There are media lessons to be learned from the spectacle of bumptious Donald Trump being stripped of multimillion-dollar relationships with Macy's, Serta, NBC and Univision after making derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants. Beyond the cost of arrogance and insensitivity, the most important one involves the growth and cultural power of the Hispanic audience.
Some analysts have described Trump as putting himself "on the wrong side of history" by saying, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."
I don't disagree with the "wrong side of history" analysis. But I think it's also perfectly ironic that this self-described business whiz didn't understand that he was putting himself on the wrong side of where Madison Avenue is today as well with his unsupported denigration of Mexican-Americans when he announced his presidential candidacy June 16.
The Hispanic market has grown from $1 trillion in buying power in 2010 to $1.5 trillion this year, according to Nielsen data. And Nielsen and Google surveys find members of that audience to be among both the heaviest viewers of TV and the earliest and most active users of new media technology.
"The U.S. Hispanic audience will only gain cultural and economic prominence in the coming years," a 2014 Google report titled "Your Next Big Opportunity: The U.S. Hispanic Market" concluded. "This isn't just sheer numbers; it's technology. Constantly connected consumers are influential ones — spreading ideas, culture and content — and this audience is very connected. … The key is to go where these consumers are, offering unique, choice-based and culturally relevant ways to engage."
TV networks are clearly trying to do that with characters like Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) on ABC's "Modern Family" and series like "Jane The Virgin" starring Gina Rodriguez on the CW. And no segment of the electorate has gotten more cable news coverage so far this election cycle than Hispanic voters. While the stature of network anchormen like CBS' Scott Pelley has shrunk in recent election cycles, that of Univision's Jorge Ramos has soared to the point where I don't think there is a TV journalist who has more influence with candidates today.
But the most telling illustration of where corporate and media America are when it comes to Hispanic identity today is in the ads that are being made for TV, Internet and social media.
One set of commercials debuting this Fourth of July weekend merits special attention — not just because it is so clearly in sync with Nielsen and Google findings, but also because it offers such a strong counterpoint to the message Trump was trying to send. The ads, titled "4 de Julio," are part of a "This Is Wholesome" campaign from Mondelez International, the multinational corporation that includes such brands as Nabisco and Cadbury and makes Honey Maid graham crackers.
Trump's words encapsulate a narrative that essentially says, "Mexican immigrants are bad for America," by linking them to rape, drugs and people who are out of control. Immigrants as a dangerous, out-of-control population is an old and ugly American trope that has included virtually every new group that arrived on these shores. I heard it repeatedly in 1980 when I was covering Cuban immigrants after the Mariel boatlift — and, again, with Haitians who arrived shortly thereafter on Florida shores.
Ads like "4 de Julio" say the opposite: "Immigrant families make America great. They are and have always been the backbone of this nation." This, too, is a long-running American narrative.
And that's a point-counterpoint that is going to be sounded a lot during the 2016 election cycle as immigration is debated among presidential candidates. But if I know anything about popular culture after all these years, hearts and minds are going to be changed or reaffirmed more by the ways people connect to such ads and characters like ones played by Vergara and Rodriguez.
The 30-second version of the ad, premiering during "Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular" on NBC, opens with Arisandy Gomez, an environmental engineer, leaving for work before dawn.
"When you first come to America, it was hard," he says in accented English over a bed of soft Latin-flavored guitar music. "But family is so important because those are the people you can rely on."
The scene changes to show him with his wife, Cindy, and their three young children as well as a grandmother, Alesandrina, celebrating 4 de Julio at night with sparklers, barbecue, dancing and lots of s'mores made with Honey Maid graham crackers
"We always celebrate Fourth of July," Gomez, a Dominican-American, says in voiceover. "We are just as American as anybody else."
And as the images of a backyard family celebration continue, text appears onscreen saying, "One in five Americans is a member of an immigrant family." That sentence dissolves and is followed by "Happy Fourth of July to every wholesome family."
In a longer YouTube version of the ad, Gomez introduces the members of his family individually.
When he gets to his 9-year-old daughter, Aniely, he recounts how a former friend of the little girl told her, "My dad said I cannot be talking to you because you're not white."
"That's just funny, the way that happens," he says with a forced smile. But as he tries to hold the smile, a look of remembered pain flashes across his face, and it's all the more heartbreaking because of the way he tries not to show it.
These skilled and touching productions are part of a larger Honey Maid campaign that started last year with ads featuring gay families, single-parent families, blended families and families in which one parent is often away from home, whether serving in the military or working as a drummer in a touring rock band.
The 30-second commercial for the overall campaign has been played more than 8 million times on YouTube.
"4 de Julio" is the second time a Hispanic family has been featured.
"We were in the forefront of beginning a journey that I think a lot of brands are now on — and in the forefront with Honey Maid of representing the richness of what American families look like today," Gary Osifchin, head of marketing for Honey Maid, said in a telephone interview.
"There is no question about the importance of the Hispanic population," he added. "It's real and it's here. If you look at the total number of immigrants, not just Hispanic, over 76 million Americans are first- or second-generation immigrants. That's one out of five. And the largest percent is clearly Hispanic, and we need our brands to resonate with them."
Osifchin said the "4 de Julio" ads have had the "highest engagement rate" of any of its productions with 2.5 million views of the company's posts about the Gomez family in social and digital media within 24 hours of launching the campaign last week.