Indio: Racism in a Bottle of Beer



Mexico’s Indio beer brand was originally called Cuauhtémoc, in honor of the last Aztec emperor-warrior, who died at the hands of Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortéz.  

Back then, Cuauhtémoc’s image appeared on the label.

Launched in the 1880s, its name was changed in 1905 because customers began to ask for it as “the one with the Indian image” (“la del Indio,” in Spanish).

For practical reasons, the Cuauhtémoc Brewery in Monterrey changed its name to Cerveza Indio. That move paid off.

The market for this beer has always been the working class, as well as low-middle Mexicans. But for some years now, the manufacturers have changed their target to higher middle-class young hipsters.

This change coincided with the time when the brand started a relationship with Coloürs, a marketing agency.

Coloürs has a history of doing great marketing campaigns, but also has a history of not doing a deep analysis of its targeted customers, which are usually below the C+ and higher category.

With the change in Indio’s target market, however, Coloürs made a huge mistake that may have cost them the relationship with Cuahutemoc-Moctezuma/Heineken brewery. The company created a campaign named #OrgullosamenteIndio, meaning “proudly Indian.”

In order to give some perspective about this ad campaign, I’ll have to talk a little bit about current Mexican culture: In Mexico, it is pretty common to use the word “indio as a pejorative term, and it’s also commonly preceded for the word “pinch,” a very rude term that is similar to “damn.” 

Indians in Mexico have a long history of discrimination that dates back to the Spanish conquest. This said, I’ll talk about the promo.

In ads, you can see white young people with a shirt that says “Pinché Orgullosamente Indio”. The word “pinche” is crossed out, followed by the phrase “Proudly Indian.” 

The Mexican social media flared up immediately against Indio beer because there were no indigenous people — or even brunettes — in the photos. Most people perceived the campaign as an insult because the company was making a shameless cultural appropriation, and being deeply discriminating at the same time. 

The blogger Felipe Soto Viterbo has theorized that the company was making this campaign “mistake” intentionally in order to gain notoriety.

I would like to take a little bit of time to analyze this theory: As I said before, Coloürs has a history of discrimination against its own target audiences.

Once the company made a  study in which they went to bars (cantinas) in downtown Mexico City to see how Coca-Cola Improve its sales. Bars in Mexico are places for blue-collar workers, specifically, masons, carpenters, plumbers and members of other similar occupations. Well, the people of Coloürs decided that the most effective campaign would be geared to a cocktail class.

Cocktails, however, are for higher classes. Cantinas need things like souvenirs and posters, not cocktails. This is just one example of how Coloürs is not seeking to understand their clientele’s market, but to deliver creative campaigns.

So Soto Viterbo has a point, but the root of the problem becomes evident when you know people who have worked with Coloürs.

Some critics have said that the people who work at Coloürs simply do not have the intellectual capacity to carry out such a Machiavellian plan. The Coloürs team are really creative people, but they have no market researchers or market analysts among their personnel.

This Indio beer campaign has a lot of issues that merit revision, not just racism. For one, there is something pretty obvious about the design of the shirts worn by the models in the ads: the size of the font of the words on the T-shirts. The word “pinché” is considerably bigger than orgullosamente. This doesn’t make sense even If pinche is crossed out. It causes a cognitive ease to understand first the insult, and also forces your brain to make an effort to see the second word. If Soto’s theory is right, then this people are evil racists who really don’t care about fostering discrimination. If my theory is right, then these people really don’t understand how the human brain reacts to advertising.

Being careful with what you say and do is especially important nowadays. Some brands don´t seem to understand this. White people got offended. Probably indigenous people have neither the interest nor the time to worry about what a beer brand may have to say to them, but their actual market, whining young middle class people, who take importance to every detail on brand behavior, are angry at them and will not tolerate discrimination.

Cerveza Indio just suffered a terrible blow for having a business relation with an agency that doesn’t care for targetmarkets that are not middle or upper class, and a most serious issue: they do not care about understanding their market.

That’s the price to pay when you don’t pay enough attention to your target audience.

Julia Castillo is a marketing analyst. Her twitter account is @MarketeerJulia.



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