The World: Lowe Worldwide looks to a new Spanish empire

Madrid-based Lola - short for Lowe Latina - will target the growing power of Spanish-speaking consumers.

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." So goes the famous song from the 1955 Broadway hit musical Damn Yankees. Today's Lola is equally avaricious.

The newly opened Lowe Worldwide subsidiary wants nothing less than to carve itself a substantial slice of the marketing budgets directed at the world's 330 million Spanish speakers in general and the huge, but underexploited, US Hispanic market in particular.

Lola (the name is an amalgam of Lowe Latina) set out to fulfil its ambition by opening its first office in Madrid last month, replacing the previous Lowe presence in the country. It is here that the fledgling operation plans to build its talent base before it attempts to release what it believes to be Latin America's huge pent-up creative talent into a wider world.

The initiative comes at a time when Spanish-speaking consumers are engaging the attention of advertisers as never before. Although it would be wrong to assume the Spanish, Latin American and US Hispanic markets are identical, there are common denominators. Not least a kind of joie de vivre that, Steve Gatfield, the Lowe Worldwide chief executive, says, sets it apart from Anglo-Saxon culture.

What is concentrating marketers' minds, though, is what's happening in the US. The statistics are mind-blowing. With the 44.8 million Hispanic population growing at more than four times the rate of the US population as a whole, so has its purchasing power. It has soared by more than 63 per cent in six years. Georgia's Selig Center for Economic growth estimates it will top $1.2 trillion by 2011.

Lola's arrival is in response to a couple of important factors. One is what Gatfield calls the introspection and parochial nature of the Spanish ad market, which suffers because so few pan-European clients have established their "hub" operations in the country. Lola will have a much bigger stage on which to play, he says.

The other is the need to exploit what has long been Lowe's strong and creatively potent South American presence that has belied its shortcomings in the UK and the US.

In part, this is a legacy of Lowe's 1999 merger with Lintas, which, in common with other US-based networks of its time, had laid down strong Latin-American roots. In part, it is the result of Sir Frank Lowe's obsession with creativity and his success at bringing some of the continent's best creative talent into the Lowe fold.

Two of the Lowe group's senior managers will play a pivotal role at Lola. One is Fernando Vega Olmos, a founder of VegeOlmosPonce in Buenos Aires, the network's worldwide creative director on Unilever and the first Argentinean to win a gold Lion at Cannes. He will be Lola's chairman.

The other is Alex Pallete, who returns to his native Madrid from New York where he was the managing director of the Hispanic agency the Vidal Partnership. He will be the chief strategic officer.

Gatfield believes Lola launches at an apposite time, particularly given the surge of talent emerging from South America to take its place on the world stage. Witness Carlos Ghosn, the South America-born boss of Renault, and the fact that InBev, the world's largest brewer, is now almost entirely under Brazilian management.

However, South America's creatives remain frustrated. They feel trapped by the lack of global advertisers based in the region and the vagaries of local economies. The question is whether Lola, with its links to an international network and global clients such as Unilever, can help free it.

Vega Olmos is in no doubt, arguing that the best Latin American creatives have married their own fresh styles to influences from the Anglo-Saxon world.

"Creativity in the region is top class," he declares. "What's more, there's an optimism about our work that contrasts starkly with the cynicism you find in Europe. The problem is that so little of this talent gets to work on global brands."

The key to Lola's success, however, is knowing what the differences are between the world's Spanish speakers, as well as what unites them. "Our desire isn't to create a blancmange of everything that's Spanish language," Gatfield explains. "Of course, there are huge differences between Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Brazilians just as there are between Brits and Americans. But there are cultural aspects that they have in common."

So what are the factors that unite the Spanish-speaking market? In the US it may not even be language. Gatfield says it has more to do with a Latin attitude to life, as well as more obvious factors, such as a predilection for large families. "If you're a US car-maker selling people carriers and you don't address the Hispanic market, you're not going to be very successful," he points out.

Some US industry onlookers suggest the Hispanic market is not well served - and that positive discrimination is largely to blame.

"Agencies have been getting work because of their ownership rather then their talent," one claims. "That might be OK if it only means dubbing a spot into Spanish for a local cable channel. It's not OK as interactive communication with the Hispanic community grows more sophisticated."

Time for Lola to release some Latin spirit. "We South Americans know we're good enough to play the global game," Vega Olmos remarks. "And there are millions of us."

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