Every day, Emiliano López, a puppeteer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, displays his art on the city subway, hoping to brighten the day of each of the passengers.
Irene Sexer dons her clown suit to visit children in local Buenos Aires hospitals, hoping to make them laugh and smile.
Luis Soriano loads up his donkey with books and travels more than four hours, each way, to La Gloria, Magdalena in Colombia, where he hands out the books to children so they can learn to read.
And Eulalio “Lalo” Cortez Reyes, a committed conservationist from Mazunte, Oaxaca in Mexico, spends long days and nights watching over sea turtles as they are born from nests on the beach, and make their short but perilous journey to the ocean.
These are the people that Universal Channel Latin America sought to spotlight in its “100% Unique Characters” campaign, developed to showcase real people who are positively impacting their communities.
The idea stems from the tagline “100% Characters,” a concept at the core of all the brand’s communication that features main characters from the channel’s programs. Rather than highlighting talent, the campaign features local people with somewhat unconventional lives or jobs who are bringing hope and transformation.
“We needed to find people who were changing the world, who performed labors of love, which is how we can best describe what they do. Unique characters who are not usually identified, but who give something back to humanity and deserve to be recognized by the media and the world as a whole,” says Klaudia Bermudez-Key, SVP, general manager at NBC Universal Latin America.
The Latin American division was inspired by a similar project in England, the first country to extend Universal Channel’s positioning through its “100% Characters Uncovered” campaign. This series shined a light on people who stood out for their extraordinary character and accomplishments, such as Mary Benson, who followed her dreams to become a fashion designer, and Ivo Gormley, founder of GoodGym, a running club with a social purpose.
Universal Channel Latin America worked with studio Any Given Day, and its chief creative executive Hernán Cerdeiro to develop the project.
“We looked for content that was more down-to-earth, even more challenging, in which the spirit of achievement in the stories was at a different level,” Cerdeiro said about adapting the English campaign for the Latin American region.
“People who bring something back to the community work well in Latin America,” he added.
The division also collaborated with production company Letca as well as Karen Barroeta, who led the project as SVP of marketing, creative and digital at NBCUniversal International Networks Latin America, and who has since moved on to become VP of marketing and creativity at Telemundo Networks.
On The Ground
Together, they determined the profile type of people who were ideal for this sort of campaign, and narrowed it down to three countries: Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, and to four categories: the environment, childhood, education and urban art.
“We made a preliminary list of 25 characters that struck us, and refined the search through scouting until coming up with the final four. On top of representing the region and what we consider to be their main markets, they also embodied all the social causes we were looking for,” says Verónica Pizzorno, on-air creative director at NBC Universal, Latin America, Universal Channel’s parent company.
Since some of the places were quite remote, the campaign’s major challenge had to do with production and localization.
“We had to confirm that these characters were real, that they fulfilled our requirements and that the place where they were met the necessary conditions for production,” says Pizzorno.
Therefore, Universal Channel Latin America hired local production companies in each of the countries.
“Production was almost documentarian,” Pizzorno says. “The landscape and the conditions had the control, and we had to adapt to them. The landscape became a further character in the campaign.”
As far as shooting in the field, “we lived with them and like them, sleeping where they slept and eating what they ate,” says Cerdeiro. “We worked with the camera on our shoulders, with limited equipment and under overwhelming heat conditions.”
Becoming a Character
Once the production was complete, the footage was edited into different pieces. The main spot, Beyond, sought to reinvent the meaning of “character,” since in Latin America it could be used to mean “quite a character.”
“We wanted to first position the concept of ‘100% Unique Characters’ separate from any particular story, to overcome the stereotypes associated with these kind of people [who do not lead typical lives]. With this piece we wanted to mobilize and raise awareness so viewers could recognize these characters for who they are,” says Pizzorno.
“We based the creative on the concept ‘it is not what you see, it’s how you see it,’ to overcome stereotypes and present these people without preconceptions, and with the understanding that they have conviction in what they do,” Pizzorno says.
The second piece, Elections, focused on the decisions people make to achieve the lives and the world of which they dream.
“You don’t choose to save turtles,” Pizzorno says. “What you choose is a million other things you can’t imagine, such as the heat, mosquitoes, sleepless nights and other sacrifices.”
From there, Universal Channel Latin America launched individual spots.
“We wanted to go from the general to the specific, describing what it is like to be a character and how you can become one, to finally tell each of the stories,” Pizzorno says.
The digital arm then set out to highlight other elements from the pieces. For example, Sexer’s clown shoes take on a narrator’s voice and lead the spot. In the case of conservationist Lalo, the sea turtle speaks with a human voice to thank him for his work.
After the campaign was released, the division launched a contest to continue to find people in the region committed to social causes. Up to $5,000 in prizes, helped the winners’ missions materialize.
To encourage participation, actors Chino Darín and Eugenio Derbez became hosts and champions of the campaign in Southern South America and Mexico, respectively.
Overall, the campaign was successful in generating awareness and action around social responsibility.
“Developing a campaign in which characters are sought based on what they offer to the community and what they really contribute—and not for the number of followers they have—is the real change and the true connection with people,” says Jorge Colón, director at Letca Films. “This is a campaign with a heart, where the glamour and the impact are based on the soul, on what these people do and how they do it.”
“This campaign is a great contribution because it reveals these people’s humanity, demonstrating that good is more powerful than anything else,” adds Bermudez-Key. “It opens our minds to the idea that even if people can only contribute in small ways, those contributions are valuable.