Settle For Less

I often encounter a curious subway ad for the law services of Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman PC. There are two versions; one in English, one in Spanish. The English version tells me, if I don't want to settle for less, I should call 1-888-484-5529. The Spanish version tells me for more than 40 years of experience, call 1-888-MARGARITA. My first thought was the same as yours; that's some racist shit. Anglos can remember numbers, but Latinos require a liquor-based-mnemonic to keep important stuff in their skulls?

There are a couple blogs that picked up on this as well, but appear not to have done their research. In this NY Times article from February 2001, Seth Kugel reports that the firm has no Latino lawyers nor does it have an employee named "Margarita," but...

"'Margarita' is actually 23-year-old Chastity Gutierrez, a receptionist who became the 'chief Margarita' four years ago. (Backup Margaritas serve when she is not available.) She is the latest in a line of Margaritas dating back to the late 1970's, when the first ads went on the air. The first one actually was named Margarita, but by the time she moved on, Mr. Glaser said, 'The name had become bigger than us.' The distinctly Jewish-sounding firm, he said, 'needed a name that said to people, when you call, you're not going to have to speak Yiddish.'"

If you read the NY Times article, you'll see that the number has taken on a peculiar quality amongst at least some of the New York Latino community. People call the number looking for advice and to vent frustration - the article, at least, makes it seem as though the Latino community calling the number think of "Margarita" only as a person's name, not a drink.

So I suppose there are two ways to approach this matter. Either the double entendre in the name "Margarita" is exploitative, racist regardless of these old white mens' intentions. This would put you in the Derrida school of deconstructivist "Death of the (Subway ad) Author" school of advertising theory. Or you take a more traditional approach and demand, no!, you cannot divorce the ad from the context in which it was created and the fact that the original receptionist's name was Margarita and that many people who call still refer to the receptionist as Margarita.

Me? I'm reminded, again, of the Graham Greene quote from the last post. Say the lawyers' intentions were purely honorable, good, innocent... that just reminds me of the "dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." Then again, part of the harm that leprous ad inflicts is due to the lack of investigatorial prowess displayed by the bloggers who've spiked the ad as straight racism. As much as I may be inclined to agree with them to an extent, their failure to do research pisses me off.

Distill it, and maybe the issue is simply that us Anglos think of Margarita as "one of the most common tequila-based cocktails, made with tequila mixed with triple sec and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the glass rim," while most Latinos think of a person named Margarita. But maybe that's wrong too. Someone get the census bureau on it.

As for Latino reaction to the ad on the web? All I could find was this post on a NYC Latino blog (Google translated from Spanish):

"We love SPEAKING of publicity for the metro and its terrible translations. Those who advertise there know that many Hispanics come and go in the subway every day, is a clear target. Obviously directed at them in Spanish (of dubious quality) and use tricks to the phone numbers or websites to stay in the memory. The advertising Trolman Glaser & Lichtman Attorneys is one of my 'favorite.' The slogan hurts: 'Lawyers for Hispanics Number One Injured in Accident,' my grammar teacher would shout at the sky. But the best thing is the phone number: 1.888.MARGARITA…"

Followed by this reader comment:

"Worst of all is that from time to time their advertising appears on this page. It is an honour for us to have a Margarita in Nuyorker…"

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