News & Views

Opinion / Building Bridges, Not Walls

by Contagious Contributor

Juan Isaza, strategic planning and social media VP at DDB Latina, argues that while Trump’s wall might encourage a closed approach in Latin America, brands should respond by creating connections and bringing communities closer together

The most controversial proposal Trump made during his presidential campaign is starting to become a symbol for the way people will live and act. Citizens will search for protection, guarding their own territory, creating barricades around their spaces and comfort zones. Less public sharing and more private messaging will occur. External uncertainties will motivate people to build their ‘walls’ both in the virtual and in the real world. But how will Trump’s wall affect day to day life for Latin Americans?

Perhaps no one thought Trump was actually going to build the wall. Now that this campaign promise seems to be coming true, how this will affect us beyond trade, economics or politics? What impact will this have on the average citizen? Two answers seem clear: It will force us to discover more about who we are and our own identity, and also potentially encourage citizens to move away from reality and retreat to small ‘villages’.

According to many, the Trump wall will be catastrophic for Latin America, especially for Mexico. And this may be so. However, the wall could be a great opportunity for Latin America to reflect, to make countries and societies look in the mirror. We might stop thinking about the eternal model of the United States and build, in our own way, a wall that makes them acknowledge who we are.

According to a study by the Mexican research agency De La Riva, Mexicans have changed their view of the United States. Until recently they saw it as a country they could rely on and they aspired to be like. Now, they are beginning to see it as a country that rejects them and imposes on them. The natural reaction will be for  Mexico to also begin its internal campaign to make ‘Mexico great again’. It is foreseeable that nationalist and populist movements will appropriate the electoral speeches for the upcoming 2018 elections.

Beyond the borders of Mexico, we will surely see movements that seek to keep alive the value of Latin American roots, in the same year that marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara. A figure present on many walls and in people’s hearts is remembered for his famous phrase, ‘we are a single mestizo race from Mexico to the Strait of Magellan’, insinuating the value of a Latin American ‘nationalism’. The new US foreign policy could be a great opportunity for Latinos, for the first time, to view ourselves as a continent ‘from the Trump Wall to the Strait of Magellan’.

However, the most relevant impact will be on the way the common citizen reacts to this new North American foreign policy. A feeling that with every minute there will be worse news, will generate a rejection of news and reality. According to a study by the Mexican newspaper Reforma, 66% of citizens feel pessimistic about the future.

We will see people’s search for protection in everyday life manifest itself through interest in isolation, taking care of their small worlds and trying to forget what is happening around them. For those disconnecting from the world, constant cell phone alerts are becoming a form of wealth. Groups with similar interests will form in order to escape from polarizing conversations. Interest groups will seek to create their own spaces, such as the food court of just vegetarian food in São Paulo or the co-working space Casa Feminaria (above), which is for women only.

For a while now, much of the time that we spend online is on closed platforms where we can send direct messages. The best example is WhatsApp, where people are more and more willing to interact with the brands, compared to spaces that tended to be only public platforms, such as Twitter. The exponential growth of initiatives such as Rappi, an errand services startup in Mexico and Colombia, soon entering Brazil, shows that before entering the chaos of cities, people prefer to take refuge in the tranquillity of their home or office.

Technology can also facilitate connections between people who are building close-knit groups. For example, for a project developed in Brazil, Google allowed citizens to travel the streets of favelas virtually, accessing territories that are prohibited if you do not live there.

In the midst of changes and new tensions, brands find opportunities to add value and connect with people. One way to do this is by sponsoring physical or virtual spaces where people can meet. Some interesting initiatives help residents to meet and encourage conversations. For example, Ben & Jerrys in São Paulo sought to unite residents to discuss political issues on its premises, sparking debate with an ice cream in hand. Tecate (above), a distinctly male beer, decided to create a strong campaign against gender violence in Mexico in order to promote more harmonious relationships.

Brands in the region have the great opportunity to help build the Latin American identity. Based on the notion that polarity causes people to flock towards those similar to them, we have the opportunity to build bridges for connection and interaction. We all know that we are entering a new world and Latin America can use that to create a new story about itself. Brands have the great opportunity to provide support and motivation, something that is not only authentic but also very attractive.