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Culture Not Geography: Why DDB Brought Spain into the Latina Mix



DDB Latina’s experiment turned Spain into a bridge between Europe, Latin America and Spanish speaking North America, finds Laura Swinton

Culture Not Geography: Why DDB Brought Spain into the Latina Mix

Spain – it’s pretty European, right? The ancient cobbled streets of Palma, the language rooted in the Roman Empire, the royal family, the café culture of Madrid and Barcelona. Yep. Definitely European. But that’s not the whole story. Spain and Portugal also have strong cultural and linguistic ties with Latin America and North America, where Hispanic communities have a strong presence.

That’s why in 2009 DDB decided to create a new kind of network region – Latina – which pulled together South and Central America, Hispanic North America (notably Miami) and, a couple of years later, Spain which joined the group in 2011. In doing so, they recognised the Iberian Peninsula’s status as an important bridge between the old and new worlds.

Taking Spain out of the EMEA remit seemed, at the time, a risky move. “I remember when I started talking about this model at the beginning, a lot of people didn’t get it,” recalls Juan Carlos Ortiz, CEO of DDB Latina. His vision was a cultural block, united by feeling, emotion, history – not geographical boundaries. While it was a controversial idea, he found a supporter in Chuck Brymer, CEO of DDB Worldwide.

And it was also a vision that was shared by Jose Maria Rull, CEO of DDB Madrid. “[Juan Carlos] had this open book idea of the world and I had that idea too,” he says.

That idea paid off. Last year DDB Spain took home a whopping 16 Cannes Lions (including seven Golds) for the Holograms for Freedom campaign for NGO No Somos Delitos, an exemplar of the growing creative reputation of the Latina group.

From a new business point of view, the model has also proven prescient. For Spanish clients looking to expand globally, Latin America is seen as a natural next step thanks to shared culture and language, while USA Multicultural provides an inroad into North America. Looking to the future, the UN predicts that the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is set to grow by 150million by 2050 and the Hispanic population of the US is expected to nearly double to 106million by 2050. By comparison Europe’s population looks like it is in a steady decline. All of which makes LatAm a smart place for Spanish brands to focus.

The new business success, though, is bi-directional. Countries like Colombia and Peru are seeing good economic growth, which means growing businesses looking to expand – and those with their sights set on Europe have an obvious midwife in Spain. (The current economic woes of Brazil might overshadow some of the continent’s hot spots, but even then Jose Maria points out that it’s still a huge market and that it’s simply suffering what Europe suffered over the past seven or eight years).

Latina is a structure that helps clients plug into several opportunities via one avenue, resulting in a more integrated approach.

“With our model, it’s natural,” says Juan Carlos. “Right now the world is about cultures not about geographies because of social media and real time means everyone is connected. But something that is really important is that there is just one centre of command for Spain, US, Latin America. Before DDB Latina, you had to talk to the president of Europe, the President of Latin America and the president of USA. Now everyone is reporting to the same person so you don’t need to copy this person and that person. It’s frictionless.”

In terms of talent, there’s an easy flow within the DDB Latina group and Jose Maria reckons collaborations between offices is more straightforward. “It’s easier to mix these people than to merge different European cultures. In Europe, Germany, France and England have very strong cultures and they all want to be the lead on a project,” he says.

Though formalised in 2011, DDB Spain’s relationship with the Latin market had been growing much earlier. In 1998 they began working for telecoms giant Movistar and helped them expand their service throughout Latin America. Their experience with BBVA, a Spanish bank with a strong presence in Mexico and with Spanish-speaking communities in North America cemented the belief that closer ties with South, Central and North America would be an effective move.

Jose Maria Rulle has been part of DDB for 18 years and has steered DDB Madrid through boom times as well as times of economic crisis. Thankfully, though, DDB Latina came at just the right time – while other Spanish agencies struggled between 2008 and 2014, DDB’s Spanish presence thrived.

"During the crisis we developed the ‘Latina’ concept, so we didn’t really feel the worst of the crisis. For us, this vision of globalisation has really changed our mind set, it saved our future,” says Rulle. “It makes us very strong, it meant we had built our pillars for the future.”

Now that the Spanish economy is in a healthier place – in 2015 the GDP grew by 3.2 per cent – DDB is not only surviving but thriving thanks to its Latina relationship.

But despite Spain’s place in the DDB network’s Latina bloc, it’s still European and as such it’s also working with brands from elsewhere in Europe to bring them to the global stage, via Latina. The international launch of the Audi A4 is a case in point – DDB Madrid played a central role in bringing the German car brand’s 2014 model to the world.

In any case, the model has been replicated in regional award shows. El Sol, the advertising festival held in Bilbao, was transformed into an Ibero-American festival in 2008 and by 2015 over half the entries were from Latin American countries.

Grouping Spain and Portugal within a Latina bloc rather than a European region appears to be paying off for both DDB as a network and Madrid as a local office. It’s put the Spanish agency in a rather enviable position as a hub, a bridge, a connector – and it could provide a smart model for the rest of the advertising industry looking forward.

“It’s the Latin triangle of love, I call it,” says Juan Carlos, “and it’s building a creative reputation.”

Image credit: Fernando García Redondo from Spain (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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DDB Latina, Thu, 25 Feb 2016 12:40:15 GMT