Coca Cola, Indigenous Identity, and Multiculturalism in Mexico

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From “U.S.-Mexico, Coca Cola, Hipsters Ads and the Indigenous,” by Alejandro Calvillo for Sinembargo (Translated by Emma Brooks and Rachel Alexander for Mexico Voices)

The reaction to a commercial made by Coca Cola in the Mixe community of Totontepec, Oaxaca, presents an important opportunity to reflect as a society on the treatment of indigenous communities in our country [Mexico], through advertising and concerning the exploitation of situations of marginalization and of emotions, to persuade the population to consume a product. For a society that is deeply discriminatory of its indigenous population, like Mexico, it is difficult to recognize the actions that perpetuate stereotypes of subordination, stereotypes that place one race or culture above another, as a model. This is even more serious in advertising. It’s enough just to look at the racial profile of people used in advertising in Mexico – in practice, there is no place in advertising for the people who make up the majority of Mexico’s population by far – mestizos. Their presence is only marginal. Read more here.

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9 responses to “Coca Cola, Indigenous Identity, and Multiculturalism in Mexico

  1. I had not come across the commercial before this and my first reaction was one of cautionary distaste. Before reading the article I noted that the care-free, energetic, and exceedingly joyous “saviors” of the town had much lighter skin than the indigenous community members.

    However, I interpreted the lack of talk in the commercial as retaliation against the statistic provided at the beginning: “81.6% of indigenous Mexicans have felt rejected for speaking another language”. By not scripting the actors to speak, I believe that the writers meant to show the indigenous Oaxacans and the pale newcomers taking some kind of stand against that prejudice. If they choose not to talk, who knows which language they speak, and how can they be discriminated against or feel rejected? I also would not say that the elderly lady and man and the two children featured in the beginning look upset or saddened by their living conditions.

    I can support that Coca-Cola’s advertisements are extremely misleading and directly manipulate consumers’ emotions and sentimentalities. Is it left up to the consumer whether or not to purchase and consume a Coca-Cola product? Yes. But is Type II Diabetes a growing problem in Hispanic communities? Yes. I know from family experiences that the disease is affecting growing numbers of Hispanics, especially youth. Would it be too much to ask that Coca-Cola include a disclaimer beneath all advertisements about the effects of over-consumption of sugar and possibility that soft drinks may become addictive?

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    • I apologize for my rather scattered comment. It was written in haste so as to preserve my most authentic response to the article.

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  2. First I would like to speak to the article. It was nice to see how they gave a mini crash course of “advertising 101” for those of us who are not business majors and do not understand how advertising really works. I found it very interesting that they stated that because Coca Cola is simply a drink that can only provide hydration and that in order to promote their company they need to get creative with their advertising. As in this case we see how Coca Cola sells feelings, particularly the feeling of belonging in this commercial.

    Next I would like to speak to how this commercial hits very close to home. To hear that “81.6% of indigenous Mexicans have felt rejected for speaking another language” is heartbreaking. Being Hispanic and American I have been fortunate to be bilingual but this sense of appreciation was not how I always felt. When I was younger I told my mother that I no longer wanted to speak Spanish. My mother gave me no choice but to continue learning the language. Now, as a young adult I am immensely grateful for the skill my mother provided me with – for it is very useful in my every day life as well as in what I want to do with my future career. Therefore, I stand by this commercial in letting indigenous Mexicans that being different never should mean bad.

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  3. This is an interesting topic. I am currently taking Caribbean Literature, where we have been talking the ways in which minority groups in the postcolonial caribbean have been depicted by popular media throughout recent history. Although Coca Cola might have thought this was a “brilliant idea” to create happiness/togetherness amongst distinct “ethno-socioeconomic” classes,” the author correctly notes that the racial distinctions are still clear, especially since these supposed nice and happy hipsters actually represent a “ruthless and snobby form of contemporary capitalism.” And all of this is done for a product that not only lacks a single intrinsic value but also appears to be a clear factor in the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes that has broken out in indigenous communities in the last 40 years. And since these communities “suffer from extreme poverty and lack of water services,” it would seem likely that members of these communities would find these commercials mocking to their current impoverished situation.

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  4. This quote from the article really stuck with me: “Coca Cola’s advertisements are a good example of advertising for a product that has no intrinsic value. That is to say, Coca Cola is a product that can’t offer anything more than hydration, something that water is better at providing, without the health complications and habits that can result from soft drink consumption. So, what Coca Cola really sells are feelings (happiness, love, solidarity) but, especially, a sense of belonging.”
    I had never before thought about the challenges of selling a product that people do not really need. The only thing making an unnecessary product successful is how well you convince people they need your product. Since Coke markets their product as providing a consumer with happiness or love whenever they drink one, they almost in a way exploit impressionable youth who desire to be accepted. This to me seems like false advertisement (as Coke will not actually directly make you happy as a result of consuming it). The only real quality it has, its taste, is not the main focus of the advertisement because there are many soda brands that have similar flavor, and many other drinks that may be just as delicious but also better for your health.

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  5. I was largely unaware of the treatment of indigenous persons in Mexico prior to this article, but what I did have knowledge of was the conditions of health. According to UNHCR, in the course of several decades, Mexico went from being the most malnourished country (lack of food, starvation, etc) to being the most malnourished country at the opposite end of the spectrum (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc). I’m glad the article was able to touch upon that near the end when it said:
    “The second essential piece for evaluating this ad, apart from its strategy and contents, is the product it advertises and the relationship that product has with indigenous communities in our country. We must start from the fact that regularly consuming these drinks does damage and raises the risk of being overweight, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.”
    The value (of lack thereof) of the product in discussion compounded by the almost exploitative advertisement to make the indigenous feel welcomed by this benevolent, white, hipster youth figure makes me seriously question what Coke’s marketing team was going for here.

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  6. Perhaps I would not have been as bothered by the commercial had there been an actual campaign in the part of Coca-Cola to fight some of the many issues that exist in indigenous communities in Mexico. At first glance, I had the impression that the commercial was showcasing an initiative to build houses in indigenous communities or some sort of humanitarian project. I was dissapointed when I realized that wasn’t the case. As a Mexican, I am well aware of the patronizing and unfair treatment of the indigenous community that occurs in Mexico. Socially, indigenours individuals are still outcasts in their own country. The are separated not only linguistically but in every aspect of their lives. In cities, you can find them begging in the streets while their non-indigenous counterparts offer some monetary solace from time to time: charity. This echoes what was observed in the commercial: priviledged Mexicans giving what they consider happiness to the helpless indigenous community. The commercial does nothing to empower the indigenous community and does nothing to bring them to the mainstream of Mexican society. It merely perpetuates the already existing mentality that by offering a few pesos– or in this case, a few Coca-Colas– one is able to ammeliorate all of the problems of the most vulnerable population in Mexico.

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  7. For generations, Coca Cola has been creeping into every nook and cranny of global civilization. Despite the fact that this product has no nutritional benefit, the marketing has been very successful. Coke’s ability is to to create a feeling. (Wouldn’t you “Like to buy the world a Coke”?–that catchy tune has been with us for generations.) This time they attempted to show benevolence by bringing these two socio-economic classes together. Their attempt to create this feeling of coke love by having the non-indigenous share one of their privileged “social benefits” with the indigenous certainly missed the mark, and in my eyes ultimately came across as bigoted and exploitative.

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  8. This article definitely struck at the heart of neo-colonial attitudes that remain in our society. This ad merely represents the latest evolution in this process. In the ad, we have a multi-billion dollar American corporation marketing its product to a generally poor country in anyway possible to exploit it as a market. The ad could have been a number of different specific messages depending on the community but regardless, it is clear that coke sought to connect emotionally to a poorer community by uniting them in distinction from a community even poorer than them. While we may never know whether or not anyone who produced the ad created this message out of a genuine desire to promote the equality of underclass groups in Mexico, the effect remains the same. The perpetuation of a global socio-economic hierarchy has long been in existence, and coke has found another way of exploiting it for economic gain.

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