On the coup d’état’s anniversary, a TV channel dared to air a 50-year-old documentary on the dictatorship’s root causes for the first time. The channel then lost an advertiser with links to the dictatorship. Economic elites remain terrified of internationally acclaimed art – and create an opening for savvy media.
The facts are this: Chilean TV channel La Red, having the country’s most pluralistic editorial line currently, broadcast on September 11 ‘The Battle of Chile,’ an internationally acclaimed documentary by Patricio Guzmán. Shot between 1972 and September 1973, it captures the mood and power struggles that led to the coup. The film won multiple awards and was screened in 35 countries – except in Chile, where it’s accessible only via YouTube.
Almost 50 years after the coup, La Red made this cultural and historical piece available to Chileans that are not accustomed to use the internet, and it achieved that day’s highest rating.
A Country of Old
However, the main advertiser in the channel’s cinema space made a drastic and unintelligible last-minute decision: Carozzi, an established food conglomerate owned by a family that’s part of the local oligarchy’s reactionary wing, pulled out, saying the firm “did not support programs with political content.” Absurd, considering it advertises during political talkshows and debates on other channels. Beyond this sudden care for content, it is clear the executives made a political decision; they risked causing an undesirable effect on the brand’s reputation.
Carozzi knows a lot about making pasta – among hundreds of other products – but very little about tuning in with the country that has emerged in recent years. It did not learn from the punishment companies received for illegally financing political campaigns, nor the social uprising that started in October 2019 and focused on inequality and rampant corporate abuse.
The La Red episode shows that part of the business sector is anchored in the past and sees customers as simple consumers. Carozzi’s executives do not seem to understand that brands reposition themselves based on the insight that they impact the social contexts of their markets.
Of course, a brand must be careful not to get associated with topics rejected by society. Nobody would dare to sponsor a program in which the effects of climate change are ridiculed or that promotes the consumption of tobacco or alcohol by minors. So, it is incomprehensible that a brand withdraws its support for a historical document, which was censored for decades on Chilean television and undoubtedly contributes to teaching younger generations about the local and global historical context during the months before the fateful coup.
Did Carozzi think viewers would associate the company with a political position and stop buying its products? If that crossed executives’ minds, they do not understand anything about marketing. No one in the 21st century would think that Toyota or Nike would face reputational damage because they advertise during Vietnam War or racial revolt documentaries.
I doubt Carozzi employs subpar marketing professionals, who did not anticipate a backlash from this communication error, with potential impact on sales. Although resulting social media frenzies and calls for boycotts are usually inconsequential, the damage to the brand is undeniable.
Behind the Curtain
I think the explanation is simpler. One director of this company is Carlos Cáceres, who was nothing less than Interior Minister during the dictatorship. There’s also Gonzalo Bofill, a rabid right-winger who has always voiced his political views, even using the company as a platform. These characters are nostalgic about an idyllic Chile which considered only their interests, enforced censorship and instilled fear, degrading citizens to simple consumers.
A special shout-out to La Red. The channel has brought fresh angles and pluralism, confronting the open television channels managed by local oligarchs, which, despite democracy, maintain control via advertisement and ensure a conservative editorial line. La Red makes risky bets, exposing these power structures with programs such as Mentiras Verdaderas (True Lies), hosted by Víctor Gutiérrez.
Of course, despite losing an advertiser, La Red gained a reputation, won the ratings race – and citizen support.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.