Decoding Latin America: The complexities of a region that offers significant opportunity with the right expertise and insight

Speaking with consultancy firm, SCOPEN, about the agency-brand economy and setting up for success

par Carol Mason , AdForum (NYC)



Madrid, Espagne
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As we bring together search consultants from around the world at AdForum’s Consultant Summit in April, we’re taking the opportunity to hear from these key influencers about the ad industry in their countries.

Here, César Vacchiano and Kika Samblas of SCOPEN, leading global search and agency management consultants, explain the complexities of Latin America and how to navigate the region for opportunity, plus we look at some great brand creativity.

Taking a macro view of SCOPEN’s activities in Latin America, how do you operate as a company across the region? 

We have offices in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, which opened in 2005 and 2009, and our MD has been working with them since then. We launched operations in Mexico in 2010, Chile in 2011 and Colombia in 2012, and provide services to these three countries from our offices in Argentina, Brazil, and Spain, with consultants that spend at least 4 months in these countries every year.

We have a profound understanding of the region after many years developing projects for marketers, agencies, media owners, consultancies, and digital owners across Latam. We are members of MAS CARTAGENA Council, the leading industry event in the region, organized by UCEP (Colombian Union of Advertising Companies) which takes place every October in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. More than 2,000 industry leaders from across the region, and global speakers, meet to celebrate creativity and business transformation, inspiring attendees and rewarding talent and effectiveness (The Latam Marketers Awards and Latam Effies take place during the Congress).


Looking at media consumption, trends, and demographics, which are the biggest challenges for brand strategy in the region?

The most important challenge for brands and companies is to understand that it is a very diverse region with many differences and peculiarities between countries. There are two very different regions within Latam: Brazil, a huge country with diverse regions and huge differences between the various segments of its population, and 17 Spanish speaking countries, ranging from Mexico to Argentina to Chile. Some companies take into account the Hispanic population in the US, the second biggest Spanish speaking country in the world after Mexico.

Even though there are some regional media, traditional national TV still has huge importance in the region. TV consumption still showcases large numbers in every country. Radio is also important to bear in mind when media planning, as it has higher consumption across the region than in other countries. In most of these countries media corporations are quite powerful, owning different media and channels within the same holding group. In some countries, we find a duopoly, with two big TV stations, two Radio stations and two leading newspapers. Therefore, it is quite easy to plan but, at the same time, it is complicated to negotiate and obtain favorable prices. Sometimes these media companies are still family owned.

Brazil and Mexico are the largest countries in the region and therefore also have the biggest population diversity. There are significant social and economic variances between people living in capital cities and larger cities (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Santiago, Lima) and those living in other regions and the countryside. In addition there is massive disparity between rich and poor in every country and across the region – the main reason for the political instability we see nowadays.


Brahma beer in Brazil finds a creative solution to the ban on alcohol brands in football stadiums


What is your best advice to an agency which is shortlisted for a pitch? What makes for a winning proposition in Latin America?

Let’s think of two kinds of pitches: First, those where the brand is looking for a regional solution. These are mainly media pitches and very much focused on pricing and the search of economic efficiencies. Unfortunately for agencies, marketers generally are not trying to find the best talent or work with the best data and tools to produce the most effective campaigns. There is a focus on price and those networks that have lowered their price offer have come out on top. Fortunately for agencies, marketers have realized that ‘cheap’ often results in poor service and a loss of opportunities through not investing in data and tools for research. They have also realized that if they want to work with the best talent, they need to pay for it.

There are few creative regional pitches. Those that we find are regional but part of a global review. One of the reasons behind the lack of regional pitches is the huge number of differences within the region that we mentioned earlier. A consequence of this diversity is that it is difficult to find a strong regional network of creative agencies. As a result, most pitches are local, where it is key to show a strong strategic offering (understanding trends, consumers, media, and local insights) and have an admired creative leadership, as well as digital knowledge and experience.

Across the region, and not only in Brazil, it is key to have a strong leadership team in the agency. Agency CEOs and creatives are opinion leaders (sometimes almost similar to Hollywood stars) and for marketers it is important to work with some of these business leaders that they admire and who have the ability to contribute to the transformation of their business and delivering amazing results.


Emotive film from Ogilvy in Mexico for Victoria Beer, marking Day of the Dead


What are the biggest challenges / opportunities for a non-Latam brand seeking to enter the region?

The biggest challenge is to identify, attract and retain the best talent. Talent is scarce in the region and, as outsiders, very difficult to identify. It is a huge challenge to find holistic and multitasking professionals. In some countries, there is a big percentage of expats leading companies. The political instability in some countries - first Venezuela, then Argentina and now Colombia – is creating an exodus of talent. The US attracts some of this talent, but other growing countries do too.

Another important challenge for foreign companies is the protectionism that exists in many countries. This makes it difficult to establish business, and also to repatriate profits if business does well. These barriers, added to the political and economic instability, discourage many companies to invest in the region.

In terms of delivering a brand message, brands need to understand that it is complicated to create regional campaigns because of the huge differences between Brazil and the Hispanics, and between the Hispanics themselves. Therefore, it is vital to work with a strong network with agencies across the region that can produce specific local campaigns based on a solid common strategy. Or collaborate with strong independents in every key market that produce extraordinary campaigns.

The potential and opportunities are huge. Latam is a region with a lot of talent, not only creatives, but also strategists and business leaders who have studied abroad and speak English and other languages fluently. There is a large population, with an increasing middle class, huge natural resources and extraordinary tourist attractions. If it were not for the political instability, the region would be growing at double-digit rate.

Which campaigns or activations caught your eye in 2022 and why?

One of the studies that SCOPEN develops in different countries across the region is AGENCY SCOPE. And one of the questions we ask marketers is: which are the campaigns they admire the most? CMOs’ criteria is key, because not only do they focus on solid strategies and big ideas, but also business results.

I would highlight the campaigns for Brahma Beer Cabelos Cremosos (Foamy Haircut) which managed to introduce beer in football stadiums, even avoiding the law; Beer Victoria in Mexico for Day of the Dead; Movistar ‘Shout’ that tackles homophobia in Mexico with boxing film that questions the nature of machismo.


Telecoms giant Movistar challenges homophobia, with creative through VMLY&R


About Scopen:

SCOPEN is a global consulting firm specialized in the communications industry. With operations in 12 countries, SCOPEN provides advisory services for brands on the path of creative transformation. Operating on three pillars - Research & Studies, Events & Awards and Consultancy - SCOPEN works with clients and their agencies in Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa, to optimize relationships for positive impacts.