Bring Back Ugly Betty

I just read that the ABC show, Ugly Betty has been put on hiatus and will probably be canceled. Why should this matter to us marketers? Well, besides rounding out my Thursday night viewing schedule, I’ve always thought Ugly Betty provided a unique look at cultural relations in America. OK, I admit that the show can be campy and a bit over-the-top, but have you ever seen a telenovela?

At the center of Ugly Betty is a balancing act that our heroine, Betty, engages in on a weekly basis. On one side, she’s a devoted second generation daughter of a Mexican immigrant. On the other side, she works in the glamorous world of American fashion. This sets up a basic clash of collectivistic culture (her Mexican roots) vs. individualistic culture (U.S. society). It’s no coincidence that the characters employed at the fashion magazine are portrayed as self-involved and materialistic, while Betty’s family is loving, caring and look after each other.

I admit that these characters are painted with very broad strokes, but at the heart of the writing is a simple statement: U.S. culture is based on the individual, while Hispanic culture is based on the group. The exaggerated caricatures simply move the comedy forward.

As marketers, if we understand these cultural differences, then we’re on the right track toward understanding why it’s important to form unique messages and strategies when dealing with different cultures. It’s a simple concept that many advertisers and marketing professionals forget (or choose to ignore). What works with one group may not translate and resonate with another.

In Betty’s world, it’s not language that matters, but the actions and strategies she utilizes to succeed. She is the perfect example of a typical bi-cultural Gen Yer. She possesses the ability to shift back and forth between traditions and attitudes of multiple cultures seamlessly. This fluid process of identity formation is referred to as Intraculturalism, and it’s extremely prevalent in today’s youth. Anyone with the goal of engaging consumers under 25 years old needs to understand this recent phenomenon, and determine the impact on their messaging and strategy.

The concept of intraculturalism is on display in every episode of Ugly Betty. Well, at least it was until ABC decided to pull the plug. It’s a shame. There aren’t many shows that are anchored by a female Hispanic character, and even less shows that accurately portray the role intraculturalism plays into today’s youth (sorry, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire never even came close). So if you haven’t seen Ugly Betty, pick up the DVD set or go to iTunes and purchase a few episodes. I think you’ll find it entertaining, a bit educational … and yes, even a bit over-the-top.

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