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How two P&G veterans are deploying telenovelas to corner the Latina hair care market

July 4, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

Rosie slumps down into the salon chair as Mariana approaches, smiling brightly. Mariana, the salon owner, is tall, has flawless skin and beautifully flowing long brown hair. “Hi Rosie!” she says in Spanish, placing her hands on Rosie’s shoulders. “Good to see you. How are you? What do you want to do today?” 

Rosie’s expression droops even more. “Ay, Mariana,” Rosie says, reluctantly pulling the scarf from her head to reveal a dye job gone bad. “My husband cheated on me! Do you believe it? I wanted to look beautiful to win him back, but he only made fun of me.” 

“Let’s see,” says Mariana, full of reassurance. “Don’t worry. We all have suffered for love.”

The scene plays out between the two women with dramatic body language, long sighs and raised eyebrows. Mariana, of course, fixes Rosie’s hair (and her spirits) before the scene ends. But this isn’t just a melodramatic scene from a telenovela. It’s a novel way to peddle a new haircare line—and it is proving far more effective than some traditional advertising strategies. 

Behind the scenes of Lu: The Power of Us, the telenovela series developed in 2017 by the creators of LatinUs.
Courtesy of LatinUs

For business partners Cesar Jaramillo and Millie Carrasquillo, behind Rosie and Mariana’s salon chat is their budding hair care line, Lu, and the scene plays out in Lu: The Power of Us, the telenovela series they’ve developed to promote it. In December 2017, Jaramillo phoned veteran product developer Isabel Greaves about the startup. He was hoping she’d be up for some laundry room science experiments and pitching in on the creation of a scripted series that plays out in a salon. 

They had each logged decades at Procter & Gamble, and were connected through mutual friends. Jaramillo, cofounder and chair at LatinUS, is a marketing whiz whose enthusiasm for the Latinx consumer rules the day. Born in Bogota, Colombia, Jaramillo spent his childhood and adolescence between his hometown and Miami. He assumed various lead marketing roles across countless verticals including detergents, hair care and oral care at P&G, covering Mexico, Latin America and China throughout his more than 19 years there. During that time, he was heavily involved in the Latin American Pringles launch and bolstered his passion for the Latin market. Jaramillo had heard that Greaves was the ideal candidate to help him and his partner Millie Carrasquillo create the perfect line of shampoos and conditioners for the Latina woman. 

Greaves, who is originally from Venezuela, logged 22 years running research and development teams at P&G also in Latin America, from fabric softeners to the Pantene franchise. She loves to geek out on the technology behind consumer products, and when Jaramillo phoned, she was excited about the idea and immediately began researching ingredients and reading through hundreds of patents. “I come from big corporations,” says Greaves. “It is paradoxical. They have deep pockets, but so many constraints. This was absolute freedom to innovate.”  

A unique approach 

The shampoo aisles of any big box store are filled with products to address specific hair types: curly, frizzy, straight, fine, coarse, dry, oily. “That’s not how the Latina thinks,” says Jaramillo. She instead says mood—and look—are primary buying drivers. As such the LatinUS products fall into three collections: Control, Freedom and Rescue. Each line, Jaramillo says, tells a story of how the Latina feels that day, what she has planned and how she wants to represent herself in the moment. That rationale informs the team’s view of their competition: They aren’t sure they have one in the same lane. “There are wonderful Latin-founded brands out there,” says Jaramillo. “But their appeal seems to target the whole market. And then, there are the big brands of the world (like Pantene, L’Oréal), but they don’t have a specific focus or cater to Latinas.” LatinUS aims to speak to the Latina, building out a line specifically addressing the Latina relationship with beauty and self-care. 

One of the most resonant ways to do that, the team felt, is through a medium many Latinas distinctly connect to their mothers, grandmothers and selves: the telenovela. Lu: The Power of Us is the brand’s YouTube telenovela. It is cast with big name Spanish-speaking actors and follows three generations of women as they straddle life between Mexico and the U.S., while building a hair care business drawing from traditional ingredients and family recipes (think avocado hair masks and homespun vegan keratin). The novela was created by writers, perfumers, chemists and product designers, each contributing elements of actual product development at LatinUS into the series. “This is a story that travels two countries, and the product is a character, too,” says Carrasquillo, one of the nation’s leading research and insights experts when it comes to the deep understanding, knowledge and power of the Hispanic market. “The story becomes the intersection of the content, the brand and the product.” 

Carrasquillo’s family is from Puerto Rico, and she was raised in the Bronx. She held senior executive research and insights positions at major media companies including the two leading U.S. Spanish-language broadcast networks, Univision and Telemundo, now serves as chief research officer at LatinUS. Her career in television affirmed many things, but most of all that in so many Spanish-speaking families, telenovelas remain an entertainment stronghold. In fact, Nielsen reports more than 6 million telenovela viewers per week across the U.S. “We needed to connect with this consumer and in more than one way,” says Carrasquillo, noting how undervalued the telenovela medium is. This was the perfect opportunity to fuse together brand, product, production, entertainment and content. 

The LatinUs leadership team, Cesar Jaramillo and Millie Carrasquillo.
Courtesy of LatinUs

For Greaves’ part, that intersection began in her laundry room. “I had hair swatches hanging up and my kids would help me take photos,” she says. “Working at a distance with a formulator, I experimented with suds levels and different ingredients.” The line’s big differentiator is vegan keratin, which Greaves says, became a main character in the telenovela as well. “I worked with the writers. We connected the heart of our formula to the story as something the protagonist learned from her grandmother.” In the meantime, Jaramillo and Carrasquillo spent time speaking to Latina women, salon owners and shoppers in the shampoo aisle.

Ultimately, it worked. The return on investment for the novela trailer, Jaramillo says, has been staggering. “For every $1,000 we put in, we can get 10,000 people to watch,” he says. “That is a crazy low cost. It’s like the equivalent of 10 years for a brand that does 30 second commercials.” All in, the telenovela trailer cost a total of $5,000 to make, leveraging the best talent in North and South America. “Having Sofia Castro, Victoria Ruffo and Marlene Favela involved; they are icons,” says Jaramillo. “That’s done wonders.” Now, LatinUS has recorded a compound annual growth of 34 percent, a repeat customer rate of 30 percent. It has an Amazon storefront and a complete telenovela series in the works.

A strong market

The Hispanic or Latinx population is roughly 60 million strong, or 18 percent of the total U.S. population, with nearly half of that number represented by women, according to the 2019 census. Carrasquillo notes the average age of that consumer is about 28 to 30 years old, with amazing potential for buying power for another 50 years. “She was taught at an early age you have to look good,” says Carrasquillo. “She is in charge and living in a world where she’s translating for her parents, grandparents. From an early age, she’s a decision maker.” 

Michelle Greenwald, a Pepsi-Cola alum and marketing professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Business, says the connection to celebrity is huge for the Latinx consumer. “Hispanics are incredibly loyal customers,” says Greenwald. “From an influencer standpoint, these are glamorous people and telenovelas are all about sex and love. Hair is a big part of that. It is more engaging than a 25 second commercial and I can see it being aspirational.” 

Samples of the LU LatinUs beauty collection.
Courtesy of LatinUs

That’s, of course, the goal, says Jaramillo. And at the center is the Latina consumer. “From the onset, we knew production, entertainment, brand, product and content, would all meet to celebrate cultural diversity and acknowledge the Latina.” 

One recent step in that direction is a new partnership with women’s professional soccer team Mexico’s Club América. In late May, the brand became the team’s first beauty sponsor, marking new territory not only for LatinUS, but for the team, too. Players Jennifer Muñoz, Jocelyn Orejel and Daniela Espinosa joined novela stars at LatinUS brand ambassadors. They will wear the brand’s logo on their socks at games and practices and contribute to original content promoting the brand on and off the field. The partnership also marks the brand’s launch on Amazon Mexico, as well. It speaks to the brand’s international expansion, since Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and is a deliberate nod to the connection between Mexico and the U.S. 

“We are investing in celebrating young women that we can we all get behind: female soccer players, athletes,” says Jaramillo. “Club América is the biggest name in sports for US Hispanics. Jennifer, Jocelyn and Daniela are who I want my14-year-old to have as a role model and serve as an inspiration.”

From a business standpoint, the partnership works for both Club América and LatinUS. For the soccer franchise, it is about appealing to a younger segment of women in the U.S. and Mexico who could become newly minted soccer fans. There’s no better way to reach those young women than with beauty brands. For the hair care line, leveraging such a big presence in professional soccer is the best form of word of mouth they could ask for in the Latina demographic. Plus, if women who train all day in the sun and heat use this product and attest to its efficacy, that’s the best endorsement the LatinUS founders could ask for. “They want to look good too,” says Jaramillo. “It sends a clear message of how our product performs.”

As for the telenovela, The Power of Us, the narrative continues for Mariana, too. Her salon faces competition, but along with her mother Sol and daughter Lu, they team up to lean on natural ingredients, family tradition and their strong sense of shared Latina heritage to not only save the salon, but launch a brand.

The women are huddled around the kitchen island, Sol stirring a pot over the hot stovetop. 

Lu: “Do you know what this is?” 

Sol: “Tradition.”

Mariana: “And a lot of work.”

Lu: “Yes! But we can create a brand.”

Sol: “Sweetheart, do you think so?”

Lu: “Yes! Think about it. A product made by Latinas, for Latinas.”

Mariana: “My love, you have always wanted to conquer the world!”

Lu: “And thanks to you, I’m sure we can achieve it.”

And, while real life plays out a bit differently for Jaramillo and Carrasquillo, the through line of their story is the same. “As a company that sits in the intersection of the beauty business and the entertainment business,” says Carrasquillo, “our unique model allows us to leverage our expertise in the content space, novelas in particular, which has proven success among female audiences in both countries with its stories, celebrities and culture.”

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