If you are at all like me – a veteran of the cultural marketing wars, slightly jaded, yet idealistically leaning when something truly worthy comes along – you are probably less than excited by marketing that trades on national holidays, pride days, or other things in that general category. On the whole, these programs seem fawning and disingenuous, and potentially demeaning to both the brand and the customer. But if you have been following some of the big trends in digital and community organizing, you may agree that it’s time to give a new look at this old idea.
I’m talking about two trends in particular: the emergence of Latino voting power (well-documented in the mainstream media) and the new playbook for grassroots organizing and social media. Together the two trends present a great opportunity for Latin-American community leaders to self-organize and do their own marketing. And there’s probably no better time to do this than Cinco de Mayo 2012.
Here are three reasons I believe that Cinco de Mayo may be ripe for a rebranding in 2012.
Power of Moment
No, I am not Mexican-American. I am in fact Nuyorican – or neo-Rican: someone who has recently reclaimed his Puerto Rican identity, as I recently confessed at a conference in San Juan. But if you’re a reader of this column, you’ll know that I’m a proponent of the idea that Latinos comprise a metatribe, a loose collection of different groups – with different interests – that sometimes comes together around common causes. I believe that the importance of the Latino vote is one of those causes – along with the broad Latino support for job creation, education, and immigration reform. And with the large and nationally visible Cinco de Mayo holiday approaching, the cause has a moment – a key ingredient in any social movement – to help Latino leaders come together and organize. Yes, it’s not the only event on the calendar. And yes, Mexican-Americans are not the only Hispanic group who will be attracted to the cause. But it’s fitting to begin the movement with Mexican-Americans, who occupy a special place in American history and are by far the largest of all U.S. Hispanic groups. The Cinco de Mayo holiday – rooted in the idea of freedom, pride, and cultural unity – is as good a time as any to launch a series of events around involving other Hispanics.
Power of Place
I have written about the power of physical place in the new world of social engagement. From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement to recent experiments in citizen-driven government, the importance of the physical meeting place has become manifest. For some, especially those steeped in the virtual communities, it might seem counterintuitive. For people from the tradition of community organizing, the physical meetup has always been part of the marketing toolkit. Yet the challenge for anyone taking this route is that physical space can be scarce and costly. But here’s the opportunity for organizers this May: there will be many celebrations in public and private spaces; the “real estate” issue is mostly solved. Partner with the sponsors of these celebrations. Bring content and programming to their events. It will bring depth to the programming that’s already in place, and make even greater use of the physical space.
Power of People
In the end, the real value comes from the people who drive the creation of the programming – that is, the people who make up the vast and diverse Hispanic community.
As I said above, the problem with pride days is that they sometimes get co-opted by commercial interests. It’s not that commercial interests should have nothing to do with these events; they can play a valuable role. But without understanding the ideal roles of each, neither will know how to prepare for the event. If the brand is the protagonist, Cinco de Mayo may be no more than beer and chips. But if the community is the protagonist, Cinco de Mayo can be an opportunity for Latinos everywhere – beginning of course with Mexican-Americans – to organize, reflect, and find better ways to exercise their power as citizens. Yes, food and beverages should be served, but they needn’t be the main attraction.
And here’s the thing: many meaningful, citizen-driven events have already been planned. If you would like to list one here, in the comments below, please do. But if you’re attracted to the idea of simply supporting the community – either as an individual or a representative of a brand – perhaps just joining the party is enough for now. Me – I’ll be a Mexican-American at least for one day in the month of May. But I will be on the road for the rest of the year, wherever the movement goes.