Latin America is in a complicated moment as it heads toward a brace of elections in its three most populous countries; at a time like this the opportunity for brands lies in reconciling polarized peoples, argues DDB Latina’s Juan Isaza.

One might call 2018 the year of fear. Some people are predicting terrorist attacks in response to US policies in the Middle East. Others are talking about war with North Korea, and there are those who are predicting attacks by hackers on the infrastructure of public services. However, in this regard, it would seem that fear is mainly to be found in developed countries. However, Latin Americans also have their reasons to be afraid. There will be presidential elections in the three most populous countries in the region (Brazil, Mexico and Colombia).

There will be a great deal of fear from the populism that has led to situations as critical as the one in Venezuela. It is expected that, after the huge storm of protest following the allegations of corruption from Odebrecht’s bribes last year, there will still be some backlash being felt throughout the region. What is certain is that the speeches of all the candidates will bring up the whole matter of fighting corruption.

However, Latin America’s greatest frustration must be that there are no strong leaders. Most presidents, politicians and representatives of the people have very low levels of acceptance (some historically low). According to a study by De La Riva, only 9% of Mexicans believe in their leaders, not to mention Brazil, where the president has an approval rating of only 10%, or in Colombia, it only reaches 22% (Gallup).

And, even though countries are expected to start growing again, the economy is also a great source of fear. In Argentina, for example, with a projected growth of at least 3.0%, eight out of every ten citizens consider that the country is in an economic recession (Nielsen). In this context, brands have a great opportunity to sow hope, tranquility and security. Some countries are beginning to show that levels of confidence are rising among consumers. Brands can find fertile land here, on which they can build. Among several cases, it is worth mentioning that of the home shops Homecenter and Teletón Peru, which are optimistically displaying the perseverance of a mother in the most adverse situations.

The most important thing is that Latin Americans always know how to find the solutions they need by using their own resources. The clearest example of this is the way Mexico coped with the earthquake last September. Diego Luna, observing the response of the people, said that in countries as corrupt as those of Latin America, you know that neither the government nor any government support will be forthcoming, so the people will learn to find solutions on their own. This resourcefulness of the people that, with their network of friends and family, replaces what the State does not provide, is nothing new, but we will see it in great strength in 2018. And this is interesting because, in recent years, Latin American societies seem to have become increasingly polarized (and they certainly will be during presidential elections), but it is clear that people are worn out by this social breakdown and it is they who will put pressure on the politicians to bring about a reconciliation of their societies.

This will without doubt be one of the most interesting opportunities for brands. In Argentina, one of the most polarized societies there has been during the years of rule by the left and the right now in power, they have begun to talk about the ‘crack’ as a way of expressing social separation. Coca-Cola launched a campaign called “We’re closer than we think”, which is based on showing with a scientific study that this is the society in which people are closest to each other.

In a year of uncertainty like this one, we can see direct political interference from religious groups. In countries such as Brazil or Ecuador, the affirmation of the view “My faith is

important to me” is given by more than 80% of the people (Kantar Media). We continue to see throughout the region the controversies and confrontations where religion and politics are one, as we saw with Queermuseu, an exhibition on sexual diversity in front of the Brazilian Senate, the creator of which ended up by being detained by the federal police.

Pressure from the Christian church on public policies in relation to diversity and new families will translate into votes and support for certain candidates. That is why individuals will recognize brands that are innovative enough to help them find spaces they can live in together, in order to break the old paradigms of gender. It is worth mentioning the case of Polacrin, a brand of paints in Argentina, who developed a color called “Baby Color”, which is a mixture of the traditional blue for boys with the traditional pink for girls. More successful examples will now come of brands that have understood how society is evolving and that expect to continue breaking gender stereotypes.

The global boom will also be experienced live in Latin America in 2018, but with interesting nuances. The rejection of Trump with his policies and his offensive statements about Latin Americans will bring about the rebirth of a sense of love and care for oneself. A year ago, we said that the threat of building the wall would make Latin America stop looking to the United States and start look at itself. And so it happened. The Mexican trend consultants TlacuacheBlue call it “Neoindigenism” and they are sure that ancient wisdom and the search for iconography will continue to be present in fashion, health and events. Cerveza Victoria, one of the best recognized brands in Mexico, has achieved a very significant impact with the idea of inviting people not to celebrate Halloween, but to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

As always, inspiration comes from culture and from the changes occurring in society. Some Latin American brands have managed to gain ground through their relevant innovations and their formats tailored to the tastes and preferences of the Latin public. In a year of fear, distrust and disbelief, the challenge will be to find strength in the group, the desire to come together and an appreciation of what is local, in order to build brands that are truly connected with a region and that continue to be heard in a world of global leaders who know or understand little about that region.