You Know You Work for a General-Market Agency If ...

Never Heard These Phrases? You Haven't Worked in Hispanic

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
There are limitations and frustrations that impact the day-to-day business life of anyone in advertising. There are color-blind complications and equal-opportunity annoyances. Issues like budget, creative approvals and research -- to name a few -- are all challenging, regardless of how your agency is defined.

The reality is, however, that there are some things that occur (or don't occur) in general-market agency life that might fall under the umbrella of "general-market agency privilege." There are things general-market agency professionals simply take for granted -- things that these agencies never have to think about in their interaction with clients or their overall creative or planning process.

In other words, you might be enjoying general-market agency privilege if:

You never have to tell a client "It sounds better in . . ." or "It loses something in translation." Imagine handing over your creative work to a client along with a second version that only roughly approximates what your actual writing says. What was witty and sparkling copy is now a paler, blander more awkward version of its original self. Welcome to the world of Hispanic creatives. And the trickier it is to translate into English, the better it may actually be in Spanish (think plays-on-words, really colloquial in-culture stuff with no comparable English-language equivalents). Cursed with a generation of executives who are somewhat guilt ridden about the fact that they should have taken Spanish in high school, Hispanic creatives and their account teams are tasked with the art of back translating -- capturing the essence of their work in a manner that sounds dynamic and coherent in a whole other language. They may also need to do yet another form of translation -- a more literal version -- for the lawyers who don't care about the work sounding good in English. They just care what is being said literally, word for word.

You can hold focus groups, eat M&M's and listen to all of your respondents voice their opinions in their own voices. Imagine every consumer reaction -- positive or negative -- filtered through the somewhat monotone voice of a focus group translator as they try desperately to keep up with a room full of opinionated people that were asked to speak one at a time, but don't. It's better than nothing, but once again, a whole lot is lost.

Your client doesn't really care what country your voice talent was born in (or any staff member for that matter). Just when you think you've found the right voice for that new spot you're launching, someone on the client team (it might even be a Spanish speaker who has been pulled in to listen) asks "Where is he from?" and then launches into a series of concerns about "finding someone who can really work for all Hispanics in all markets when in fact Hispanics are all so different and their Spanish isn't really the same at all." Really, it's not a problem; it's not all that different from the distinct accents that crop up when English speakers are from the Bronx or from Beverly Hills. When needed, more neutral voice-over choices can be made when casting a national Hispanic spot.

You've never been handed another agency's strategies, footage and already-produced spots and told, "We didn't budget for production, but I'm sure you can do something with all this. Make it work." There are times when the repurposing of existing general-market work is the right thing to do for the Hispanic consumer and the brand. There is little downside and a definite upside in terms of budget allocation and even universally relevant messaging. So I'm not advocating for that option to be taken off the table. But I am suggesting it should be just that -- an option, not a starting point.

You can't imagine being asked, "What's white about it?" Culture is carried into communication in a number of ways, and some are easier to see than others. So, for example, the use of rituals or heroes or symbols would give us visual clues about cultural specifics. Thus, when we joke about the overuse of soccer balls, mariachis, grandmothers and piƱatas in Spanish language advertising, we are reacting to the overuse of the more visible cultural cues. They can be pointed to in response to the question, "What's Hispanic about it?" But values also carry powerful cultural cues. You just can't see them as readily and, therefore, you can't point to them and use them as evidence of cultural authenticity.

Obviously, I borrowed this concept from the notion of "White Privilege." In this case, it isn't meant to protest that the privilege is deliberate (or even unfair). It just is.

Conversely, it has always been and always will be a privilege to work as a Hispanic marketing specialist and to experience the good, bad and the ugly that wearing that hat* brings.

~ ~ ~

*The author refused to end this article with the phrase, "that wearing that sombrero brings" although it would have been the easy and, in some circles, the expected thing to do.

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