U.S. Hispanic Market Needs to Find Its Voice

Creative Looks a Little Too South American

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Catarino Lopez Catarino 'Cat' Lopez
I was recently at an awards luncheon, scarfing down the industry-standard cordon bleu, while listening to a young lady state that the Hispanic market had no voice during her acceptance speech. Why people choose to make political statements during acceptance speeches is beyond me. Be gracious, accept your award and get off the stage so that I can eat my flan in peace!

If you want to make a statement, put it in a blog. So thanks to the good folks at Ad Age for allowing me to wax poetic on the Big Tent and get a few things off my chest. I've been preaching about the lack of voice in the Hispanic market for some time, so it's not news to me. But it is news for some.

One of my biggest gripes about the market is that it seems like we're always talking to ourselves. By we, I mean U.S. Hispanic ad agencies. Every Hispanic industry event it seems like we're preaching to the choir. We need an advocate that spreads the word down the client halls and throughout corporate America.

But that's just part of it. In my opinion, the true lack of voice in the market has to do with the work. Over the last few years, the Hispanic market has improved creatively. We are finally no longer just a blip on the screen at major award festivals. Latino agencies are consistently having a presence at Cannes, Clio and FIAP.

Yet with all this success, we have yet to create our own voice for the U.S. Hispanic market. Today, the voice of the U.S. Hispanic market is what I call borrowed interest. There is some great work, but the best spots tend to be very South American. It's a proven formula that award juries like. I myself have been guilty of this. And honestly, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. It works. But until we develop our own U.S. Hispanic identity, the U.S. Hispanic market will always be just a blip on the screen.

But in our own defense, we are at a disadvantage. In Argentina everybody looks and talks like an Argentino. Same in Mexico, Brazil or any other Latin American country. In those countries, the Latino market is the General Market. Nobody asks, "What's Hispanic about that?" So creating an identity is a much easier task.

The cross that U.S. Hispanic agencies have to bear is that our market is extremely fragmented. We're Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Argentino, Spanish, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Dominican, Chilean, Guatemalen, Panamanian, Brazilain, etc. We are not one thing. There was a time, back in the day, when the market was predominantly Mexican. I can argue that back then, the market actually had a voice, it was just not a very good one. The problem was that it was stereotypical. Familias and soccer balls served their purpose. They gave us a reason to exist.

Over the years, the influx of new agencies and creatives have helped us move past that. A rising tide raises all ships and now, our ideas are much more conceptual. And believe me, I would rather have good concept than a bad stereotype. But we have to evolve past "borrowed interest" when we bring these ideas to life in order to create our own voice for the market that stands on its own.

In my opinion, it's just a matter of time. After all, we're still a relatively young market comparatively speaking. In the grand scheme of things, I like to think we're going through puberty. We're struggling with who we want to be. Our voice is beginning to change. It cracks from time to time, going back and forth from high to low because it hasn't matured. And like any good teenager, we're borrowing the identity of somebody we admire to help create our own. The good news is that there is some promise in those cracks we hear, and this mixture of borrowed and new will create a fresh perspective. Soon, we'll start hearing what are voice is going to be. But will we be the only ones listening?

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Catarino "Cat" Lopez, chief creative officer, Bromley Communications, San Antonio, Texas. For more info, check out the bio page.
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