Two of Latin America’s largest economies have taken very different political paths for 2019. DDB Latina’s Juan Isaza explores what these divisions could mean for brands across the continent.

For Latin America, 2019 will be a year that implicitly poses a big question: What works best? A country led by a government from the left or the right? Two of the main economies of the region are taking different paths. Mexico has elected a leftist government, and, for many, it is the beginning of a period of stagnation in its progress and economy. Brazil, on the other hand, has taken the direction of the right, called extreme by some, due to political decisions taken with a religious perspective. Many predict that Brazil will have a significant progress in its economy. Time will tell which of the two countries manage to advance further with their respective, opposite models.

Those two governments can do everything differently, but there is something that Brazil and Mexico have in common: polarization. Across the world, government adversaries and supporters have radicalized their positions. With the threat of a wall being built at the border, we will see a united Mexico based on the concept of nation but will also experience strong internal polarization as a result of the new government. Increasingly, people in polarized countries find that they are simply unable to agree with those who hold opposing views, even on fundamental matters.

All this will have a significant impact for brands. A similar phenomenon has occurred in the United States with the Kaepernick Nike campaign, some brands have entered into discussions that indirectly or directly touch upon social divisions and identify with one side of the political spectrum.

For instance, amid Brazil’s political divisions in regard over the rights of sexual minorities, Coca-Cola launched a campaign called "That Coke is a Fanta," taking an insulting term for homosexuals and converting it into a campaign to support sexual diversity. A leading brand of soft drinks in Colombia has created a special edition of clear soda to combat racism, warning about the preconceptions that colors and appearances can generate.

In 2019, many brands will be tempted to enter into political discussions, looking for a connection with their interest groups. However, it will be risky to do it without jeopardizing their equity. Many commercial activities will be criticized by many, and any decision will be controversial in an environment in which polarization reaches levels never seen before.

As always, social networks will be identified as one of the main culprits responsible for polarization due to the ability to reproduce content that is considered false or manipulative of opinion. Fake news will be high on the agenda. In Brazil, National Geographic launched “The Microphone of Truth,” a device that lights up in red or green according to whether the speaker is telling the truth or not. The device is based on analyzing the tone of voice and heart rate. We will see more innovations created to help citizens discern between what’s true and what’s false. Meanwhile, as in many other countries around the world, the criticism of technology dependence will grow, and many brands, including telcos such as Vivo in Brazil, will talk about the importance of human connections and of using technology to open up to possibilities and new ideas instead of closing themselves up.

Technological advances are now read through the prism of political polarization. Some platforms such as Uber are sanctioned in an exaggerated way in countries like Colombia, and those applications related to home deliveries are questioned in many countries because they do not comply with formal employment standards. Although we are a region that tends to follow the guidelines of the United States or Europe on these matters, the convenience of certain technological advances will be scrutinized ever more, especially when these advances might prove detrimental to employment.

Latin brands will have great opportunities in the creation of new and better experiences associated with the purchase. In a continent where there are more and more shopping centers, a space that is often the safest for families, a lot can be done so that people can live hand in hand with technology experiences that bring them closer to brands. As a fairly new example in the world, the metro in Sao Paulo has begun to experiment with a platform that detects demographic and mood characteristics of who is entering the subway and, based on this, targets advertising messages. Meanwhile, gaming will form a greater and greater part of the continent’s experience. Latin America is already the second region in the world where gaming grows faster, particularly driven by the penetration of smartphones.

Lastly, and on a slightly more positive note, we live in a region that is increasingly aware of natural resources. The environmental issue has been in a prominent place in all political candidates’ agendas. Latin American consumers, who had typically prioritized the price or the direct benefits of a product over it environmental impact, are beginning to consider their purchasing decisions’ effects on the planet.

In 2018, several nations including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Peru, created regulations to limit or prohibit the use of plastic straws. Latino citizens, and a large group of local and multinational brands, soon became aware and curtailed their use, or replaced them in with environmentally friendly options. This is the most valuable takeaway of all: it was the citizens who made pressure for change and also who pushed politicians to bring environmental topics to their agendas.

2019 in Latin America comes with many questions and a lot of polarization. We will see what happens in the political arena with the left and the right. We will see how this affects the economy, and we will see how the Latino citizen with their creativity, enthusiasm and way of life will continue to shape the region both in their local vision and in everything they have to offer to the world.