Mexican role models and globalization

I promised to stop blogging about Mexico upon my return, but I found the following intriguing:

In a Latino nation where most consumers are dark-skinned, such as Mexico, the tendency to feature güeros [the light-skinned] in advertising might be considered racist or at least distasteful. But it is pervasive.

“Even Mexico’s biggest chicken company uses white hens in their billboards,” notes advertising analyst Enriqueta Rivera, who teaches at the Monterrey Tech university…

The use of fair-skinned people in ads is not all racism or bias:

There are also more practical reasons for using fair models. According to José Miguel Jaime, of the Mexican advertising agency Precision Marcom, about one-quarter of commercials seen in Mexico are filmed for use throughout Latin America and use neutral images. [TC: Read: Many other Latins are not crazy about Mexican culture.] Another quarter are made for Mexico but filmed abroad to cut costs. For the remainder “you might want different ads to target a higher-end and lower segments but clients don’t want to spend on two versions and so you tend to see ads for the elite crowd”.

Nonetheless foreign products and suppliers are bringing big changes:

Over the past five years, cheap credit from vehicle companies, department stores and credit card companies has put their products suddenly within the reach of the working classes.

Rogelio Ramirez de la O, an economic consultant, estimates that the Mexican market for cars and appliances is 30m, while the market for cell phones could be as high as 70m [TC: that is out of a total population of about 100 million]. He dates the change to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which lowered tariffs and prices for US goods and encouraged manufacturers to overproduce. Companies started to issue credit, while Wal-Mart brought rigorous pricing policies, enabling it to sell to more Mexicans. “Foreign companies came to sell to all Mexicans, not just the top 10m, and that is a reality that has influenced Mexican companies.”

…”What we look for is that people identify with and believe in the brand,” says Maria Gloria Loaiza, Pampers account manager at Starcom Media Vest Group Mexico, which uses ads made in Venezuela for distribution throughout Latin America. “When the ad is not credible, neither is the product. Our babies have to be in the real world: they look Latino.”

Change is in sight in certain areas. Children of various skin tones regularly appear in promotions. Dark hair seems to be overtaking blonde in commercials. And ads made for the 20m Mexicans living abroad, who have more of a sense of pride in their identity, tend to feature average citizens.

Ads for the American Latino market have indeed gone especially far in a populist direction:

…advertising aimed at the $450bn (£251bn) Hispanic market in the US uses Latin faces and often Mexican themes, since two-thirds of the target group are of Mexican descent. At $3bn per year, the budget for advertising to 35m US Hispanics is greater than the $2.5bn spent on 100m Mexicans, notes Enrique Gibert, founder of the Mexican advertising agency Gibert Quattro [emphasis added].

As is so often the case, freer trade breaks down previous class distinctions for the better; the desire of mass media to find a “least common denominator” has a silver lining. And the Latins in the United States arguably have become the culturally most important Latin “country.” Here is the full story.