Hispanics must demand respect from marketers

2013-06-04T00:00:00Z Hispanics must demand respect from marketersEsther Cepeda Washington Post Writers Group Arizona Daily Star

In matters of Latino unity, the prevailing stereotype is that Mexicans, South Americans and Puerto Ricans don't get along.

But if ever there was a reason for all Hispanics to come together behind their Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, it was to support their outrage against MillerCoors for using a semblance of that commonwealth's flag to hawk beer at the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade next Sunday.

MillerCoors, one of the parade's sponsors, had started circulating 20-ounce Coors Light cans on which the Puerto Rican flag appears along with the parade's logo and the words "cerveza oficial" - official beer. Last week, MillerCoors apologized for the promotion and pulled the product from distribution.

As if the implied endorsement of all Puerto Ricans hadn't been insulting enough, the theme for the June 9 parade is "Salud - Celebrating Your Health." Salud ("health") also is a common toast to make when clinking glasses.

The bitter irony is that alcohol is a major threat to the health of Hispanics. Though, on average, they are less likely to drink than non-Hispanic whites, Latinos who do imbibe are more likely to binge drink and less likely to seek treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Among Latinos, Puerto Rican men and women tend to drink the most, and across all Hispanic nationality groups, beer is the preferred beverage, followed by wine and then liquor, the NIH says. This translates into higher rates of physical dependence, drinking and driving, domestic violence and divorce.

According to the National Institute for Latino Policy, this wasn't the first time MillerCoors has been the target of Puerto Rican ire. In 2011, MillerCoors was forced to discontinue its "Emboricuate" Coors Light Puerto Rican Day Parade advertising campaign after widespread community criticism.

"Emboricuate " is a made-up word, a play on the Spanish emborrachate, which means "get yourself drunk," and boricua, a Puerto Rican term of endearment. Together they inadvertently call for Puerto Ricanizing yourself while getting drunk. Har-har.

But let's not pretend that MillerCoors is the only corporation that co-opts culture to target Latinos. We can thank liquor companies, in general, for making a mockery of Cinco de Mayo.

That drinking "holiday" basically means nothing to anyone outside of the Mexican state of Puebla. But the day now encourages marketers and otherwise culturally respectful drinkers to trot out the absolute worst and most denigrating Mexican stereotypes. It seems to specifically drive college students to dress in oversized sombreros and droopy mustaches.

This past Cinco de Mayo, the big cultural controversy roiling the Latino community was about the Disney Corp.'s plans to trademark the term "Dia de los Muertos," the name of the Latin American day honoring the dead, for an upcoming animated movie.

So many Hispanics were disgusted by the brazen attempt to commandeer a spiritual holiday for corporate profit that Disney backed off.

I could go on and on with examples of how marketers of unhealthy products seek to capitalize on Latino consumers. It's a long-standing practice.

As the NILP notes, Coors in 1984 had signed an agreement with six leading national Latino organizations in which they were to receive larger grants from the company if they increased the amount of Coors beer consumed by the Hispanic community. It was eventually scrapped after strong criticism from community leaders.

This is similar to the criticisms recently leveled against the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation and other minority advocacy organizations for taking money from Big Soda in exchange for their support in opposing sugary-drink regulations across the country.

The bottom line is that while some Hispanics revel in their trillion-dollar consumer market status, few see themselves as marketers do: Latino targets. But when it comes to being marketed to, Hispanics have to think of themselves as discerning customers who require respect.

In other words, we must set standards for how we're willing to let brands talk to and about us. The only sure way to accomplish this is by using our wallets and voices to tell corporations trying to appropriate our heritage to keep their greedy mitts off other people's culture.

Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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