Thirty seconds worth of insults

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Esther Cepeda
Monday, September 12, 2011
— This is what happens when a group of people decide that advertising directed toward them as an ethnic bloc is a good thing because it proves their importance in the American marketplace: It opens up a Pandora’s box of ridiculous, stereotypical insults.

For instance, in July the feminine care company Summer’s Eve decided to diversify its ad messaging by launching a campaign called “Hail to the V,” featuring talking “vaginas.” Television viewers were expected to use their imagination based on a visual of a woman’s fist. As if that wasn’t silly and tasteless enough, two of the ads featured black and Hispanic voices spewing offensive, trite slang.

“Ay, ay, ay!” begins the Latina-targeted ad, relaying an anecdote about being tired at the end of a long day. “But choo know,” the narrating voice continues in a bizarre combination of “Nuyorican”—Puerto Rican and New York accents—and old-school Cheech Marin from East L.A., “even I need a little help from time to time!” The narrator finishes with a fast-talking diatribe about the tackiness of a leopard-print thong in which Spanglish, a mispronounced Spanish word, and a Spaniard-esque lisp are employed.

I don’t know if that last part was meant to seem culturally resonant to the wildly diverse nationalities that comprise the Hispanic community, but the reference to provocative underwear—reinforcing the Latina-as-promiscuous-vixen fantasy—and the rest of the tone-deaf campaign made people so angry that Summer’s Eve quickly pulled the ads.

The most recent example of tasteless ad marketing is even more insulting because of its assumptions about what Latinos value.

It’s for Hispanic dog food.

Purina just launched a new Beneful-brand dog food flavor called “Healthy Fiesta.” Featuring a sort of sheep dog on the bag, and a collie in the television ad, the “fiesta” is actually a reference to the “accents of tomato and avocado” included with the grain and chicken blend.

Yep, Purina spent who-knows-how-much money in research, development and advertising on a dog food with ingredients that vaguely imply guacamole. I’m surprised they didn’t go with taco-flavored food—that’s what the Mexicans like, isn’t it?

C’mon, why even go there? Why target dog-food consumers on their personal ethnicity rather than on the needs of their dogs? This country is overflowing with Chihuahuas, thanks to popular, mainstream Chihuahua-themed movies that were adored by people of all races. Why not market their existing tiny-bite formula for those proud descendents of the Toltec era?

I can’t speak for Chihuahua owner Paris Hilton, but I’d be willing to seek that product out for my two Chihuahuas—they’ll eat anything they can get their jaws around.

But no, marketing products based on their utility or value to consumers who actually need them is just so much work. And why bother when it’s so much easier to use degrading cliches to tap into the aspirations of Latinos who have convinced themselves that their much-ballyhooed trillion-dollar buying power will garner them the mainstream respect they so deeply desire?

Unfortunately, those Hispanic consumers are not likely to get what they pay for.

Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Last updated: 6:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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