Is it racist to give free pizza only to those who can order in Spanish?
The Dallas-based discount-pizza chain, which has seven locations in
the Phoenix area, announced plans Wednesday to give away thousands of
free pepperoni pizzas between 5 and 8 p.m. on June 5.
The only catch is that patrons seeking a free pizza will have to ask for it in Spanish, the company said.
As the latest in a series of Pizza Patron marketing gestures, the offer drew reactions ranging from admiration to condemnation.
Founded in 1986, Pizza Patron has grown rapidly in recent years
through franchising and by maintaining a tight focus on its target
market of Hispanic consumers.
According to the company's website, pizzapatron.com, the carry-out pizza chain has more than 100 stores in Arizona, Texas, California, Nevada, Colorado, Georgia and Florida.
In a recent news release, Victor Vazquez, Pizza Patron franchising
and business-development manager, said the company's goal is to open 50
stores within the next two years, reaching a pace of one store opening
per week by the end of 2014.
To achieve that kind of growth, the chain has developed a number of
attention-grabbing marketing campaigns designed to appeal to consumers'
desire for added convenience and to Hispanic cultural pride.
"We are excited about our prospects for growth in 2012," Vazquez said
in February. "Our marketing team has three groundbreaking Hispanic
campaigns planned this year that we believe will energize the brand and
spark new interest in the franchise opportunities we have available in
prime Hispanic markets throughout the U.S."
In January 2007, Pizza Patron garnered international media attention
with the launch of its "Pizza por Pesos" campaign, advertising that any
of its franchise locations would accept Mexican pesos as a method of
Another campaign, launched in February, focused on Catholics and
other consumers who observe the 40-day period of abstinence and fasting
from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday known as Lent.
James Ward, professor of marketing at Arizona State University's W.
P. Carey School of Business, said niche marketing to particular
cultural, lifestyle and interest groups has become a cornerstone of
modern marketing strategy.
"It's really a message of, 'We're authentic, we understand you, we embrace you,'" he said.
Given Pizza Patron's rapid growth as a franchise, Ward said it's a strategy that has worked well for the company.
By advertising the free-pizza offer in English and Spanish, Pizza
Patron has expanded beyond Hispanic pride into the realm of promoting
multiculturalism, Ward said.
"I think that's very clever," he said.
Marcela Gomez, president of Hispanic Marketing Group, a Latino
marketing firm in Nashville, disagreed, saying the order-in-Spanish
campaign isn't one she would recommend to her clients.
"Maybe they thought it was a cute thing to do, but I think it's discrimination," Gomez said.
Ward noted that marketing to a particular ethnic or cultural group is
a balancing act and that there is always a risk of offending some
consumers outside the target market.
"That's a hazard of any kind of niche marketing, unfortunately," he said.
One conservative group already has spoken out against the campaign.
"It seems to punish people who can't speak Spanish, and I resent
that," said Peter Thomas, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, which
advocates English as the nation's spoken language. "In public areas,
people should be speaking English, and that includes pizza parlors."
Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the advocacy group National Council
of La Raza, pointed out that Pizza Patron isn't forcing anyone to speak
"For people to get offended or upset at this seems a little bit
silly," she said. "It doesn't preclude anybody. Anyone can say, 'por
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