Mad Men: Miami’s Hispanic Madison Ave.

Can Miami’s ad agencies leverage Hispanic ties to rival Madison Avenue?

For all its glitz and glamour, Miami has never been mistaken for Madison Avenue. Much like the city’s historically superficial veneer, the advertising industry here has been characterized mostly by obvious exploitation, sexual and otherwise. There is the beach. There are bikinis and palm trees. And not much else, if you are to believe most of the advertising emanating from and around the Magic City.

This image did not help the few agencies that weren’t intent on hawking sun and skin. But now there may be a magic bullet: the Hispanic market. A big part of Miami’s maturing as a city is pegged to its role as the gateway to Latin America, and as a result, local agencies are emerging as players for national and international clients bent on reaching this burgeoning consumer base.

And reaching these consumers isn’t easy, 
given that “Hispanic market” is nearly as misleading
a term these days as “average American.” “The Hispanic market is definitely not monolithic,” notes Jorge A. Plasencia, Chairman and CEO of República, one of Miami’s fastest-growing agencies. “It is very diverse. Even the Spanish we use differs from country to country. How you reach a Cuban American in Hialeah is very different than how you reach a Mexican American in East Los Angeles. You need to speak to each in their own culture.”

To do so, many companies are looking to Miami for guidance. This wasn’t always the case. The city’s first spurt of success as an advertising hot spot came during the 1980s in the form of slogans like “Miami: See it like a native,” complete with corresponding image of scantily clad women. Influential Miami firm Beber Silverstein created this and other catch phrases, and help set the scene for the emergence of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which has become the city’s best-known agency. That shop, based in Coconut Grove, helped usher in the age of viral marketing with its “Subservient Chicken” campaign for Burger King in the mid-aughts, which directed visitors to a website to make a man dressed as a chicken perform various demeaning tasks based on computer keyboard commands. The buzzed-about campaign earned CP+B a reputation as a sun-soaked alternative to the old NYC standbys, and brands such as Burger King, Volkswagen and Microsoft came calling. By the end of the decade, however most of CP+B’s team had been shipped out to a new headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, at the behest of partner Alex Bogusky. The gradual move sent ripples through Miami’s ad community, leaving many to wonder if the city had suffered a fatal brain drain.

Over the past year or so, such fears have abated. Becoming the go-to locale for companies and clients looking to tap the Hispanic market seems almost a birthright for Miami—often facetiously referred to as the best place to do business with Latin America because it’s so close to the United States. But it’s not that simple. Ad agencies are having to learn how to simultaneously set the marketing conversation for disparate cultures while teaching brands to approach this category differently…

…Plasencia’s República, founded in 2006, also made the Ad Age list (for the second consecutive year)—no surprise given the Miami-based agency’s roster, which includes high-profile clients like the Miami Dolphins and, tellingly, the proposed National Museum of the American Latino. The latter gig, which could lead to the creation of an institution in Washington, D.C., has Plasencia particularly excited. “It’s such a great honor to be working on the museum and report to Congress,” he says. The assignment also points to his smarts when it comes to reaching the Hispanic market, which he says responds best to a family-first message. “The promise of a better tomorrow for their family is something each Hispanic person, wherever they are from, strives for,” Plasencia asserts. “It’s something unique to the immigrant community. It’s why they are here.”

República’s relationship with the Dolphins points to another trend: A Hispanic-led company being tapped to handle an account across all media, not just Latin media, a turn that looks promising for Miami’s relatively upstart ad community. “They wanted a Miami-based firm that was minority owned, and that speaks volumes,” he says of the Dolphins.

It’s also no accident, according to Pippa Seichrist, co-founder of the respected training ground for creatives, the Miami Ad School. “Among cities of our size, we are probably the best in the country,” she says.

The good news may be getting better for Miami’s ad agency scene, and for the Miami Ad School. Crispin Porter + Bogusky—the Ad School’s partner—has reportedly began bringing creatives back to its old headquarters in the Grove. The shift back toward Miami has been rumored since Alex Bogusky left the agency early this year. If true, this and the city’s slate of Hispanic firms could usher in an era where “Mad Men” are more likely to be wearing Tropics-friendly open collars than skinny ties.

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