The Smithsonian Wants Latino Advertisers To Help Fill A Hole In Its Collection
Not long ago, Kathleen Franz was sifting through the archives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Franz is a curator there, and she was working on an exhibit about the history of American advertising.
Specifically, she was looking for items that would help her show the contributions that Latinos had made to the ad industry, beginning with the first Latino shops that opened in the States in the 1960s. She wanted images from old campaigns and personal artifacts. The Smithsonian has acquired lots of this stuff from mainstream ad agencies over the years. But in her search for Latino materials, she was coming up empty.
"It didn't exist in the collections," she says. "And that's when I was like, where are the collections? Where am I going to get the Latino faces for this wall?"
Franz started calling up the big Latino shops — in Florida, in Houston, in Santa Monica, with offices in Miami, San Francisco, and Tallahassee — asking if they'd be willing to donate material.
The response was overwhelmingly yes. Pioneering Cuban-American ad woman Sara Sunshine was blunt: "It took you guys too long."
For months now, the items have been trickling in.
Sunshine donated the dictionary she used when working on ads. In 1962, Sunshine, a Cuban immigrant, co-founded Spanish Advertising and Marketing Services, the nation's first Latino ad agency.
Early proponents of Latino advertising like Sunshine found that corporate clients often had little interest in marketing to Latinos in a meaningful way. Instead, they preferred simply translating their English-language ads into Spanish.
But the 1980 census was a wake-up call for corporate America.
"The census in 1980 was the first census that started saying, folks, America is changing and it's changing this way," says Alex Lopez Negrete, who in 1985 founded Lopez Negrete Communications.
As a result, the '80s saw dozens of new Latino ad agencies. Hector and Norma Orcí founded La Agencia de Orcí in Los Angeles in 1986. They went on to land major brands like Honda and Dole, but one of their first clients was the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which in 1986 needed help persuading immigrants in the U.S. illegally to sign up for Ronald Reagan's amnesty program.
The Orcís donated the image at the center of their campaign.
Hector Orcí says the image represented "the possibility that many more nontraditional Americans would become part of our society."
The '80s was when Latino marketers began trying to persuade corporate clients to treat Latinos as integral parts of the consumer market rather than as a niche. They also sold companies on a more complex image of Latinos that relied on more than just language.
"Our time and space perception, our religious orientation, our attitudes towards family, our attitudes towards sex," says Lopez Negrete. "All these things make us Latino. Those are the things that this whole industry is based on."
By the '90s, more corporations were starting to understand this. A third generation of Latino marketers opened their shops and began integrating these ideas into ads targeting a mainstream audience.
In 1996, Tony Dieste won a Cannes Lion, advertising's most prestigious prize, for a series of hilarious Pepsi commercials featuring a Latino soccer announcer. He donated it.
"That Cannes Lion really said, OK, this third generation is indistinguishable from the general market firms in terms of production value, in terms of creativity," says the Smithsonian's Franz. "In those ads, most of the talent is going to be Latino, the message is going to be subtly different, but they're reaching a broader audience."
Today, Latinos in the U.S. wield an annual buying power of $1.5 trillion, a 50 percent increase since 2010. Reaching them has become more important than ever for corporate America. Many Latino firms have been bought out. Others struggle to keep their talent from being lured away by mainstream shops.
Some of the Latino firms that remain independent see these developments as both a threat and an opportunity — a sign that Latinos have finally arrived.
Franz says the history of American advertising would be incomplete if it didn't account for how all this came to pass. That's why the museum is so eager to collect material from Latino firms.
"Some of the campaigns that they've done have just changed the way Americans perceive America," she said. "Advertising is a cultural language. We're all enveloped in advertising all the time. And if it omits huge groups of people, in some ways they're erased, at least from that piece of our American dialogue."
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