Luis Miguel Messianu


Luis Miguel Messianu is CEO of Alma and a ground-breaking voice in multicultural advertising. He’s also a proud participant of the Executive MBA in Creative Leadership at the Berlin School. Luis Miguel has made a name for himself by being fearless in tackling complex, social issues in campaigns such as 'Your Hero Needs You' with AARP, 'Just DOnate it' with Angel Bins, and the '#GuacIsBack' campaign which took a moving stance against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in 2018. We spoke to him about the evolution of multicultural advertising and why diversity in representation is vital, now more than ever.



You’ve been a pioneer in the realm of multicultural advertising, particularly in speaking to Latino audiences. Do you feel that western advertisers are starting to catch up and recognise the value of multicultural as more than a surface issue?

Well, there have been many blunders over the years – and it’s not just about language. It’s about the combination of language, culture and, in the end, cultural affinity. Especially when you look at it in the context of the United States which is a country that has changed so much. There are many different statistics, but some of them point to the fact that by 2020, minorities combined will be the majority, surpassing the Anglo-white population. You’re addressing the minorities, that very soon will be majorities. So it’s all about growth. I often say, this is not about black, white, yellow, or brown – it’s about green. It’s about dollars. If advertisers want their brands to continue growing, they have to address multicultural audiences because they are the ones who are propelling brands in the context of a very competitive country and market. 

Speaking more specifically about Latino communities, what are the social issues and cultural distinctions that are important to see reflected in brands and communications?

I think there are some global issues that we all look into, like global warming, the refugee situation in many countries, the way in which the economy is creating tension. In the U.S., it’s about immigration, education, and about finding relevant causes and a sense of purpose. The Latinx community is very much aware of social causes, but they can also see right through some of those causes when they’re not clearly connected to the brand or to the company. You have to find very genuine, very transparent, and very honest approaches because the Latino community is very aware, While they’re probably more forgiving than the Anglo communities. At the end of the day, it has to be a very synergistic relationship between the brand and the social cause. 


Let’s talk about some of the multicultural campaigns that you’ve worked on in recent years. The ‘Your Hero Needs You’ for AARP has such a simple message at its core, to do with love, family and care – it could surely resonate with any viewer. How did you approach this campaign in order to really reach a wider Latino audience?

This is an interesting one as it was actually our second rendition of the campaign. It came through the Ad Council and AARP, and it wasn’t originally meant to be a multicultural campaign. But this advertiser was very smart, because they saw that we were going to be talking about care-giving and this was an element of the Latino culture that could really make a difference. I always say that multicultural agencies like ours are experts in emotional story-telling. We have a way of approaching the how of telling stories, using subtleties. It’s, what we call here in the US, a ‘total market’ campaign – one that should appeal to the entire market and not just minorities. The core of the idea was ‘how we interact with our elderly’. Unlike American families that often put their parents and grandparents into nursing homes, we normally keep them within our house-holds and we have a relationship that comes full circle. In a way, as children we become the care-givers and we see it as our responsibility to pay back and to take care of them. We loved the simplicity of this campaign and how it makes you react. Normally, when we present this, people tend to cry. I joke during our credentials presentations that it’s the Kleenex part of the presentation! But emotions is very powerful in terms of conveying a message and this campaign is a clear example of that.


What is striking with campaigns such as ‘Just Donate It’ is the power of social media to really amplify a campaign with social purpose. How did social media play a role in how this campaign took shape?

Well, it’s called social for a reason. I think social media is perfect for social-purpose campaigns. In the case of ‘Just Donate It’, it’s also about reacting at the speed of culture. More and more audiences are now connected to current events and a way to amplify ideas to tap into what happening out there. When we saw that people were burning their shoes [in response to Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick], we said we had to do something. Especially because we work on a pro-bono basis for an organisation called Angel Bins, which is donation through shoes. It’s a very touching cause and one that’s very close to my heart and the team’s heart. When you realise how many people walk barefoot and how they have to walk like this to achieve the most basic needs like food or education or family connection, we thought it was a very good opportunity to tap into what was happening. Obviously, the Nike-Kaepernick campaign was so impactful and so moving. So we said, let’s tap into this. It was a very effective campaign. In this case, we were able to track the results right away. The amount of Nikes that were sent to Angel Bins really spiked in the few days after we launched, only through social media. And it was all earned media. That’s when you know you’ve really engaged your audience, when they really buy into your concept. I think social media is an amazing way to connect directly with people.

We’ve been blown away learning about the #GuacIsBack campaign, particularly as it humanises the issue of gun violence so effectively. When you nail your colours to a social issue that’s already part of a national debate, what are the risks you have to consider as a creative organisation?

That is a loaded question! Bill Bernbach had a great phrase – “the future belongs to the brave”. There was quite a bit of debate here at the agency. But I think, at the end of the day, as content creators, we have to be courageous and we have to have a spine and work hard for those things that we believe in, beyond just our professional realm. When we heard about this family, Patricia and Manuel, who lost their son in the Parkland shooting, it really moved us and we had to do something about it. We had the idea when we saw that here in the U.S. it was legal to download a blue-print to 3D Print guns. When so many people have lost loved ones are trying to do something about it, anyone can print a gun and go through customs and create more damage. When we started brainstorming with the creative team, we came up with this amazing idea of creating a sculpture using the exact same 3D printing method. When we first presented the idea to Manuel, he looked at us and probably thought we were crazy. But the more he thought about it, the more excited we all got. We not only created the sculpture, but we worked very closely with him to organise activations. We were in Times Square, we were in Washington. Manuel travelled to Cape Town and Desmond Tutu awarded him a Medal of Honour for #MarchForOurLives. And that’s the amazing thing about our industry today. Who would have thought that a multicultural agency in Miami would be creating a 3D statue, helping to organise this political movement, and ultimately trying to change and have an impact on the communities we serve? We see it as a responsibility to give back. Yes, I’m sure some people wonder why we do it. But again, you have to stand for things that you believe in.

Is there any advice you would give to a creative leader who felt it would be safer for their agency to remain on the fence about social issues?

I would say, just do it. I think it’s important that we demonstrate that creativity can be a force for good. I think our ideas can help to shape or change the world. And it’s very exciting and very rewarding. I’m committed to a lot of personal crusades and social causes here at the agency. I think especially that the new generations are really trying to make a difference in life. To work for an agency that goes beyond just the commercial or business aspect and does something to really give back to life - I think that makes you more appealing and more attractive [as an agency]. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to attract and retain great talent. My advice to creative leaders is that if you and your team members believe in something, just go for it and do it for altruistic purposes. This campaign that we’re doing for Guac, I’m sure that It will attract attention and win awards, but you know what, we already won. To see that we’re making a difference and to see the faces of Patricia and Manuel when they saw the resemblance – they were really moved – and that is an amazing pay-off. It made our efforts really worthwhile.

Luis Miguel Messianu will also be a guest speaker at this year's Cannes Creative Leaders Programme taking place at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

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