Telenovelas, our very own Hispanic stimulus.

   As the economy goes from bad to worse and consumer sentiment continues to dip, it seems we all need a little bit of fun that will not break our already emaciated piggy banks. This is the case in our Latino communities as we struggle to balance our optimism and zest for life with the stress associated with increasing lay-offs and mounting debt. Latinos are giving it their best as they deal with these challenging times through hard work and through the inspiration and support of the family.

We are spending more time with our loved ones, including through affordable entertainment options such as film and television, and more specifically, the timeless Telenovela whose perfectly shaped form of escapism seems tailor made for today’s social and economic climate. What better way to forget about the doldrums of our day to day than with the story of an ingénue of poor background who will surely move into the big opulent house, that is after a slew of trials and tribulations involving some slaps, highly charged physical and verbal exchanges, along with very dramatic acting and arching of the brows.

No matter how you feel about them -and I agree that we need more educational and engaging Latino content-  there’s no denying that Telenovelas pretty much define U.S. Hispanic television. No other genre has captured the imagination of the Latino population in the U.S.  The most recent example of this came a couple of weeks ago when Univision’s “Fuego en la Sangre,” beat all the major mainstream networks in the very sought after 18-49 target audience. And while Spanish dominant audiences naturally contributed a hefty proportion of the viewership, it is the pull with bicultural Latinas that really makes the genre a winner, providing Spanish language networks with much needed Mojo to weather this economy.

Telenovelas work because they deliver our culture in its most dense and exaggerated fashion, a recipe ready-made for those craving an idyllic representation of home, and for U.S. born Latinos looking for a dose of something tasty that reminds them of the uniqueness of their culture, no matter how exaggerated. In telenovelas, the Latino culture that we often need to put in the background at work and other settings comes to the forefront with its full dramatic force. It’s the good, the bad and the ugly all in your face. There’s a certain catharsis in that.

But above all telenovelas work well because it appeals to our culture and immigrant penchant for magical realism, drama, story telling and above everything else optimism. It’s not coincidence that the rougher reality format has not picked up as well in our market. They don’t deliver that dreamy quality we seem to want in at least hourly daily dosage. In telenovelas everything is possible and the protagonist will always surmount the toughest obstacles, hence the appeal to immigrants that are struggling to build their own American dream. Telenovelas provide that little lift, akin to coach rekindling a boxer’s broken spirits during a fight.

Brand building and advertising is to some degree the art of persuasion so it would seem only fitting that we could learn a few lessons from telenovelas. Some of these lessons include the power of story telling and culture. Telenovelas like good branding also build an incremental and powerful relationship, where you’re left wanting more. Brands should explore ways to calibrate these emotional crescendos in how you talk to your consumers. And no, don’t think that I’m counseling for passionate kisses and dramatic dialogue as part of your brand DNA, I’m referring to instilling passion for your brand. This can be done in many ways, including a clear and powerful identification of your brand’s values.

So before you, like I often do, fall into the criticism of how Telenovelas set our culture back, leave us uneducated, etc. make a list of the good things you feel such a powerful genre contributes to our culture, how would you improve on the genre while still making it commercially viable.  Let’s look at this glass as half full. Isn’t that part of what our optimistic mindset is all about? And with that in mind, also let me know how branding and novellas go together; are there any brands that you feel are perfect for a branded Telenovela? So get put on your Telenovela producer hat on and tell me what you think.

By Roberto Ramos, President + CEO, The Vox Collective

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