Thursday, February 23, 2006

MY BITTERSWEET LOVE AFFAIR WITH CONGUITOS.

[Note: This is an essay that I published in Expatica Spain a few weeks ago. Hope you like it, Lisa.]

How does one reconcile a candy that he loves with a branding campaign that he shouldn’t? Well...that’s my dilemma with the Spanish candy, Conguitos.

Conguitos are nothing more than chocolate-covered peanuts. That may not seem revolutionary. Chocolate-covered peanuts are, after all, well-represented in the candy universe.

But I find Conguitos to be irresistible! Perhaps it’s because the chocolate isn’t too sweet. Perhaps it’s because the peanuts are remarkably crunchy. Or perhaps it’s because the level of my gluttony is disproportionate to that of my body weight. Whatever the reason, I devour Conguitos with the ferocity of a UIUC fratboy on a microwaved burrito-run.

What? You’re still not sure what Conguitos are? Then let me give you a hint. They are those candies featuring the cartoon of a pudgy, full-lipped Pygmy on the bag.

“Ahhhh!” you shout. “THOSE Conguitos!”

Yes, THOSE Conguitos. Now you understand my dilemma. The candy is brilliant, but the packaging is—shall we say—likely to evoke different responses from different consumers.

Amusing throwback to a simpler, more innocent era? Or blatantly racist? Sorry, but I’m not here to pass judgement. Each person must decide for himself.

I will say, however, that my reaction upon seeing a bag of Conguitos for the first time was one of disbelief. Why? Because if these candies were placed on a store shelf in my home country (the US), a tsunami of angry protestors, opportunistic politicians and salivating Fox News cameramen would engulf that store’s parking lot before the day’s first employee coffee break. But that’s the US. Spain is obviously different, and I was intrigued as to why.

So I went to Conguitos’s corporate website to brush-up on the history of this candy that I love so much. And I learned that Conguitos have been around for more than forty years—as has its featured cartoon character, which the website refers to as “our mascot.” [Yikes! I can feel the US-based readers squirming again.]

The website goes on to mention that, “our mascot has also evolved and slightly changed in order to adapt to the present day.” My God! I wonder what he looked like in the original artist’s rendering?

In 2000, a white-chocolate version of Conguitos was launched. I don’t know if this was done in an effort to appear even-handed or because the market demanded the new flavor. I can tell you, however, that the “mascot” for the white-chocolate version looks, quite disturbingly, like the fruit of a coital relationship between the original Conguitos character and 1970’s rock star Edgar Winter.

With this historical context in hand, I began to formulate a theory as to why the brand has endured. But I needed to support it with a bit of primary research. So I sat down to lunch with a colleague in Madrid. She is a thirty-something Spanish woman—well-travelled, highly-educated, politically-active and unafraid to speak her mind. I asked whether she found the Conguitos cartoon...odd? [Confused silence.] Perhaps even a bit...offensive?

She crinkled her brow and shrugged her shoulders. “Of course not.”

But it was more than a mere, “Of course not.” It was the type of incredulous “Of course not” that I’d expect to receive upon asking if it were, perhaps, OK to attend her grandmother’s funeral while dressed as Wonder Woman.

Then she asked why?

“Well,” I continued, “it seems to me that Spain’s growing wave of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa might find that little guy to be a bit insulting.”

She stared-off into the distance for a moment and then said, “Oh! I never really thought about it. I mean...that Conguitos cartoon has been around since before I was born.”

Which is exactly what I suspected. The Conguitos character is the Iberian equivalent of the Aunt Jemima Waffle lady in the US—an image that might immediately strike an outsider as being provactive, but is so thoroughly engrained in the culture that it’s all-but invisible to the natives.

But as I said earlier, I’m not here to pass judgement. And despite my uneasiness with the branding, I’m certainly not going to stop eating Conguitos. To be honest...I’d eat them even if the product were renamed “Ameriquitos” and featured the caricature of a morbidly-obese, sunburned tourist wearing khaki shorts, boat shoes without socks and a baseball cap turned backwards.

In my candy universe, few things transcend the pleasures of a chocolate-covered peanut.

31 Comments:

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous SP said...

Believe it or not... I have read criticisms of the Aunt Jemima lady here in the USA. Don't think that she has slipped past unnoticed. I am sure you can imagine the disapproving comments.

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey SP:

Is it really you?! Sidney Pollack?! This is a great honor! I loved Tootsie! Great movie!

What can I say about Aunt Jemima? I hadn't heard about the criticism, but I'm not surprized that they exist.

But man-oh-man...she's a sneaky one. It took almost 35 years before it finally dawned on me that Aunt Jemima was (presumably) a maid...or worse. Before then, I guess I viewed her as...well...as an Aunt. You know, that huggable kind of Aunt who always stuffs you full of cookies when stop over for a visit.

Even after my "enlightenment," I didn't view her with outrage. If anything, she just continued to make me hungry.

Live away from the US for six years, and you'll find yourself thinking an awful lot about those disgusting artifically-flavored frozen blueberry waffles. With Log Cabin syrup--containing exactly 0.0001% maple syrup. Boy! I'd kill for a stack of them right now.

Thanks for un-lurking yourself, and stop by the Comments Lounge soon.

Sal

 
At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Karl said...

Excellent piece man! In Germany they have a chocolate-covered marshmellow treat casually known here as a Negerkuss. Kuss means kiss but you translate the rest. That said most everybody claims that it is not meant that way (meaning rascist) which is actually kind of believable, still somewhat unsettling though. It should be noted too that most people in cosmopolitan areas (i.e., not my little village) have started calling these things a Choco-kiss.

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Sal, I actually have one of my treasures hidden away. I get the biggest kick out of showing my friends the wrapper and watching their reactions to the little guy. Sometimes I have to point it out and other times I get an "oh...OH.." Too funny. Would the package be perceived as being offensive outside the U.S.? Or are we hyper-sensitive these days? Have we lost our sense of humor?

Its now a big thing for the many sports teams to remove any names or mascots that are offensive to the Native Americans...ie, Black Hawks, Chiefs, even Warriors hasn't gone unchanged(!?!) Maybe now I'll get that team named the Da Uppers (ok, technically I don't live in the U.P. but its the best I could come up with on my lack of sleep)

 
At 10:14 PM, Blogger Angie said...

How did I miss Conguitos when I was in Spain?? That does it... now I have to go back!

 
At 12:14 AM, Blogger Nyana said...

Hey Sal,

Excellent article and I truly understand the point as I have gone through similar in North America myself.
First of all, I saw 2 sassy and overly done up penguins in the picture. That's my perception. The colour issue never invoked any racial reference as it's a clear distinction of chocolate type.
Now my take on your little investigation: It seems like every nation has a different comfort level with certain societal issues. They choose to ignore some, acknowledge others. Not to be negative, but I found US to be one of the more politically/socially/racially/etc "fussy" countries. ;)
It's never a problem until you communicate it I suppose. Thanks for providing food for thought!

 
At 7:41 PM, Anonymous JRPfeff said...

Ritter Sport used to sell an Extra Dick chocolate bar. For some reason my wife liked this one more than I did.

Those wacky Germans.

Jim

 
At 9:29 PM, Anonymous wendy said...

Like Nyana, I thought they were 2 cute chocolatey penguins...nothing racial about them. Have no idea who Aunt Jemima is so can't comment there..

Thoughtful post - makes me wonder if we're all losing our sense perspective on racial issues...too many tender spots.

 
At 10:38 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Sometimes I wonder if our sensitivities depend on which side of the fence we stand on.

For example: a New Zealander who has always travelled freely finds it incredibly difficult to get a long stay visa in Europe ... suddenly I'm an immigrant ... one of those people that the Extreme Right are ranting about ... sigh, it's horrible.

Maybe it depends on how things have touched us personally, what we've been called ... I don't know, it's just a thought :)

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

One the other hand, I found Extra Dick hilariously amusing ... ;)

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

OK...I think we need to take stock of the situation here.

- Those for probing issues of social relevance, raise your left hand.

- Those for lepers and pig ears, raise your right hand.

Results will be posted immediately after the US wins its next gold medal in Torino.

Sal

BONUS QUESTION: Who was the original Extra Dick?

Here's a hint. His identity is neither private nor general...but somewhere in between.

[C'mon Lisa! You can do it!]

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Issues of social relevance or lepers and pig ears .....?

Hmmm, no ... better you give up your day job and dedicate yourself to providing insightful, amusing and entertaining posts on a wide range of topics ... I think you'll find the majority are with me on this.

As for a two category option HEAVENS! more more and more.

The 'original Extra Dick' ...I might giggle my way through my day thinking of that ... there was one??

(Note to self, mustn't write posts after drink coke on an empty stomach)

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...

ing! ... i forgot the 'ing' in drinking ... see what coke does to me ... shocking stuff.

 
At 2:37 PM, Blogger GC PHILO said...

At least they don't have a leper missing all his fingers on the packaging!

 
At 10:44 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Lady Di: Yes, there *is* an answer to the Extra Dick trivia question. It should be easy for Americans of my generation, or the prior one. I'm surprized nobody has guessed it...or at least tried.

GC: He has his fingers, but appears to be missing a nose. I don't think we can rule out leprosy quite yet.

Sal

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

hm, have to plead ignorant on the extra dick trivia question...sorry Sal...and a quick Google of the words only brought up all sorts of things which I can't repeat here...but my guess would have to be Sergent (as to the Bewitched ol' switchereroo)

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Holy shit! You're right. Dick Sargeant is the correct answer.

I can't believe you (or anyone) got it right. And on the first guess, no less.

The human mind. It's an awe-inspiring device...except in the hands of any of the Baldwin brothers.


Sal

 
At 3:12 AM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Ok - I so want some of those. I remember getting something like that when I was younger and always wanting more. ..

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger christina said...

I'm so confused! Is it OK if I just raise both hands and surrender? I can't see any penguins at all unless they're hiding on the back of the package.

Chocolate covered peanuts are the bomb. Unfortunately they make my face break out like a teenager's. I eat them anyway because I like to tempt fate.

BTW - the leading brand of those "Negerküsse" - the politically incorrect chocolate/marshmallow treats that Karl mentioned is "Dickmann's", their advertising slogan being "Mann, ist der Dickmann!". There are "Mini Dickmann's" as well as "Super Dickmann's" for those who just can't get enough.:-)

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

yeah, well, I give all the rest of your readers a chance.

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

darn fingers...I meant to say I had to give all the rest of your readers a chance by not answering right away. Went to a friends crazy Mardi Gras party last night and hurricanes was the drink of the night. I didn't get the hurricane reference until this morning.

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

christina, on the bright side ... our faces can still break out like teenagers!! that oil is the precious stuff that will allow us to age gracefully (my story and i'm believing it :))

 
At 2:14 PM, Blogger euro-trac said...

A very interesting and thought provoking article as always Sal!
I'm particularly impressed by how you've ended up with 22 comments about dicks! :-)

My fave US dick is Dick Dale!

 
At 5:50 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Euro-Trac:

Thanks for making it 23.

Sañ

 
At 10:58 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

Odd, my wife and I had this same conversation about the Conguitos dude a year ago or two- when she brought back a plastic Conguito-piggybank back. Typically Spanish she had the same reaction as your friend. I also predicted that the C dude as a mascot would be history within 5 years. She of course told me I was crazy...until I reminded her that people thought I was crazy 20 years ago when I predicted that parking meters would soon charge for the privledge of parking on public streets (Estas chalado nene... en España no pagaremos eso jamas!!), and that when I explained our sales tax here- and that they would also eventually get a sales (IVA) tax (estas loco chico... ya pagamos mucho impuesto...),or that I also predicted 5 years ago that Spanish resturants and maybe even bars/cafes would be forces to go no-smoking (Estas chalado nene... en España no haran eso jamas!).

The PC crowd will prevail, Conguito dude will be like the old Aunt Jemimah syrop bottles- gone forever. Aunt Jemimah is now a slim, trim race nuetral depicted woman (next version will have to be a androgynous AJ...so as not to offend those who have transgendered aunts or uncles), and soon Conguito will be a slim trim, race nuetral, androgynous androgynous mascot. Named Humanito.

My next prediction was that women would actually have to be considered equal and that it would be illegal to discriminate against them...lol. Like that will ever happen en mi España querida!!!

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Lol, unimaginable Ironporer.

We ate the apple and tempted others ... surely we're sinbinned forever after. ;)

Was the Hash run 'normal' this weekend, Sal? No piglets, no fingerless ones?

 
At 7:34 PM, Blogger Lenox said...

In the UK, they used to have a jam called Robertsons, which came with a 'golliwog' badge (pin). Cute at the time (before we learn't that such things weren't appropriate).There was a whole range of them.
Thinking about it now - I can't say I miss them.
Still, when you are a minority figure (like a güiri, for ejem.) you have to put up with it - or ship out...
Un abrazo (I'm eating a chocolate cigarette at the mo'...).

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Iron Man: It's good having you around. If for no other reason, you prove to the others that I'm not making this stuff up. BTW...if I understand you correctly, Michael Jackson is the new Aunt Jemima?

Lady Di: No Hashing last weekend. I had a hot date with a three year old. Besides, it was snowing. Snowing, dammit!!!

Lenox: A chocolate cigarette? It not one of those Super Dickmann's that Christina was mentioned above, is it?

Kath: To answer your [private] question, it was chosen by default. The first choice of name was "Snuffleufficus," but it quickly fell out of use because both men and women found it too difficult to say after the third Cosmopolitan.

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

Sal- Brilliant minds think alike- I was actually imagining MJ as the new mascot for Conguitos....

 
At 12:02 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

M.J. huh. Before or after? Oh, I guess he could be the mascot for both.

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger Lenox said...

walked into that one...

 

Post a Comment

<< Home