Have you seen this TV commercial for Planters Peanuts? The little peanut character on the back of the bike pedals like crazy until he keels over, while Mr. Peanut does nothing and cruises to an easy victory.
The character is dressed in a shirt that says cacahuete, French for "peanut"--if it had the grave accent over the first e. As it stands, it's one way of saying "peanut" in Spanish (the more common spelling is cacahuate. The implication? The hard-working Mexican peanut does all the work, while gabacho Mr. Peanut gets all the credit.
Have a look at the commercial:
It's not just me and Gustavo who see the insult; other Mexis are also pissed at the commercial.
How did this commercial clear the approval process at Planters' corporate parent Kraft Foods and its ad agency?
Basil T. Maglaris, associate director of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods, responded to my questions by e-mail.
Mr. Peanut's sidekick, Benson, is riding a bicycle, and in a fun nod to major French cycling events, he is wearing a beret and a shirt that says, 'cacahuete'--which is the French word for 'peanut.' After all, Benson is a peanut.
We regret that there has been some confusion with similarly spelled words in other languages. Our intent was to create a fun ad celebrating healthy activities--and we are always concerned when consumers express disappointment with our ads. . . . We never want to offend anyone with our marketing efforts, and we are clarifying the intent of the advertisement with those who have contacted us with questions or concerns. We treat all consumers with high esteem and respect, and we would never intentionally portray them in an offensive or demeaning manner.
We have no plans to change or withdraw the advertisement.
First: Whose bright idea was it to label the sidekick "cacahuete" and start this controversy? Isn't it obvious he's a peanut? A shorter-statured, harder-working second fiddle to Mr. Peanut, who's too cool to wear a cacahuete jersey of his own?
If you take the corporate response at face value, the French word "cacahuète" is always spelled with the accent, while the Spanish cognate is not. If Planters were sincere about labelling the little guy French, he shouldn't be wearing a Spanish-language shirt.
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Also, is Mr. Peanut cheating his way to victory in this "French cycling event"? Letting the sidekick do all the work while he does none? Using swim fins illegally? Why paint Mr. Peanut as a cheat, when doping at the Tour de France is an explosive real-world issue in professional cycling?
A "French cycling event" has spawned doping controversies every year since 1998, most notably in 2006, when American Tyler Hamilton was stopped from competing by a Spanish blood-doping investigation called Operación Puerto. The same year, American Floyd Landis won a too-good-to-be-true overall victory in the Tour de France, only to be stripped of the title for a positive test for testostorone. Years of denial, a public campaign to clear his name and a book sold to raise money for his legal battles all proved to be a lie when Landis admitted last year to doping and lying about it.
Late in 2010, Landis accused Lance Armstrong of doping when they rode as teammates on the U.S. Postal Service team. Every major media outlet in the world is waiting for the other shoe to drop in the FDA's ongoing doping investigation of the recently re-retired Armstrong. It's a big story. Right. Now.
How can Planters and its ad agency not be aware of these well-publicized cases of cheating at a "French cycling event" before producing this ad? Even now, when faced with the knowledge that this commercial snubs Mexican-Americans, why defend a poorly conceived ad with poorly conceived doubletalk about cycling?