What should a brand do when a political candidate's proposed policies threaten to undermine the values it has spent decades promoting? Is it even right to take a political stance in the first place?
These are the questions Mexican beer brand Tecate faced last fall, as then presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to construct a wall between Mexico and the United States if elected as part of a hardline stance on immigration. Tecate, which was acquired by Heineken in 2010 but still operates a brewery just 600 meters from California, has worked hard to develop a presence in the U.S. through humor, a focus on masculinity and attracting Mexican-Americans proud of their bicultural identity. But Trump's platform threatened to dismantle the message of cross-cultural brotherhood that’s key to Tecate's positioning.
The brand decided to tackle the issue head-on with a bold message in "The Wall," a TV commercial developed with Saatchi & Saatchi NY that showed two groups of men sharing a six-pack over a short border wall and which premiered on Sept. 24, 2016.
"We are a brand that's invested in both sides of the border, so we saw that we needed to do something about it — emotionally tear down that wall," Esther Garcia, Tecate's U.S. vice president, said during a session at Advertising Week last month about how marketers can take a political stance. "We could do it because of who we are: the most popular brand in Mexico. Who better to unify the two sides?"
The message seemed like a natural fit, so the brand thought undertaking the risky campaign was the right move.
"It's not about politics. It's about having a lighthearted point of view and the right to do it," Garcia said.
Despite the fit, the 73-year-old brand knew it would need to tread carefully as it developed the strategy. The first step was to find a strategic opportunity to strike, as Tecate recognized that timing would be critical for the success or demise of the campaign.
Thoughtful and thrifty thinking
The effort got underway just a few months before the first presidential debate in September 2016, a public event that attracts millions of viewers, when most of the commercial slots were already booked. Besides the abbreviated development timeframe, Tecate had spent most of its advertising budget around a boxing match on Mexican Independence Day.
"We needed to be swift, thrifty and bold, and focus on media that would create noise," Garcia said.
"It's not about politics. It's about having a lighthearted point of view and the right to do it."
Tecate U.S. vice president
The brand accomplished its goals by snagging a spot on Fox News, where it expected the campaign's tongue-in-cheek message of "a wall that brings us together" would likely win attention. Tecate knew that poking fun at the Republican candidate on a conservative network like Fox could stir up a backlash, so it worked with a public relations team from the get-go to anticipate and respond to consumers' reactions in real time. The team started a conversation on social media via the hashtag #TecateBeerWall two days before the ad aired to tease the campaign and build momentum.
In the two days between the commercial's airing and the Sept. 26 debate, Tecate's commercial was covered as news by major networks and publications like CNN, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Adweek and Time. "How Audi and Tecate won the presidential debate," was one headline that appeared, exemplifying the media's response to the spot.
A winning response plan
Tecate's team jumped into action days later during the debate and responded to consumers engaging with its hashtag in real time, including both positive and negative comments. Overall, the sentiment around the campaign was 87% positive, according to Garcia, and it reeled in more than 30 million social engagements and 1.4 billion total impressions.
"It feels weird and it feels scary the majority of the time. But this is really about pushing the needle to go into places where the magic can happen."
Tecate U.S. vice president
Brands looking to deliver a similarly risky message should tread carefully and understand a few key factors that led to Tecate's win. It's all about timing, taking a humorous or lighthearted route if appropriate and staying true to the brand's identity for an authentic tone, according to Garcia. Brands must be willing to take risks and push the limits, while also maintaining a 360-degree view of the campaign landscape led by a PR team.
"When you tap into these hot topics, you need to make sure that you're authentic so it's really true to your brand and you have the right to talk about these things," Garcia told the Advertising Week audience. "It feels weird and it feels scary the majority of the time. But this is really about pushing the needle to go into places where the magic can happen."