Hispanic creative executive Sergio Alcocer on how to embrace ‘social impact’ and why the ‘total market’ approach is failing
Sergio Alcocer has always been at the forefront of Hispanic marketing, first working under pioneering agency executive Castor Fernandez in New York City and then as chief creative officer of LatinWorks, the Austin, Texas-based shop that for years pumped out award-winning work for Budweiser, Domino’s Pizza and other big-name clients that often extended into the general market.
The Mexico City native, who left LatinWorks in 2015, for the past three years has been trying to redefine multicultural marketing as founder of a small agency called Rest of the World. The Austin-based shop describes itself as a “social impact creative agency” with an aim of convincing brands to do more than simply sell to minority communities.
“A lot of companies keep on talking about targeting minorities—and not only that, targeting minority consumers. I think the word 'targeting' and the word 'consumers' need to evolve,” Alcocer says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Ad Lib” podcast. Instead, brands should take a broader approach, like helping to solve deep-rooted problems like closing education gaps or improving financial literacy, he says. “Those kinds of things are areas where you can mix social impact with marketing to create real change that will benefit the communities that you are then trying to target,” he says.
“I am not saying that those are necessarily and exclusively the problem of companies to solve or fix, but those are themes that the communities are looking for companies to at least acknowledge and put a first step in the direction of fixing.”
Alcocer’s mission, which he first formulated in early 2017, now looks especially prescient, as companies rush to embrace movements like Black Lives Matter with promises of big donations and other philanthropic efforts aimed at helping communities of color. Even before the killing of George Floyd sparked protests leading to a wave of corporate pledges, marketers for years have talked about living up to higher ideals often labeled as having “brand purpose.”
But Alcocer says marketers have lacked sustained focus. “Before this year, the majority of companies were thinking about Blacks or Latinos in the context of Black History Month in February or Hispanic Heritage Month in September or Pride in June. When in reality, this needs to be a 365-day effort.”
His shop, which employs only a handful of people, has a client list that includes pizza chain Domino's Pizza and the Glenlivet whisky brand. Also on its roster is Tranzact, which helps connect people to insurance carriers. Rest of the World is currently working on an assignment aimed at increasing awareness of Medicare Advantage options for Hispanic seniors.
He points to healthcare as one industry where brands are falling short in reaching out to multicultural audiences. The agency recently analyzed the percentage of the pharmaceutical budgets earmarked for such efforts and found it incredibly small, “which is an anormal disproportion, especially when you think that multicultural audiences, particularly Hispanics, are severely underinsured.”
Last year, the shop worked with German-based nonprofit Falling Walls Foundation, whose mission, inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, is to “tear down the next walls in science and society.” Rest of the World’s campaign, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, drew an analogy between the Berlin Wall falling and calls by President Trump to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Alcocer got his start in the industry by working for Leo Burnett in his native Mexico City. He made pit stops in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela before coming to the U.S. to work for Fernandez’s shop, Castor Advertising. The Cuban immigrant is considered one of the pioneers of the U.S. Hispanic agency industry.
“I was very lucky to work with somebody who created this whole idea of Hipanic marketing,” Alcocer says on the podcast. “I immediately fell in love with this idea of the market within the market and this idea of the pride and culture of Hispanics in the United States. Because I was Mexican and because I lived in the Caribbean and South America I kind of understand the difference between groups of Hispanics in the United States.”
As the Hispanic population has surged in more recent years, major holding company agencies have seized on the revenue potential, creating so-called total market solutions with the aim of embedding multicultural targeting within general assignment work.
On the podcast, Alcocer critiques the concept. “It’s a questionable approach because it implies also that one size fits all, which I think in many cases ... in many categories, it does not apply,” he says. “The motivation to justify total market is about financial efficiencies. It is not about doing the best work for the brand. It’s about doing it with the most efficient budget possible.”
He continues: “That doesn’t mean that we need to have a separate parallel marketing world. What I think we need to do is to analyze where the growth is coming from in your category. Who are the consumers and people who are going to help you grow? And in many geographies and many categories, Hispanics are leading the growth for brands, so that should be your quote-on-quote general market work.
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