep, as culture has many layers.
In the end I just want my work to mean something, and help brands find their way … find their path! Our work shouldn’t depend on media investment. Let’s aim for earned media, and along the way earn the Latino audience’s attention, earn their trust and ultimately earn their love, creating a bond that will endure unexpected circumstances, unforeseen twists and uncertainty in general.
People are happy to spread the word when they feel included. You connect, make a difference in people’s lives and the audience becomes your “creative department”—and more importantly your brand ambassadors and media amplifiers.
And going back to the idea of subtlety and our name: mel means honey in Portuguese and in Catalan, and it’s also a colloquial expression for something that’s awesome … fantastic … something that’s sweet!
So as the “not so new kids on the block,” we’ll get to work as “busy bees” and help clients find the sweet spot in their path towards real growth, together celebrating Hispanic Heritage year-round!
(*) Sources: Hispanic Sentiment Study 2023; The Latino Gap, Columbia University Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race; Berkeley Media Studies and Unidos US Racial Equity Initiative.