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Customer experience expert Stephanie Weaver emailed me last week to see if I'd noticed the promo for a September-launching television show that goes by the title: "Ugly Betty" ....


We then had a bit of an email discussion about how disturbing and misogynistic it seemed to us. Were we missing something...?
It may really boil down to cultural differences (in that this is based on a very popular Latin American telenovella), but I thought I'd share snippets of our discussion, and then see if more of you had insights that might shed some light too:
Stephanie's email to me: Basically it looks like a show about an unattractive girl who is working in the fashion industry, whose nickname, I assume, is "Ugly Betty." She is dressed funky and has braces and people make fun of her. Even the character seems to play into the idea that she is ugly and therefore worthless. The preview I saw showed her walking in to a
meeting with a bunch of fashionistas and smashing her face into the glass window. (So, apparently she is not only "ugly" but stupid too).
Seems absolutely crazy that something like that would even get pitched in a meeting these days, let alone get to the pilot stage, let alone get a green light. Don't girls have enough body issues without shows like this? Don't get me started.
My email back: I checked out the site for it, and it was developed by Salma Hayek {edit note: who Stephanie and I both respected for her previous work} along the lines of a very popular latin soap opera, so I'm also wondering if the nasty humor of it reflects a cultural difference. I watched the preview thing and didn't get it.. except for the fact that there is a glimmer that Betty eventually sways her boss (who treats her like crap until some fateful thing she does right) and then they sort of take on the world and get their due.
It seems to me that this would make a better one-shot movie (sort of like Devil Wears Prada).. because there'd be only so much nastiness the audience could take - but, at least with a 2 hour movie, you'd know that within an hour and a half, her smart and worth would no doubt prevail to make up for it.
***
For me this whole exchange brought up a few things:
1) We really do have to acknowledge that the Hispanic American market is huge and growing in the U.S., so understanding their culture and presenting relevant products, as well as television shows is key. The tone/humor of "Ugly Betty," even if it doesn't work for Stephanie or myself, may hit the nail on the head for the younger females in that market - and only Salma Hayek would know that and be able to get it produced. Marketers have to do the work to learn and understand the very subtle cultural differences.
2) Tone/humor can be a big uniter and an even bigger divider. No matter the culture, you must spend the extra time and money to get this right.
3) If ABC is committing to this market (whether this show will succeed, or not), the time has likely come for you to commit to the Hispanic American market as well. There are big dollars there.
***
The moral of the story: We should be on our toes, learning more about these increasingly important cultural differences in the U.S. marketplace, so we don't find ourselves playing the role of "ugly American" businessperson

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.