Flattery or Irreverence: Getting Close to Culture
We wrote and produced the PSAs, and we took some care to make them culturally relevant. One of our experimental manipulations involved culture. Some of the PSAs stressed maintaining eating habits that were part of the culture. Other PSAs stressed changing behavior (e.g., Hugo) that are not part of the culture.
While shooting one of the PSAs, one of the actors (we'll call him Johnny, since according to our scripts, every male Hispanic is named Johnny) kept cracking jokes. He'd say things such as, "This house is way too clean to be a Hispanic's house."
My favorite was: "Where are the channel locks on the stove if this is a Hispanic's house?"
Johnny was hilarious.
And somehow, obviously, he was closer to real Hispanic culture than we were.
Yet, there is no way we could have gone where he went.
That is, Carlos Mencia can make jokes that we just cannot make. And I get it. And I respect it.
But as a scientist, it drives me crazy! What defines that line?
More specifically, how do you best market to Hispanics? We were culturally sensitive. We used Hispanic actors and actresses. We had culturally relevant items, such as a decorative tortilla press, but we clearly did not dress the actors in serapes and sombreros.
With that in mind, consider the following campaign for NaCo, a hip Mexican clothing company looking to make it big in the U.S. market.
According to a story in Advertising Age, "In Mexican Spanish, naco is a derogatory slang term for lower-class tackiness, but NaCo has reinterpreted it as an inside joke that treats kitsch as cool. The Spanish-language slogan the company hopes to also use in the U.S. if enough people here understand it -- a topic of debate within NaCo -- is 'Ser naco es chido' ('Tacky is cool')."
NaCo is purposefully going after irreverence. Here is one T-shirt that got pulled from the 17 Texas and Atlanta Macy's stores carrying the $25 women's shirts:
"Brown Is the New White"
"Estar guars" (Star Wars)
And my personal favorite:
"M is for Mija" (Note to self: Wes's birthday gift)
According to Ad Age, the goal of the merchandise and related marketing is to "appeal to emotions ranging from self-mockery to nostalgia."
The verdict is still out. Not surprisingly, Fox "News" reacted violently , which led in part to the pulling of the "Brown Is the New White" shirt. Other similarly minded viewers likened Macy's red star to communism, according to Ad Age. [Seriously, people?!?!?!]
I don't know the answer. Irreverence is a delicate matter. The line between clever and mean and/or racist is a fine one. Yet the fact that these T-shirts made it into the market suggest that there is an underlying market to be served.