Now that advertising agencies, PR firms and marketing firms have finally noticed that the Hispanic market is the fastest growing consumer market in the United States, they are more aggressively targeting this population. However, sometimes agencies are moving too fast and firing before they aim; think of it as a metaphorical Dick Cheney incident.

Case in point: the Volkswagen debacle which was recently featured in Wall Street Journal. Volkswagen’s ad agency, CreativeOndemanD, came up with the slogan "Turbo-Cojones" for VW’s new GTI 2006 model that was placed on billboards in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Although Turbo_1 Americans use "cojones" colloquially to mean "gutsy," the literal translation from Spanish to English is "testicles." And, according to Luis Perez Tolon, an instructor at Miami-Dade College who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, "In English, Turbo-Balls might not sound so offensive. But in the Spanish-speaking community, it will always have a vulgar connotation."

How did VW react: they took down the billboards.

How can a Miami-based agency not be in tune with what translations resonate well and which do not work at all with the Hispanic population? How can any ad agency, PR firm or marketing firm, for that matter, which says it wants to target the Hispanic market not do their homework? And, it’s not just the Hispanic market. According to the article, a few Asian countries banned Australia’s new tourist slogan "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?"

Agencies and corporations must both be accountable and conduct the appropriate due diligence before trying to influence a specific market or culture. By not doing so, they are demonstrating to other populations just how ignorant they are and how much they do not care about the population’s culture. Why, then, should the targeted population care?

One misstep could result in months or years of trying to earn back the trust of the now alienated population.

Corporations are so concerned today about how to manage their reputations in the digital world of blogs and message boards. They need to be equally concerned about their reputation when focusing on traditional advertising, PR and marketing.

In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss….it’s "bloody hell" for the corporation, not to mention the agency.

5 thoughts on “Ready…Fire…Aim!

  1. You know what is very interesting about this blog? The billboard did exactly what it should have. It created buzz (some may say negative, but you can please everyone) but that is one of the objectives of any advertising venture. If the ad said “Turbo Charged” would there be articles in the media and blogs, no. How many past ads or PR stunts have made everyone happy?
    Bottom line to me is this- if it was an error, it is quite comical if you aren’t offended by it. If it wasn’t and the “real” goal was to create a buzz, then congrats on a job well done.

  2. Sorry David – it’s not everyday that I say or write “coochie,” but I’m happy (maybe even a little surprised?) that you know the correct spelling.
    You’re absolutely right — VW is just the latest in a growing list of marketers who are pushing the limits in terms how they sell product. It’s no secret that sex and violence sells in this country. Why is it that your girl Britney is allowed to perform half naked on stage, yet it’s taboo to use the word coochie? Seems rather contradictory.
    But the fact is, language is very cut and dry – the FCC and stations know what is not acceptable. Even Spanish-language radio stations are at risk of being fined. Perhaps it’s taken the FCC some time to get up-to-speed with Latin stations, but they are definitely on the radar. Read this:

  3. If only the hip hop community limited their vocabulary to coochie (it’s an IE not Y-ending noun) and pimp!
    Instead, rappers like Ludacris get Pepsi endorsements and 50 Cent gets to wield a gun in consumers’ faces while pimping Reeboks.
    Granted, they’re not using foul language in these ads, but when you turn on a Reggaeton station in NY, Miami or LA you will hear language that in English would be bleeped out by the FCC.
    There are no rules in this space as of yet so anything goes. Therefore, the VW ad is a drop in the bucket of muck, shock and awe that is being peddaled at consumers — in any language in the U.S. It’s a chicken or egg quandry that poses a challenge to the industry: If we are in fact the problem are we going to change our behavior? And, are we in the business of selling product or molding upstanding citizens?
    It’s hard out there for a marketer.

  4. David, Hip Hop is a phenomenon as well, but that doesn’t mean the expletives don’t offend a large portion of the population. Just because a rapper uses the word “coochy” in a song, doesn’t mean that it’s a smart move for a company to embrace the term and incorporate it into its latest ad campaign.
    I’m sure the Latinos who were offended by the VW ad fit the same profile as those who were offended by the the Hustle & Flow song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” I know the concept of Pimpin’ doesn’t offend you, but upstanding citizens like myself don’t want to hear that kind of garbage.

  5. Not sure what the big deal with Turbo Cojones is. Reggaeton, the fastest-growing pop music genre –in English or in Spanish– is generating millions of dollars for big name record companies with the use of the same foul language. Let’s not forget that one of the biggest songs of 2004 was Pitbull’s “Culo,” a nasty song about derriers that enjoyed extensive uncensored play on MTV. In Spanish, culo is just as salty a word as cojones, and yet any five year old can (unfortunately) sing along to Pitbull’s wack track.
    I’d like to know which Latinos are offended by this ad because it’s certainly not the ones who have turned reggaeton into a phenomenon that the NYT magazine just devoted an 8 page article to.