Is Chile Politically Incorrect?

Is Chile Politically Incorrect?
A gringa’s perspective on cultural sensitivity in advertising

By Jennifer Dugger

(June 4, 2004) Most travelers would agree that part of the fun of seeing other countries is learning about their culture. There are many ways of doing this: meeting people, observation, digesting the media, and so forth. For me, the marketing speaks volumes.

The current Banco Estado marketing campaign, for example, features patos (ducks in English) imitating the opening sequence from last season’s hit soap Machos. In some countries, certainly in the United States, a bank might hesitate to stray from the usual more somber approach in this way. Not in Chile.

What does this tell us about the Chilean psyche? One conclusion would be that they have a weakness for ducks. Or maybe a more slapstick sense of humor. Certainly it shows that Chilean marketing strategies are ‘different’.

Part of this ‘difference’ that new arrivals might find rather shocking is the glaring political incorrectness (speaking, of course, from the perspective of U.S. cultural sensitivity). There’s quite an array of ‘un-pc’ marketing that I would never encounter in the United States.

For example, walking down Moneda toward Ahumada you will find a Japanese restaurant on the left. Propped up outside there is a life-sized cardboard caricature of a beaming, bucked-tooth Japanese waiter looking goofy and extending a tray of sushi. Offensive? Apparently not to the Japanese owner whose display it is.

Worse still, browsing through your local grocery store, you’re likely to come upon a soda named “Afrikola,” whose logo features a black man with big pink lips and a bone in his hair. I can’t imagine that much was invested in market research for this beauty, but who knows. Maybe consumers find tribal images of Africans intriguing. I found it unbelievably off-base.

While you’re scratching your head trying to figure that one out, I invite you to continue the African theme in Bellavista where one of the discos features a logo of bone clad “natives” beckoning passers-by to come in for an endless series of Meringue favorites. Nothing says Meringue like… “African” caricatures apparently.

Or if you prefer that your African Meringue adventure cost twice as much, then be sure to head on over to Suecia where one bar has a similarly insensitive depiction.

And that’s not all. Another financial institution uses images of stereotypical snap happy Japanese tourists as humor. And another ad features Arabs deliberately making peoples’ lives more costly by hoarding oil. So, how is one to interpret these images? Are Chileans politically incorrect or culturally insensitive?

Chile has not experienced the duration and extent of immigration that the United States has, and consequently, perhaps it has not yet come to terms with its own diversity. No doubt attitudes will change as the country continues to develop. Until they do, I will not be offended by the semi-naked women advertising beer and razors, and perhaps the Japanese, Arabs, and Africans will be similarly tolerant, as long as these politically incorrect images are on the way out.