LatinWorks: Multicultural AOY ’09

In a new Hispanic market commercial for Domino’s Pizza, close-knit neighbors play a game of telephone. As the famous kids’ game goes, they pass along the information person to person. But in this case, the message — Domino’s tastes better than Pizza Hut — is so strong, even a game of telephone can’t mess it up.

The spot, and another recent one in which a Domino’s delivery man shows up at an outdoor party where everybody knows him, are already ringing up strong 2010 sales for the marketer and “some of the best ad scores we’ve seen since we’ve been tracking Hispanic work,” says Karen Kaiser, director of national advertising at Domino’s.

The new campaign is the brainchild of LatinWorks, the Austin, Texas-based agency formed more than a decade ago by a couple of Anheuser-Busch marketing veterans and an advertising maven who Kaiser calls “the centrifugal force” of the shop.

“They’re really bringing it for their clients,” Kaiser says of Adweek’s Multicultural Agency of the Year. “And it’s not just the creative, which is very visually rich. They really hit the bull’s-eye on strategy.”

It’s that kind of right brain/left brain balance that LatinWorks is striving for, explains CMO and managing partner Alejandro Ruelas, who runs the agency with his former A-B colleague Manny Flores, CEO and managing partner, and Sergio Alcocer, president and CCO.

While 2009 was a punishing year for the ad industry overall, the minority-owned Omnicom agency grew 13 percent to more than $18 million in revenue and staff increased by 15 percent. Still, the realities of the market prompted a good deal of introspection.

“We couldn’t take our eye off the fact that every client was looking for performance and sales,” says Ruelas, a self-described client-focused introvert. “We had to make sure our ideas were very focused. It was a year to be diligent and disciplined. Achieving an emotional connection with the target becomes essential at a time when consumers are so hesitant in their purchasing. It’s a good time to differentiate and create brand loyalty.”

Dave Peacock, president of longtime client A-B, appreciates the agency’s collaborative nature. “Everybody kicks around ideas and it’s a very open atmosphere,” he says.

In 2009, LatinWorks won a heated battle for two major accounts, Burger King and Bacardi, adding those to a roster that already included Lowe’s, Domino’s, ESPN Deportes and Hyundai. And, the agency secured more from Mars by landing Snickers, Twix and M&Ms after producing a hit with a Starburst campaign that featured just a guy and a llama. Even now, LatinWorks execs are hard-pressed to say why they picked a lanky, sweet-faced animal as the co-star of the campaign that launched last summer. They wanted to convey that the flavorful candy was social — people liked to share it — so the llama happily fed a piece to his friend and vice versa in the surreal 30-second spot.

“It talks to the heart and has attitude,” says Alcocer “I can’t even explain why it works. It’s just fun.”

The campaign was intended to reverse a hefty 27 percent slide in sales and make an impression with young Hispanics who weren’t enamored by the brand. Within three months, Starburst saw a 14.8 percent sales increase, according to the agency, and the llama spot become a viral hit. It crossed quickly into the general market, noteworthy because the modest ad budget had been concentrated on Spanish-language media.

Aside from hundreds of friends signing up on the brand’s Facebook page and a Mattel American Girl doll getting a pet llama named Starburst, the work spawned the ultimate pop culture compliment: YouTube parodies, tweets and retweets. It also landed LatinWorks a silver Lion at the 2009 Cannes International Advertising Festival.