Hispanic Agencies Eye Future

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NEW YORK If anyone who attended the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies 23rd semi-annual meeting last week thought that marketing aimed at Latinos has flat-lined, it's the premise that's dead, not Hispanic advertising.

Conference planners chose the provocative, albeit gloomy, theme "Is Hispanic Advertising Dead?" in hopes of challenging and inciting the 500 attendees to step up and move their industry beyond the realm of Hispanic marketing. The meeting was held Nov. 1-2 at the Crowne Plaza Times Square in New York.

"We need to start explaining to our clients that the Hispanic market is not a fluke. And we are not a PR effort," Gustavo de Mello, conference co-chairman and senior vp of strategic planning for Lapiz Integrated Marketing Communications, told a Friday afternoon audience of marketing pros. "We are part of the bottom line and we're putting real power behind the Hispanic market."

De Mello urged agencies to get out of their comfort zone to uncover innovative ideas, noting, "Not great ideas for the Hispanic market, but great ideas that happen to be created by an Hispanic agency in Spanish and in English."

And as Latinos gain economic clout as a general market powerhouse, what will set apart Hispanic agencies from players in the general market?

Aldo Quevedo, conference co-chairman and president and CCO of Dieste Harmel & Partners, put it simply: "The difference between Hispanic agencies and those in the general market will be cultural relevancy."

AHAA chairwoman Jackie Bird said the ultimate goal of the conference was to energize agencies to elevate their game and position themselves against the best of the best in the business, not just in the Hispanic market.

"The industry is very much alive and kicking and evolving with the market," said Bird, who is president of Wing Latino. "Our strategies for reaching this evolving market segment must be as dynamic as the consumers we are trying to reach."

One such group is the Latino youth market, ages 12-34, who are considered the fastest-growing youth segment in the United States and often the most overlooked.

The influential group was the focus of a panel discussion sponsored by MTV Tr3s titled, "Renacimiento (Rebirth): How Latino Youth Are Leading the Way," which explored the cultural influences of today's young, bicultural, bilingual Latinos.

Panelists included AHAA's Bird; conference co-chairmen de Mello and Quevedo; Jose Luis Villa, president of Circulo Creativo; and Epic Records recording artists Divine, Elan and Yeyo of The DEY. The session was moderated by MTV Tr3s VJ Karli Henriquez, host of the bilingual youth channel's new program, Karlifornia, which debuts Nov. 13.

According to MTV Tr3s senior vp and gm Lucia Ballas-Traynor, young Latinos are helping to reshape American pop culture, mixing the values and experience of their Hispanic heritages with those of their American lives. "They are creating a new and unique identity that sets them apart from mainstream youth," she said.

Conference attendees trying to get a better understanding of the youth market and its influence in the ever-evolving Latino market were offered a candid glimpse of today's young Hispanics from the culturally aware and confident artists of The DEY.

"As consumers, we're starting at a younger age to understand our finances. We're not just buying video games. We're reading more, understanding politics and we're starting to be a little more educated about the world," said Élan Luz Rivera, who is Puerto Rican and African American. The singer boasts having recently started an investment portfolio that includes her first stock purchase of shares in Apple.

With his eye on one day amassing wealth comparable to, in his words, "Bill Gates status," The DEY's MC Divine said, "We want to be a rich culture, too, not just rich as individuals," said the first-generation Nuyorican.

Group member Yeyo, who moved here from Puerto Rico four years ago, said he considers it his responsibility as an artist and an entertainer to honor and respect his identity as a Latino.

"We must tell the kids, the advertisers and the community that we are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and Ecuadorians," said Yeyo, whose father is from Cuba and his mother from Puerto Rico. "Being Latino should be what makes you share your culture with your Latino brother, not separate you. " He added, "I want to learn from your culture and I want you to learn from mine."

From the agency perspective, AHAA's Bird said the time is right for Hispanic agencies to flex their own muscles as cultural experts with perspective and insight about Latino consumers.

"As an industry, we need to stake our claim and convey this message," said Bird, adding, "'This is the value that our member agencies can bring to you to your business because we specialize in it, we understand the consumer better than anyone else and because we can help drive your business in a thriving marketplace."