Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
May 9, 2012

Using Reality Advertising to Engage the Latino Community

Taking a page from reality television, brands have been using non-actors to engage their audiences in television commercials. We’ve seen this in the likes of Mitsubishi’s “Ride the Storm” campaign, Domino’s “Show Us Your Pizza” campaign and Chobani’s “Real Love Stories” campaign. However, this isn’t the first we seen of reality commercials — even if they weren’t labeled as such. Remember the “Pepsi Challenge” or McDonald’s Big Mac commercials?

The reality approach to campaigns stems from the desire to connect with audiences in a way that is personal. When you move away from the general market and focus on a more narrow audience, such as the Latino consumer, a number of challenges can arise due to general misunderstandings about that audience. Over the last year, I’ve seen more and more articles that focus on understanding the Latino consumer. With a buying power of $1.1 trillion and a projected growth to $1.3 trillion, Latino consumers are still a very diverse group, and marketing efforts directed toward them must take that into consideration. Previous (and some current) attempts at marketing to Latinos tended to rely on stereotypes, such as this one for Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, or Bounty’s “Guacamole” commercial (what is it with little talking dogs, Chihuahua or otherwise, that brands think appeal to Latinos?). There’s more to engaging the Latino consumer than stereotypes and loud music (and talking dogs). But, for various reasons, marketing to Latinos continues to be a challenge, and occasionally, cringe-worthy.

In H&R Block’s recent campaign to engage Latinos across the country, the approach was more thoughtful, taking into consideration the challenges of working with the various Latino markets across the country. Last month, I attended Hispanicize 2012 in Miami, Fla., where I sat in on the session, “Why Not Do It For Real?: Reality Advertising and the Latino Consumer,” led by Stacy Pagán, a management supervisor at MARCA, Joseph Ramirez, public relations director at MARCA, and Diane Barkeley, director of Latino and Multicultural Markets at H&R Block. Pagán’s team worked closely with client H&R Block to raise its profile among Latino audiences nationwide. MARCA, a full-service advertising, marketing and public relations agency, worked with documentary filmmaker Nicolás Entel for the last two years to develop “reality advertising” television spots.

“Reality advertising is a trust-based approach where you rely on real people — not actors — in real situations to convey your brand message,” said Pagán, who led the H&R Block account at the agency. “Our goal is to earn trust by putting magic moments on camera right as they happen.”

With H&R Block, those magic moments meant surprising subjects with big refund checks at home or work, capturing their reactions on camera in real time. The commercials were filmed in New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio, and feature Latinos from various backgrounds, including a schoolteacher, social worker and legal assistant.

I spoke with Pagán about the challenges of working with Latino communities from three distinctly different regions. We also spoke about the challenges of finding the right director who not only had to work around the reality concept, but also capture the essence of surprise and excitement from non-actors. She also identifies the outcomes of the campaign, and how they hope to extend the campaign in 2013.

Diane Gomez is public relations manager at PRSA, and will soon move over to their marketing department as associate director. Hispanicize 2012 was held April 10-13, and is the iconic annual event for Latino trendsetters and newsmakers in social media, marketing, entertainment and innovation. PRSA is a 2012 partner.

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