Can African-American Agencies Learn From Hispanic Agencies?

Black Shops Would Do Well to Copy Their Approach

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
Where multicultural advertising is going and how can it evolve are questions that plague Hispanic, black, multicultural and urban agencies as they look towards their business growth.

Beyond the significant growth in population and influence, the growth and development of the Hispanic advertising is based largely on the language difference. Because the target audience speaks a different language, it has always been easier in the Hispanic market than the black market for clients to justify the spend and allow more creative freedom. The Hispanic advertising market continues to grow as the market grows and marketers continue to build and develop smarter and more sophisticated programs and initiatives to court an ever-more important audience whose complexity and breadth of influence in purchasing, consumption and trends can not be ignored.

That's not to say that Hispanic budgets are sheltered from threats. There are challenges from general market agencies. Despite the continued growth of the market, there's a nonstop need for marketers to justify their investments. And that's to say nothing of the fights over budget and creative control and the hot-button topics of acculturation, bicultural consumers and second-generation language and media preferences.

Black agencies, of course, face similar issues -- in particular, having to prove themselves as worthy investments and, in that regard, being held to standards that general market agencies aren't held to. As Eugene Morris eloquently detailed in his blog, the concern about African American agency extinction has been whispered and debated for years. The budgets targeting African American consumers have not been increasing and many of the heads of the African American agencies are challenged with RFPs detailing miniscule percentages of the total budgets.

After spending two days at the AHAA conference last week, what struck me was the differences in approach to change that the Hispanic agencies have compared to black agencies (or the general market for that matter).

In an ad industry that does not have a reputation for aggressively facing change, the fearlessness and courage of the theme of the AHAA conference could not be denied: "Is Hispanic Advertising Dead?" The theme was obviously quite controversial to many but demonstrated the fearless leadership and the hope to collaborate, debate, learn and hopefully ignite some ideas and inspiration among its agency members to continue to search for answers that are not easily uncovered. The consensus was that the low-hanging fruit is dead and we must work harder to identify and connect with consumers' passion points regardless of language.

The consistent mantra at the conference focused attendees on being better, smarter and more creative. A youth panel (which turned out to be music group The Dey) provided a spirited discussion about their attitudes -- both positive and negative -- about Hispanic-targeted advertising. The conference incorporated ad-industry speakers and information from outside of the Hispanic market to discuss new types of general-market-agency collaborations. It also pulled in people from outside of advertising to discuss the incorporation of design and imagery in fashion that connects to a culture. And the annual young creatives competition continues to develop talent while providing public-service creative efforts.

Is it possible to get the black, multicultural and urban agencies involved in the conversation? The launch of ABAA will hopefully be a beginning, but the value of black/multicultural agencies -- both new and established -- getting out of their competitive boxes and humbly coming together, searching for new solutions, reaching out and forcing their talent to step it up and raise the standard fearlessly -- that's the kind of leadership that is desperately needed.
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