by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Salmonella. Drug violence. Now swine flu. You think Mexico's development and tourism marketers are having a few sleepless nights?

Only this nightmare is real.

It has always been a contrivance to think we could separate, say, the branding of farm produce from the realities of where and how it's grown, or present imagery of luxury resorts and pristine beaches that didn't somehow trigger recollections of drug war casualties pictured on the Internet. We've deluded ourselves into pretending that the miasma of life for millions of poor, ignored, and exploited Mexicans wouldn't affect us across the border, in spite of every effort to claim that the only problem was that too many of them wanted to live here.

Tourism is all about marketing fantasy, just like economic development relies on a large does of hope. We're supposed to look at those empty beaches in resort ads and suppress the fact that we know the coastline is likely filled with fellow pale, flabby tourists. Manufacturers need to close one eye to the way workers live, or are treated on the job, or they'd never source or buy products anywhere but Iowa.

Marketing relies on us maintaining this separation, this double-think, and uses tools like creative rationales, excuses, and symbolism to obfuscate or distract.

Only sometimes reality catches up. So what should Mexico do about it?

The Old School Approach would be to do absolutely nothing. This nightmare will end, and a new day will dawn, once again filled with hapless and willing tourists and businesses. Human beings have memories a tad bit longer than gnats, and we prefer the happy comfort of our well-practiced double-think (see above). Any proactive or additional communicating on negatives such as poisoning, murder, and disease wouldn't do much for the, er, brand; other than extend the bad news. So cancel whatever marketing you can. Better to hunker down, and wait for the troubles to pass.

A new approach would be to consider that this Internet thing is going to be with us for a while. And that the nature of how people become aware and make decisions about things is not like it used to be. Imagine if the top marketers of Mexico's leading resorts and exporters got together, and committed to figuring out what they needed in order to restore confidence in their brands? 

No, not come up with some creative nonsense, but address first the operational, substantive hurdles...the messy, inconvenient facts that keep popping up, and then finding eternal life online. They would come up with must-do recommendations for their employers, and for their government, and then they could go public with them, so as to enlist engagement and support from the larger community. The creative marketing-types wouldn't even be allowed in the room, but instead hired once the substantive changes needed to get communicated.

Do food producers need another layer of third-party inspection? Should factories have webcams to witness behavior, or should worker treatment get linked more closely to the parts and finished goods that get shipped? Could the vectors for transmission of swine flu (not to mention the factors that allowed for its genesis) require major, meaningful changes to public health laws and enforcement?

I know. The likelihood of such a confab is next to zero, and the prospect for any such recommendations getting put into practice even less so.

But I'm not sure Mexico's marketers have a chance to wake up from their branding nightmare without it.

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