When possible, I write through a strategic lens, the same way I do when working with brands or corporations to discover what their customers love, like, dislike, or want. Trying to anticipate what they need or will find relevant or challenging is a critical part of our jobs as designers and strategists. Working with our clients is a delicate endeavor that requires research, knowledge, and care to understand our audience’s cultural environments better. Recognizing and honoring cultural relevance is paramount in our quest to earn our consumers’ trust.
The stakes for our clients are enormous. Take as an example what happened recently to Bud Light after sending Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, a can with her face on it to celebrate a full year of her “Days of Girlhood” series, where she shared with her audience parts of her transition to womanhood. Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s owner, received a massive amount of backlash not only from conservative people opposing it but also from the LGBTQIA+ community for not standing firm. The CEO put out a lukewarm statement that failed to offer support for Mulvaney or the trans community. As a result, Bud Light’s sales plummeted 10.5% in the April-to-June period from a year earlier.
Circling back to cultural relevance, I have always liked Saturday Night Live and learned through its sketches many American references that gave me a sense of what was happening in the world through an American lens.
On October 21st, SNL’s guest was Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny, someone who doesn’t fit at all in my musical library. Still, I was eager to watch the show as I’ve always enjoyed seeing the Latin community succeed and was curious about his performance on this legacy American TV show.
To my surprise, it was one of my favorite episodes ever. I really felt how the creative team at SNL embraced our culture and heritage. It wasn’t about being Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, or Venezuelan; it was about being Latin.
All the cultural references made in the show, flawlessly executed by the cast and guests, reminded me of my past. The loud and exaggerated telenovela sketch hilariously showed two characters fighting and yelling over past events, often inexplicably, the same way I remember Mexican soap operas from my childhood.
But the sketch, with actor Pedro Pascal as a supporting character, was exquisite. The actor stole the show with his performance as a Latin mother jealous of his son’s American white girlfriend. The sketch showed many cultural references, including the mother’s jealousy, the cookie container being used for storing a sewing kit, the excessive hugging, the little salsa dance, the overprotective family, the ‘Spanglish,’ and more. Laughing through the entire show, I wondered if non-Latin audiences appreciated how accurately the show had “gotten” us.
I loved how the whole cast made an effort to speak in Spanish and created a fun environment to watch. The kicker for me was watching Mick Jagger speak Spanish with a Cuban hat and mustache … priceless.
This episode reminded me of a question asked to Denzel Washington about why it was so important to have a Black director for the film Fences or if a white director could have done it; he answered, ‘It’s not color, it’s culture.’ He expanded a bit more, mentioning that the movie’s Black cast knows what it feels like when a hot comb hits their hair or what it smells like. It is a cultural difference, not a color difference.
These days, when the world is divided by politics, wars, race, color, sexual preference, and religion, we should be more inclusive, tolerant, and open to exploring cultural markers and relevance different from ours, just like SNL. Kudos to them!
Ricardo Saca is the US and Mexico Managing Partner for Cato Brand Partners, a Global Design and Branding Consultancy. He is a Master in Branding from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has 20+ years of experience working with a wide range of companies, from startups to airlines. He is an animal lover and a plant-based cyclist.