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Seeing The Problem Absolutely

Mexicans' dream on display.

By Will Offensicht  |  April 7, 2008

Absolut Vodka has an advertising theme "In An Absolut World" which tries to associate their product with memorable places, situations, and sites all over the world.  They've shown skiing, climate, cities, and thousands of other images.  Each ad has some form of an image of a bottle of vodka.  The goal is to associate Absolut Vodka with something for which most people who see the ad will have a pleasant memory or a favorable impression.

Cultural associations are pretty tricky, even for large, experienced companies.  The Chevy Nova did not sell well in Latin America because, in Spanish, "no va" means "won't go."  When "martini" is transliterated into Chinese, it means "the horse kicked you."  That's not a bad description, actually, but not so good for sales.

When Coca-Cola first started selling in China, the product name in Chinese meant "bite the wax tadpole."  Many thousands of dollars later, their name meant "may the happy mouth rejoice," which is an obvious improvement.

Large international advertisers like Absolut spend significant sums of money on focus groups, cultural research, and polling to see how people view ads before they're run.  Thus, whenever we see an ad from an expensive campaign, we can be pretty sure that the people who paid for the ad were careful to make sure that the intended audience would have a favorable impression.

The Absolut ad shown here is no exception; the advertising agency clearly expected the readers of the Mexican magazine Quien to have a favorable view of a map showing the US-Mexican border as it was before 1848.  The blogger who posted the ad wrote,

But in an "Absolut World," wonderful things can happen, including getting the U.S.-Mexico border straight once and for all.

There were comments in favor of the concept behind the ad:

I love this ad! Let us never forget that a large part of the U.S. was once Mexico. How then can we be immigrants on what was once our land?. Que Viva Mexico!

And comments against the ad:

I was born and raised and educated in Mexico, this has got to be the biggest sour grapes ad ever. We lost tons of what was then OUR territory, because we were weak, stupid and corrupt, no one in Mexico cared about 2/3 of the old Nueva Espana until after they discovered gold in California and no one in Mexico cared about that territory until the USA built it up with roads, cities, towns, services, industry in the early 20th century. Guess what, it's the 21st century and Mexico is still weak, stupid and corrupt, socially, economically and governmentally. Instead of working to build a great society, instead of Mexican society working as a team and building a 1st class country with the tons of human and natural resources we have, we covet jealously what we could have had, what the USA became and is.  It's because the Americans are smart and they have their checks and balances socially, politically and economically they built an empire out of 13 piece of dirt colonies.  The Spaniards gave us an empire in terms of land and as a society we pissed it away.  The problem is that Mexicans never look at themselves as the problem, which we are, naturally we always look at some one else to blame for our own failings.

I had the good fortune of marrying into an American family that embraced me regardless of my origins.  These social and political conservatives are some of the most generous and hard working people and some of the closest knit humans you will find.  I am lucky to have left Mexico, and I will never return to Mexico, I will die for the USA and my sons will die for the USA because it has given me everything.

The important point is not that bloggers who saw the ad agreed or disagreed about the map.  What's important is that a highly-paid ad agency believed that most Mexicans who saw the ad would be favorably impressed.  Absolut believes that they will gain by linking their concept of "An Absolut World" to a world in which significant parts of the American West are part of Mexico.

Ad executives are acutely aware of what their audience wants.  They don't always get it right, but the feedback loop of the marketplace naturally incentives them to give it their best shot each and every time.

Scragged has previously discussed what illegal immigrants from Mexico feel "is already theirs" in the United States.  It has become so clear that European businesses are now seeing and marketing to it.  Nobody can say we weren't warned.