The term "multicultural advertising" traditionally means something closer to the opposite—advertising targeted at one racial or cultural group, placed in minority-specific media.
But LatinWorks, founded as a Hispanic agency in 1998, has long believed that multiculturalism is mainstream, and brand messaging should reflect this. Their work, including a Carlos Mencia-led Bud Light spot for the 2007 Super Bowl and a range of clever multicultural campaigns for Lowe’s, Domino’s, Starburst, and others, has been convincing: Jamba Juice just named the Austin-based company as their total-market agency for a large campaign to reposition the brand.
"Hispanic advertising was horrible in the ‘90s," says Sergio Alcocer, LatinWorks’ president and chief creative officer. "It was part of the corporate affairs of companies, and very patronizing." Along with two former Anheuser-Busch marketing executives, Manny Flores and Alejandro Ruelas, Alcocer built the agency around a more progressive, nuanced view of Hispanic consumers, based on how Latinos in the U.S. viewed themselves—one largely supported by findings of the U.S. Census and LatinWorks' own research.
"For the first time, the 2000 Census included a question where they allowed people to choose more than one race as part of their self identification," says Christian Filli, LatinWorks's senior vice president, cultural insight—himself Swiss and Cuban, raised in Brazil with time spent in Mexico. "In 2010, a little over one-third of the country who participated in the census checked more than one race." But the resulting conversation in the industry, says Filli, was still focused on numbers. "It was still very much centered on ‘oh, by 2042’ or ‘by 2050 the population will look like this, minorities and majorities, etc.,'" he says. "We made a commitment about three years ago to finding a parallel conversation and discourse, and develop a point of view that's not solely based on numbers and demographics, but is based on the human component of the equation and how people are really evolving."
The result of this has been a large investment in proprietary research, including its recent report "The Plus Identity: Shifting Paradigms and the Future of Latino Culture in the U.S." One of the most compelling findings exposed the fallacy of "conveyor belt" acculturation, as Filli calls it, wherein immigrants take a linear path from foreigner to American citizenship. "We asked 1,000 Latinos in the U.S. a very simple question: When it comes to self-identifying, do you consider yourself more Latino than American, more American than Latino, or equally both?" says Filli. "It came out that 44% considered themselves to be equally both, which is interesting. But the most interesting part was when we asked them how do you see yourselves in the future, 44% grew to 66%. Which means people on the other two extremes are converging. In terms of their desire or aspiration, they want to go to the middle. Even the ones who currently classify themselves as more American."
Further exploration of what it means to be "in the middle" found that "this mindset of being ambicultural, it's not just about being fluent in two languages, or I want to make sure I'm connected to my country of origin at the same time I want to be seen as an American," says Filli. "It's not just a culturally or politically correct way of doing things, but they're actually seeing it as a competitive advantage for them to succeed in life."
This focus on the consumers’ mindset has influenced much of the agency's work as the multicultural agency (meaning focused only on Latino and African American markets) for brands like Domino’s and Lowe’s. For their work with Lowe’s, LatinWorks started conversations with first-time homeowners, many of whom are multicultural.
"This is a group of people that has had a life experience that is not necessarily traditional—they might not have grown up in the same house all their life, they might have moved a lot, even between countries. They might not have had parents who owned a house themselves. So they are really FIRST-time homeowners," says Filli. And despite the way brands often portray the charming glamour of home improvement, "being a first-time homeowner is not a perfect world. At all. So we tried to capture that with some level of humor, going through a process where there are days when you want to throw everything away. But Lowe's is there to support you on that journey."
Anyone who has owned a home knows that this feeling is not limited to multicultural households, and LatinWorks’ campaigns that have tapped into universal truths with a multicultural angle have earned the company both a slew of industry awards and a growing number of total-market clients. According to Alcocer, the agency grew almost 30% in the past year thanks to an expanding portfolio of total-market clients, including AT&T mobile company Aio, regional convenience store Stripes, the Texas Lottery, and now Jamba Juice, the largest yet.
"We have been pushing this idea of transformation with the idea of taking multicultural to the mainstream for 15 years," says Alcocer. "It seems like we have finally coincided with a moment that supports some of the crazy things we were saying in 2002-2003." The 2007 Carlos Mencia ad, for example, wherein Mencia teaches an English class of multicultural students how to order a beer in different parts of the country, was a breakthrough. "What we did with that Bud Light spot, today is just a fun anecdote, but in 2007 it was very revolutionary," says Alcocer. "It was the first spot led by a Hispanic in the Super Bowl, the biggest most mainstream advertising event."
The national Jamba Juice campaign will roll out in the first quarter of next year, and focus on the brand’s expansion of pure juicing and healthy lifestyle advocacy. Details of the spots aren’t public yet, but there will obviously be a heavy multicultural component, particularly considering that 40% of Jamba Juice’s business is in California.
"We're taking very seriously the idea of taking multicultural to the mainstream," says Alcocer. "This is different than trying to be just a big general market agency. We don't want to be McCann Erickson."
However, says Filli, LatinWorks believes that competition for the whole industry is shifting to the multicultural middle. "We used to be very focused on our side of the spectrum, very separate from general market agencies," he says. "But as consumers are changing, this is the space growing. The race is over this space. This is where the playing field is now, and it's really a new market."