- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2015

A Mexican holiday once celebrated only with battle re-enactments has morphed into an annual moneymaker north of the border.

During Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican celebration of the defeat of the French army at Puebla, American companies will do their best to take part in a holiday that is growing in size and profit, reflecting the growing size, visibility and pocketbook clout of the nation’s Hispanic population.

A quick search under the hashtag #CincoDeMayo a week before the event revealed not only people sharing their celebration plans with one another, but an online marketplace for products that could be associated with the holiday. Companies such as Old El Paso, Hormel, El Monterrey and Camarena Tequilaare are promoting paid advertisement tweets under the hashtag — each showing how its product should be the centerpiece in planning and throwing a Cinco de Mayo celebration at home.

But companies also have to be careful.

Victoria’s Secret experienced some backlash from one of its social media ad campaigns. Asking “Are you ready?” with the #CincoDeMayo hashtag, the company’s Twitter account showed a picture of some of the Victoria’s Secret Pink line’s annual Cinco de Mayo Collection — three tank tops with the phrases, “I know the guac is extra,” “Let’s no taco ‘bout it,” and “Pink loves Cinco de Mayo.”

Followers responded less than enthusiastically, claiming that the shirts were offensive and insensitive, with some going as far as calling the ad “garbage” and “disgusting.”

Bars and restaurants throughout the District will be celebrating Tuesday’s holiday with food and drink specials or, in the case of the H Street Country Club, “human cockfighting,” where patrons and partiers will become pugilists donning boxing gloves and chicken masks before duking it out in front of the rest of the bar.

Even restaurants and bars in the city that don’t serve Mexican fare are getting involved. Union Pub and Barcode, which does not typically feature “south of the border” menu items, are both planning to offer Cinco de Mayo-themed specials on Tuesday. And they’re not alone.

Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm, reported that last year 27 of the top 500 restaurant chains in the United States offered Cinco de Mayo specials, which seems small until one considers that, in the same year, only 17 on the list offered St. Patrick’s Day specials. In addition, more than a third of the chains offering specials and limited-time offers for the holiday were not Mexican restaurants.

Cinco de Mayo seems to have an especial affinity with American beer companies, which some credit with rocketing the day to new prominence on the American holiday calendar. According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, Cinco de Mayo ranked fifth on the list of the top U.S. beer-drinking holidays, behind such midsummer stalwarts as Father’s Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, but well ahead of such rivals as the Super Bowl (No. 10) and St. Patrick’s Day (No. 11).

“Beer companies have been largely responsible for the commodification of Cinco de Mayo. I mean, they spend millions and millions of dollars in Spanish-language advertising,” Jose Alamillo, a professor of Chicano studies at California State University Channel Islands, told the business news website Marketplace.org.

Partying on Tuesday

It’s also good for the food and drink industry that the holiday falls on a Tuesday this year, typically not a busy night of the week. Cinco de Mayo celebrations and specials are expected to bring in “incremental business,” according to experts. Some chains are also using the date to boost preexisting sales, such as the local Mexican restaurant chain On the Border, whose social media accounts pointed out that the holiday falls on the same day as their “Taco Tuesday” specials.

But Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation at Technomic, warns that “there’s a fine line between being fun and kitschy and being offensive. With consumers’ demand for authenticity, and Hispanics’ growing presence and influence, Cinco de Mayo promotions can be on-brand and successful, or they can be silly and potentially tone-deaf.”

It’s not just the restaurant industry, the rest of the food and drink industry is also trying to capitalize on Cinco de Mayo, and has been for years. It makes sense, with Latinos poised to become America’s largest minority and Mexican-American households spending an estimated $220 billion per year, that the Mexican holiday creates an opportunity for advertisers to appeal to this growing consumer base. Data from 2009 showed that, during that year, beer companies spent $171 on Spanish-language advertising.

Cinco de Mayo is also appealing to business owners because it is strategically placed to fill a gap of secular holidays between President’s Day and Memorial Day, and it also happens just as spring weather starts to make outdoor events more desirable. These factors make the holiday a very favorable one for food and drink vendors.

Cities across the country will also hold formal Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Even trendy Portland, which has been called “the whitest city in America,” will celebrate its 31st annual Cinco de Mayo celebration this year. The festivities will include Mexican food, bands, a carnival, the crowning of a “Cinco de Mayo Queen” and a bid to set a new world record for “largest gathering of people wearing sombreros.

While gaining popularity in the United States, Cinco de Mayo ironically remains a minor holiday in Mexico, surpassed in observance by Mexico’s actual independence day in September and Mother’s Day. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Enrique Morones, head of Latino marketing for the San Diego Padres, said, “When my relatives visit from Mexico, they ask me is this some other American holiday going on? It’s bigger here than it is at home.”

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