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The history of the marketing of Cinco de Mayo

Jeff Tyler and Shea Huffman May 2, 2014
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The history of the marketing of Cinco de Mayo

Jeff Tyler and Shea Huffman May 2, 2014
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Technically, Cinco de Mayo falls on a Monday this year. But beer companies want people to get an early start, celebrating over the weekend.

But celebrating what, exactly? What does Cinco de Mayo mean for marketers and consumers?

Many in Los Angeles celebrated Cinco de Mayo last weekend. Tens of thousands of Latinos attended a street fair that big corporations saw as a marketing opportunity, even if their message was a little fuzzy.

At the Ford booth, I spoke with Marie, a ‘brand ambassador.’ I asked her to make the connection between the car company and Cinco de Mayo.

“Ford, to me, is about the people. And people need to drive to get around this city and Ford is a great way to do that,” said Marie.

She struggled to make the connection. But, to be fair, it is sort of a hazy holiday.

After all, May 5 commemorates an obscure battle where the Mexican underdogs defeated the French.

“In Mexico, we don’t really do Cinco de Mayo,” said Marie. “It’s more of an American-ized holiday.”

In this case, ‘American-ized’ meant commercialized. Festival goers moved from line to line, waiting for free samples and gift bags. A fiesta of freebies from McDonald’s and Palmolive and Colgate.

“The consumer products companies have been the early-adopters of understanding that this is the market that is going to move the needle, and they’ve really fought hard to create brand recognition,” said Xavier Gutierrez with Meruelo Group, one of the event’s sponsors.

While some companies try to connect with Latinos, beer companies try to get everyone to party.

According to Nielsen, the market research company, Americans bought more than $600 million worth of beer last year for Cinco de Mayo. That’s more beer than was sold for the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day.

“Beer companies have been largely responsible for the commodification of Cinco de Mayo. I mean, they spend millions and millions of dollar in Spanish-language advertising,” said Jose Alamillo, a professor of Chicano studies at California State University Channel Islands.

Alamillo said the beer industry ignores alcohol related health issues that affect the Latino community.

He’d like to see Cinco de Mayo promoted as a history lesson, instead of — as critics allege — an excuse to sell booze.


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