Imagine a place where half the population are poor. Now add to that ten years of politicians stealing from the people, buying Ferraris and dressing up like Rod Stewart. What's going on here is very much like what happens in those banana republics in James Bond movies but, let's just say, with different art direction: no joyous street carnivals, no colourful floats and no ponchos.
A video was recently broadcast on TV. It had been smuggled out of a hospital.
It showed an operation on a six-month-old baby girl, showing the surgeons playing around with the anaesthetised child. They pinch her cheeks, joke with the respirator. The anaesthetist says: "Now she's dead, now she's not," while playing with the oxygen mask. It's like a perverse version of Goodby's ad for Levi's in which the doctors are singing in the operating room.
Unsurprisingly, the pervading attitude in Latin America is: don't trust anything. We're scared of being robbed by a policeman, scared of having our children molested by a priest at school, scared of a surgeon performing tricks with our pancreas while we're unconcious, just to name a few examples. But there is something much more irritating than all this, and it's the presence of a brand that proclaims: "We're always thinking about you." Or: "We're here to serve you."
After all the crap pushed by advertising in the 90s, it seems like people are answering back to the brands: "Stop. That's it. It's over. You are what you give me, and nothing more." The first interpretation marketing researchers could put on this reaction was: the product is everything.
And so advertising airtime was filled with spots that looked like they were straight out of the 80s. Or, worse still, Spanish commercials from the 80s.
Creatives started to enjoy focusing their ideas on the product. Every word or image was conceived to reflect the product's purpose. But, as ads became more prissy and one-dimensional, they became less distinctive and less human. There is no way of making someone fall in love with you by merely listing your benefits. "Hi, beautiful. I have a 4x4, I'm handsome and I have money. I think we should get naked right now." Nope. Doesn't work. People were only asking the brands to "avoid preaching". They never asked the brands to stop talking.
Luckily though, in the past few months, fresh advertising ideas have started to appear on TV.
You won't find anything stunningly new or inventive, but I don't think this is happening anywhere in the world. When was the last time you saw something surprisingly new?
The worst and best thing about working in Latin America now is that budgets are very small and clients are desperate. Since nobody is concerning themselves with heavy planning, once a marketing manager gets hold of some money for a campaign he wants to spend it as soon as possible, before the boss regrets it and uses the cash for other purposes - such as hiring a new marketing manager.
But, despite the pressures, the atmosphere of having to work by the seat of your pants has generally been invigorating. It's cool being able to work things through one day at a time, being able to film with a friend, being able to make your family members work as extras, and so on. It's reminiscent of what people who went to London in the 70s talk about - how advertising was a "crazy" profession, working with just a typewriter and a glass of whisky. There is a lot of that spirit here right now. And there's a lot of young people under 25 working in the industry. I'm 34 and the oldest in the agency by far. I'm not flattering youth, but the truth is even I'm inspired when someone born in 1984 comes to me and presents his ideas.
It's a good time to live here. I swear it is. Art is at its prime. There are tons of new bands emerging, thousands of kids doing stuff. And, in this world in which nothing seems to work, it's not all bad to live in a version of how it all began.
FOUR AGENCIES, FOUR OUTSTANDING CAMPAIGNS
Some say it is the region's unpredictability that inspires such great advertising. Craverolanis Euro RSCG's work for Kiss Mint warned about bad breath while VegaOlmosPonce's work for Axe (Lynx in the UK) anti-perspirant quipped that men's sweat only attracts other men. Also turning heads, Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi's work for Buenos Aires Zoo and Almap BBDO's work for Veja magazine.