What’s the first thing you think of when somebody mentions the South American nation of Colombia?
Do you immediately muse about the literary works of Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez? Perhaps the priceless treasures housed in the Gold Museum of Bogotá pop to mind? Or do you begin considering the important contributions Colombian women have made in the fields of science and engineering?
Typically, folks outside the region don’t even know about most of that stuff. Many Americans view Colombia mainly through Hollywood’s film and TV series lens, perceiving it as a place still tangled in rampant drug trafficking, violence and prostitution, despite the fact that era has long passed.
Financial institution Bancolombia, El Colombiano newspaper and the City of Medellín are working together to change such perceptions with “Colombian Ambush,” a series of four short films developed by U.S.-based multicultural marketing agency Dieste. Directed with slick, cinematic style by Simoìn Brand, each installment runs about two minutes and flips negative stereotypes on their heads.
First up, “Patron,” which opens with a cliched crime-flick setup, as two young dudes deliver a briefcase to a mysterious figure. In a gritty Hollywood movie, bags of cocaine or piles of money would be inside. Here, however, the contents may surprise you:
That’s right, the case was filled with novels by García Márquez. The Patron’s “hit list” concerns the author’s best titles, not the names of cartel rivals marked for elimination.
“As Colombians living in the United States, it’s painful to see how people perceive our country from outside,” Dieste creative chief Ciro Sarmiento tells Adweek. “You hop on a cab in New York or you meet someone at a restaurant for the first time, and after they find out that you are Colombian, the next thing you hear is: ‘Oh, Pablo Escobar!’ or ‘Cocaine, right?’”
“The inspiration (for the new campaign) came from the recent wave of narco shows and Hollywood movies glorifying Colombian drug lords, making them look almost as heroes,” he says. “We thought that the best way to tell foreigners about the real beauties of Colombia was to trick them into thinking there was a new narco show out there.”
Next, a seemingly tense, late-night encounter at a police checkpoint turns into a discussion of … five-hundred years of Colombian art treasures, naturally:
Sarmiento describes the primary target as “American audiences who only know the Colombia stereotype. That is the reason this campaign runs with English subtitles a la (the Netflix series ) ‘Narcos.’”
Colombians themselves constitute a secondary audience. “This campaign gives them tools to prove there are beautiful things about Colombia that nobody knows,” he says. “Our plan is that we become an army of Colombians doing good, proud of their roots and willing to help the country clean up its bad image.”
Carlos Fernando Vega, a writer and editor for Colombian marketing publication Revista P&M, applauds the strategy.
“I think the campaign is very insightful, because as a Colombian, it is very unfortunate for us that the common image of drug cartels has been amplified by the global press but also from movie productions such as ‘Narcos,’ especially in the U.S.,” he says. “My opinion is that the creative approach really impacts and surprises with positive facts about Colombia, and really gives a strong message that opens a new perspective of our culture and our country brand.”
The films appear on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and can also be viewed on the project’s website. Dieste also plans to launch the campaign on TV and in cinemas in Colombia, though the core audience remains North Americans.
“So far, everything we have done has been organic, with a second stage planned for paid media,” Sarmiento says.
The campaign’s remaining two films celebrate, respectively, Colombia’s vibrant ecology and the groundbreaking work of its female scientific researchers: