Thursday, August 30, 2007
From Advertising Age’s The Big Tent…
An Inconvenient Mexican
For Some, I’m Not Hispanic Enough
By Laura Martinez
Growing up in Mexico City, I thought my family and friends were kind of an oddity because we didn’t look like the Scandinavian types dominating the airwaves and the outdoor advertisements. Happy blond, blue-eyed people were everywhere pitching sodas, insurance, airlines and cars. At night the 9 o’clock telenovela invariably brought us a story about a good, virginal maid who was also very light skinned and for some reason ended up in the arms of the rich home-owner (who by the way always sported a compound name such as Alberto Manuel or Roberto Alejandro). People in the ads did not look like the people we saw in our everyday lives simply because, as my creative director friend later explained to me, the point was to send a message that was “aspirational”; that is, to have people aspire to be more stylish, more wealthy, more … blond?
That was then -- and there. But now after nine years in the U.S., exposed to Hispanic-targeted media and so-called “Hispanic-specific advertising,” I feel like an oddity again, because I don’t seem to fit the “type” of Hispanic people the media insists on portraying, and researchers insist on “researching.”
Take my recent brush with a focus-group recruiter who called to ask if I would be interested in participating in a focus group among Mexican women ages 31-50 living in the New York City area. “Sure!” I thought. After all, I had nothing much to do and was going to walk away $50 richer. Mind you, it was not only the 50 bucks that caught my attention. I was perfect for the gig. I am a Mexican who speaks Spanish (duh!), still between the ages of 31 and 50 and, most importantly, I live very near the place where the focus group was to take place. But then came the pre-screening process, an excruciating 10-minute phone interview, which I failed miserably (and it was in Spanish).
It went sort of like this:
--Which brand of facial cream do you use at night?
--None. I don’t wear night cream.
--OK. Which is your cellphone provider?
--Oh … [long pause] … What about education? Did you finish elementary school?
--I have a BA in Journalism so I guess you can say I did.
--Are you married?
--I’m sorry chica, you just don’t qualify for our test, but we’ll keep you posted on our upcoming focus groups.
Although I’m still trying to figure out the connection between the cellphone and the night cream, I realized that having an education but not a husband was too much for these researchers to bear. I am sure someone out there perusing over the data figured I was simply not the type of Mexican they were looking for.
The whole incident was actually funny and gave me a story to blog about, but at the same time I could not help but wonder: Why can’t marketers and advertisers just acknowledge that Latin Americans (and everyone else for that matter) come in all sizes, shapes and colors? Why do they insist on giving us only Hispanic-looking dolls? (I grew up playing with Barbie and Ken, for God’s sake!) I guess marketers are right when they say I am simply not the target of their multicultural efforts, but one thing I’m pretty sure of: For matters concerning marketing and advertising, I am simply an inconvenient Mexican.