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The GOYA Backlash is Branding 101

Jul 21, 2020 | Brand

It’s Bigger Than Politics, It’s Branding 101

A little over a week ago, the CEO of Goya Foods, Robert Unanue, slapped the entire Latino population of the United States in the face with one fell swoop when he said, “We’re all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder.” He came back with a firm backhand on the Latino community when he went on to compare Trump to his grandfather, who immigrated from Spain and founded Goya in 1936.

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, was once famously quoted saying,

“Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”

What the Goya Backlash Isn't About

  • This isn’t about hating Trump and boycotting any brand that supports him or the Republican party although we’ve seen backlash for that as well (Home Depot, Equinox Gyms, UnderArmour)
  • This isn’t about Politics – Conservative vs Liberal, although the memes of Trump and Ivanka and Conservatives posing with their Goya ‘bounties’ would have you think it is
  • This isn’t about Free Speech – we’re ALL Americans and as much as this administration tries to divide us, one thing Americans can agree on is that we all love the right to speak our minds

From left, Bob Unanue and Peter Unanue. Source: HOUSTON/NJBIZ

Self-Loathing Much?

Another important thing to consider is that the Unanue family immigrated directly from Spain via Puerto Rico  in 1936. Why is that important? Spain is a European country and is of course known as one of the most prolific colonizers in the history of the world. The reason why Mexicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, South Americans, even some Philipinos, speak Spanish is because those were all Spanish colonies.

My parents, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1969 came much later but Latinos from historically ‘brown’ countries, or “shithole countries” as Trump likes to refer to them as, have been immigrating here for many many years and cannot assimilate into ‘white society’ as easily as those direct descendants from Spain like Unanue’s family has. Mexicans, you can argue have been in this country for much, much longer, in fact their legal immigration history goes back to the 19th century (1890s) and early 20th century, with many Mexicans settling in Chicago during the 1910s.

The Dominican Republic itself has a long and storied history of ‘lightskin vs darkskin’ as it shares the island of Hispaniola with the former French colony, Haiti. Being the first stop in the triangle trade from Africa, the Caribbean has african roots sprinkled all over it. The population of these Spanish speaking countries is made up of many brown people, and it is those very same brown people, who over the years have been loyal to the Goya brand here in the United States.

While Unanue’s ancestry is  from Spain, he may not identify with the same black/brown Latino population that has been loyal to his brand and made his family wealthy here in America. Additionally, strictly from a socio-economic point of view, many 2nd or 3rd generation, wealthy Latinos do not associate or identify with the immigrant Latino population.  The classic case of forgetting where you come from.  It’s a phenomenon that is actually more common than you think.

If you’re wondering how a logical thinking Latino CEO in his right mind could have turned his back on his own customer base, by praising someone who has done nothing but vilify and dehumanize them,  and not only justified it, but double-downed on it, you’re not alone. Sold out for political optics? Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Source: BBC News

Trump's Xenophobia

Trump’s entire campaign, and that of several other Republican governors, was based heavily on the fearmongering and xenophobia of illegal immigration. The fear of those very same brown people that make up Goya’s consumer base. From Day 1 (and even before Day 1 if you go back to his discriminatory real estate practices and anti-Obama Birther movement, Trump has systematically dehumanized those very same brown people and has taken a very harsh stance on immigration during his candidacy and now, during his presidency.

I remember working from our Florida office and watching a Governor DeSantis campaign commercial come on the air where he had his toddler daughter on his lap and he was teaching her how to ‘build a wall’ with her toy blocks. I thought it was satire, it was not, it was real.

Times when Trump Dehumanized Latinos

For those that still think this is just about politics, here’s just a brief highlight/timeline of what you can find simply by Googling, “Times when Trump Dehumanized Latinos” By the way, dehumanizing Latinos and Black and Brown people has been Trump’s calling card ever since he started his campaign! 

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

– Donald Trump, presidential announcement speech, June 16, 2015 – Washington Post

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” 

– Trump, statement about his June 16 comments, July 6, 2015 – Business Insider

“President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting. 

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.”

– January 11, 2018 as reported by the Washington Post.

Again, this is not just political. This is about standing up against the bigotry and racially motivated divisiveness that has become synonymous with this administration.  This is also about company leadership representing it’s brand.

There have been (very few) Republicans who have stood up to Trump’s racism:

Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), whose family is from Haiti, said in a statement that Trump’s remarks were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.”

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.”  In November, the Trump administration rescinded deportation protection granted to nearly 60,000 Haitians after the 2010 earthquake and told them to return home by July 2019.

– Source: Washington Post

Trump’s Use of the Word “Infestation”

“As president, Trump is still fixated on infestations, but now he wields that language against those he sees as political foes, especially people of color. He tweeted Saturday that the majority-black Baltimore district of Rep. Elijah Cummings is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” That followed his notorious tweet of July 14, in which he told four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

– Source: Politico and The Atlantic

Trump’s rhetorical choice is far from benign, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow notes, because “infestations justify exterminations.” Rolling Stone senior writer Jamil Smith made a similar point last year after Trump lashed out at MS-13 gang members: “When Trump speaks of immigrants ‘infesting’ America, he speaks in the language of genocide, not governance. By likening people to insects or vermin, even if he considers them criminals, he provides himself license to be an exterminator. We know that story.”

– Source: Politico and NY Times

Trump’s false claims continued at his rallies when referring to the caravans: ‘They’re hardened criminals’ At a rally in Arizona on Friday, Trump said the people in the caravan were “bad people”, “not little angels” and “tough, tough people”.

As recently as June 20, 2020, Trump was still spewing anti-Latino, racist rhetoric at his Tulsa, OK campaign rally: 

“It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, and a very tough,  you know I have used the word on occasion, hombre, a very tough hombre, is breaking into the window, of a, young woman, who’s husband, is away as a travelling salesmen, or whatever he may do, and you call 911 and they say I’m sorry this number is no longer working.”

By contrast, we all know how Trump feels about white supremacy and Nazis, in his now famous “very fine people” quote when referring to the Neo Nazis marching for white supremacy  in Charlottesville, specifically, one the one that ran over and murdered Heather Heyer, a white woman among the counter- protestors, who was sentenced to life in prison.


We Must Never Forget How Trump Treated Puerto Rico

Trump sat on over $18 billion in hurricane relief aid during Hurricane Maria that was already Congressionally approved simply because he could. It’s no secret that his administration responded quicker to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma relief than it did to Puerto Rico. The now famous scene of Trump tossing paper towels at desperate Puerto Ricans will forever be etched in our minds as a mockery of the suffering and death tolls which he blamed on the Democrats. 

Focus on Branding - The Bigger Picture

I could go on and on, with other examples of Trump’s racist stance on people of color, Latinos in particular, but let’s take a look at Branding and Social Causes/Issues.

The truth is Branding Matters. Brand Loyalty Matters. Brand Leadership Matters. When Unanue had this opportunity, to portray Goya in a positive light. He was invited to the White House because Goya was donating 1 million pounds of their food products to food banks to assist those people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.  In this case, a large part of Goya’s success has been their Brand Story, an immigrant grandfather bootstraps a company with modest beginnings and grows it into a billion dollar family business. 

Those company values align with the Latino Brand Story. Many Latinos and people of color and Americans, in general, can look back on their family history and see where their family’s forefathers arrived and worked hard to build a family business. Nothing wrong with that narrative by itself. The fact that it is a staple in every home speaks the growth of the Latino culture, population and buying power here in the United States. 

Starbucks Reversal

After the murder of George Floyd, Starbucks had initially directed it’s employees to not wear any Black Lives Matter emblazoned attire to work and immediately faced a backlash. This was a surprise to many because Howard Schultz and Starbucks Corporate had responded in landmark style to a racist incident reported in one of their stores where cops were called on two African American patrons who were waiting to meet a friend. That incident prompted Starbucks to shut down all stores nationally to address race relations and in that case, led by example. When they banned BLM gear at work, many called for a boycott and in a brisk reversal, Starbucks Corporate announced that not only was BLM gear allowed, but that they would DISTRIBUTE it. Some see it as a coy gesture, but it is a move in the right direction nonetheless. 

Nike's Gamble

Nike and other brands have taken it upon themselves to take a stand for social justice, and took a big risk by launching an ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, who has become the poster-child for protesting police brutality. Side note: Trump is actually on record for encouraging police brutality. Those ads by Nike prompted many who misunderstood Kaepernick’s protest as being ‘unpatriotic’ due to his solemn gesture of kneeling during the National Anthem at NFL games, that they threatened to boycott Nike. Many took to social media posting videos of themselves burning their Nike sneakers and Nike apparel. Despite the backlash, Nike sales increase by 31% after launching the Kaepernick campaign. Nike understood who their target customer base was. Nike has  made $6 billion in profits  since that campaign launched.

Gillette’s Close Shave

Gillette saw the MeToo movement sweeping the nation and decided they wanted to throw their hat in the ring and “MeToo’d” #MeToo with a “Toxic Masculinity” TV Spot that completely backfired on them. Their slogan has always been “a best a man can get” in reference to their close shave, and the new spots touted a twist on it: “is this the best a man can get?” The controversial TV spot features men behaving badly, boys that are violent and questions how we’re raising our young men to grow up to be toxic individuals maladjusted to society. I can see where they were going but it was too heavy handed. That and their target audience didn’t respond kindly. Their target audience was MEN who saw the ad as offensive. Gillette has suffered a loss of $8 billion dollars since that campaign launched. 

Photo illustration of spilled Goya beans by Maggie Chirdo.

How Goya’s CEO Spilled the Beans

Consumers will remain loyal to those brands whose values align with theirs. We understand that large, wealthy individuals and corporations are going to have their allegiance to those political parties that benefit their tax structure and brackets. We get that. We also love to support those brands that give back to our communities and Goya does check that box. It is clear that today’s consumer, even it’s poorest demographic has access to information unlike ever before. We are all literally walking around with a computer in our pockets and that computer gives us access to information at an alarmingly fast rate. The advent of technology has also given us access to where and how we purchase our products and services. We no longer have to rely on the corner store bodega or have to be limited to which brands we purchase. The fact that Unanue purposely chose to praise a president who has taken a very racist and offensive stance towards Goya’s consumer base is completely unforgivable. That is not to say that Unanue isn’t entitled to his own rights of free speech and thought, because as an American he most certainly is. But he must also understand Branding 101.

When you are the CEO of a company, and you have an opportunity to represent that brand on a national level, you must be conscious of the words you say and who and what you choose to praise. The CEO of a company needs to be in alignment with the Core Brand Values of the company that he is leading. Core Brand Values are not about the products or services alone. They are also about the leadership of a company. Unanue could have elevated the Brand of Goya by focusing on the donations and the good that is coming out of his company’s gesture. Instead, he chose to make it a political moment for himself. He was selfish in that regard. He just couldn’t help himself because he no longer identifies with his brand’s target audience. He instead chose to betray them. 

No, Mr. Unanue, we are not ‘blessed’ to have Trump in office by any stretch of the imagination. Whoever occupies the White House next will have the monumental task of working to heal our nation. It is not supposed to be White vs Black, or Brown vs White or American vs. Immigrant, because immigration is what has always made this country the diverse tapestry of cultures and foods and ideas that it is. It is however, everyone against racism and bigotry. If you choose to praise a leader that supports bigotry and xenophobia then by default the brand that you lead also supports that ideology. We know that the thousands of workers and employees at Goya couldn’t possibly support this same ideology.

It is clear that this ideology Unanue’s alone, and we expect better from those in a position to leverage their platform for social causes and for the common good. Yes, you have the right to speak your mind, you have the freedom to support the political party of your choosing, but this has gone beyond the realm of politics. As the leader of a global brand, you must  understand where your customers are coming from and your core values as a company need to align with theirs as your customer base. If leadership at Goya has the right to praise a president who promotes  bigotry or hate against Latinos  in any form, then those same Latino customers that have made Goya so successful also have the right to no longer support the Goya brand.

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