Taco Bell: No Se Entiende

This is the first entry of my Commercial Wrap blog column.

This is a resurrection of sorts of my column I did back in the early aughts in the pages of The Source magazine. In this column I will examine, critique, praise and castigate commercials paying specific attention to the ways that Madison Avenue incorporates urban culture into their campaigns, for better or worse. 

Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” campaign, created by Deutsch LA and Draftfcb Orange County is an embarrassing attempt at humor and cross cultural cool. It fails so splendidly it could serve as the blueprint of what not to do.

The Taco Bell people have both pissed me off and perplexed me at the same time.

Vexed me to the point of pulling the race card on these misguided media folks.

Almost.

Quick media lesson: Every commercial you see has been scripted, cast, scored and even tested before it hits the air for your viewing and consumer pleasure (and my critique): A commercial is supposed to entice you to buy the product being advertised. The show you love exists almost explicitly so they can sell you shit.

So, when the folks at Deutsch and DraftFCB, the agencies of record for Taco Bell gave us this fuckrey I really struggled to comprehend it.

Dig, if you will, these moving pictures:

“Grande Papi”                                                                                    

It’s bad enough that you ripped off Biggie’s seminal joint for a fast food commercial and recast it en español (fail) for the sake of the spot, but the clip’s whole posture is just so wrong.

The nerdy, nebbish dude gets recognition (and cred/swag?) from dudes on the street and attention from the ladies (check his bewildered, unaccustomed, self-impressed facial expression) because he’s got his infant strapped to his chest (the new urban male machismo ornament) as he struts into TB to get the Grande Burrito, which he chomps on while walking spilling bits of food on his kid’s head? When the wife sees rice and quac in the kid’s hair you’s thru, fool.

Again, bad, but then we got this:

“Hola”                                                                                                        

What’s with the even worse Spanish version of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello”? Like Mr. Ritchie needs that check.

But what makes it even more ridiculous – to me at least – was that no one in the ad even looked remotely Latin.

Yeah, I know, they’re not selling their version of comida Latino to Latinos, I get it. But then when you look at the other spots in their new “Live Mas” campaign there’s only one other Spanish-language joint, which, truth be told might be the funniest of them all, and the least offensive.

“Viva Young”                                                                                      

The augmented reality spots aren’t culturally offensive at all (though I do question some people’s palates).

Maybe I was just being overly sensitive, I thought. I mean, I’m not Latino, though I grew up with too many Latin families to count (and I know my history and some of theirs; our shared journeys and mixed bloodlines via middle passage and miscegenation, so separating their plight from mine never seemed something to argue about to me at all). I”m just a humble Black Man trying to make sense outta nonsense in 2013 America.

So, I chopped it up with some media savvy gente’ I know and respect.

“At first peep? Sheeeeit… if I were [ahem!] the sensitive type, I’d say Taco Bell and its ad agencies, Deutsch and DraftFCB, were some straight-out racist suckas, simple and plain. But I’m not. So I don’t,” says my man Carlito Rodriguez, veteran scribe, producer, content creator and self-described closet nerd. “Ads that use pop songs sung in Spanish – mangled the fk up Spanish, to be clear – do not require they use Latino actors, really. Not in the good ol’ U.S. of A. in 2013,” he qualifies. “El español, much to the dismay of the Spanish-speaking Marco Rubio, among others of his ilk, is as ubiquitous as salsa. And ESPECIALLY not when they’re for a company who once slang’d (its version of) Tex/Mex fare with a fkn chihuahua* [see below].”

Rapper DaForeigna and I go back like front seats in Fleetwoods, corner store quarter waters and old head Pro-Keds. He takes aim at the spots from an mc’s perspective: “The first time I saw the  “Big Poppa” spot, my thoughts were, “who are they trying to target? I thought, who ever the mc is made the song too literal as far as the lyrics,” he notes. “Trying to bunch up words gave the song no flow at all. Maybe they meant to make it that wack”? A few weeks later I saw the “Hello” commercial and I was convinced that this is basically not gonna get any better”.

Carlito cosigns, completely. “Because the Spanish in the songs is so horribly disfigured, it’s a good thing they don’t feature Latino (or Latino-looking) actors,” he confirms. “The self-referential sense of this “look how cool we are” campaign only adds to the ongoing novela that has become Taco Bell’s relationship with Latino America. Bottom line: They know they fkd up. They know they have a lot to make up for. So they greenlight these ads with the hopes that the message is clear: “See, amigos? Even we don’t spic as cool as you do!”.

Writer, pop culture Blatina feminista Letisha Marrero lets them have it as well, completing the harmony. “They’ve jacked both Black and Latin culture just to create this salsa that serves only them, especially in the Biggie commercial,” she says. “The “Hola” one is the same thing, appropriating both cultures and spinning it to serve their white hipster agenda. There’s not one person of color in either spot. [There is an elderly African American dude in the “Viva Young” spot] I’m offended.”

So, once again, in a dubious attempt to show us how cool they are while selling something, Madison Avenue and its billion-dollar client co-opted the cultures of the cooler peoples – historically creators of cool –  for profit and got it wrong. But we POCs are so used to getting disrespected our feelings didn’t get hurt beyond the (low) standards they’ve already set.

Though they failed, horribly, they did manage something of a coup: They picked the proverbial carcasses of two cultures of color for the cost of one.

A mistake, muy grande.

*Remember, it all started with this:

“Yo Quiero Taco Bell (1997)”                                                          

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