This Agency Proved You Don’t Have to Be a Spanish-Language Shop to Work Across Cultural Lines

Mistress calls on bilingual creative talent for Univision promo

Mistress created "lucha de la droga" posters and over 300 pieces of content for a Facebook 360 "narco tomb."
Univision

Univision wanted to make a big splash with its ripped-from-the-headlines series, El Chapo, about the rise and ultimate fall of one of the world’s most notorious drug lords.

As part of the promo push, network execs envisioned an extensive millennial-targeted digital campaign to hype the scripted drama about Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a rags-to-riches cartel king so infamous he was profiled in Rolling Stone by actor Sean Penn.

The caveat for agency Mistress was that the work had to be solely in Spanish.

Los Angeles-based Mistress, which doesn’t market itself as a multicultural agency, drew from its bilingual creative team to come up with more than 200 pieces of content for a social media effort that eventually logged 28 million impressions and nearly 4 million video views. It mixed folklore, memes and modern imagery, using lucha libre fighting, marionettes, news footage and narco tombs to brand the Mexico-set series and engage young mobile-centric audiences.

Mistress is one of many agencies working across cultural lines, like Anomaly on Telemundo’s 2018 FIFA World Cup account, showing “there’s no longer a wall” between general market and specialty firms, said partner Christian Jacobsen, who describes the Mistress workforce as “international” while “over-indexing on Spanish speakers.”

“Everybody has to operate in ways that reflect the consumer,” Jacobsen said. “America’s changing.”

Agencies can reap the rewards when they change with it, as 180LA demonstrated by winning two Grand Prix at Cannes recently for its “Boost Your Voice” campaign. The shop credited its diverse employee pool, specifically point person Karla Burgos, for the program that turned Boost Mobile retail locations into polling places for the 2016 election.

Y&R North America, Huge and TBWA\Chiat\Day, among others, have recently hired or advanced Latino execs to chief creative and ecd roles, marking at least a few diversity gains in advertising.

Mistress’s creative director on the El Chapo project was Lixaida Lorenzo, a native of Puerto Rico and a vet of Hispanic-focused agencies, whose team recreated a drug trafficker’s mausoleum for an Easter egg-filled Facebook 360 video and hired artist Dan Payes to make customized marionettes of the show’s gangsters. The puppets starred in videos, viewed more than 1 million times, pulling strings and being manipulated, an overarching theme of the series.

“We wanted to tap into that rich Mexican storytelling history,” said Scott Harris, partner and ecd. “And everything needed to be vetted and authentic.”

Univision considered a number of agencies for its nascent franchise (three seasons of El Chapo are planned), and execs said they didn’t want to limit themselves or take an expected marketing approach.

“We knew there was an opportunity to bring in new audiences,” said Silvia Garcia, svp, the net’s media planning and multiplatform strategy. Mistress “understood that this series would appeal across languages and cultures,” and its work “built out the world of El Chapo in a way that helped drive ratings, awareness and a deeper connection with our audience.”

Among the El Chapo assets on Instagram and other platforms: portraits of the main characters made out of money, gun smoke and simulated blood spatter, and “lucha de la droga” posters pitting warring villains against each other, Mexican wrestling-style.

The real-life Guzman, a twice-escaped prisoner, was re-arrested in 2016. His extradition to the U.S. early this year ahead of the show’s April launch gave the Mistress team even more fodder, and they used developments in his case and news footage for up-to-the-minute videos on YouTube and Facebook.

Original content, not clips from the series, drove the campaign and set it apart from being “purely promotional,” Jacobsen said. “It extended the mythology.”

It also broadened the campaign’s reach to English speakers, who made up about 40 percent of the Twitter engagement, execs said, noting the fluidity in today’s TV fans, including second-generation American-born viewers and their comfort level with both English and Spanish.

The nine-episode run of El Chapo, a raw and often cheeky first-time collaboration between Univision’s Story House Entertainment and Netflix, pulled the broadcaster out of a ratings slump, with its finale reaching 3.5 million viewers. It’s now airing with English subtitles on Netflix, and the second season debuts on Univision in September.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 7, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.