Netflix’s Unequal Marketing of ‘Narcos’ and ‘Club de Cuervos’ Ignores Bilingual Latinos

With Narcos and Club de Cuervos, Netflix made it clear that it understands the value of the underrepresented and underserved Hispanic audiences. Yet the marketing push for both shows has been starkly different. Even as both (along with Sense8 and Marco Polo) suggest Netflix is branding itself as global, the vision of Latinos it both depicts and hopes to attract leaves plenty to be desired.

Ahead of the premiere of its Pablo Escobar show Narcos, Netflix launched perhaps its most elaborate native advertising to date. Partnering with The Wall Street Journal, the show was teased with a multimedia report on “the story of the Medellín cartel” titled “Cocainenomics.” It was a powerful gamble that hoped to position the Colombia-set show about drug trafficking as a signature addition to Netflix’s growing roster of high quality programming. Indeed, this move was in line with other high-profile native ads Netflix had sponsored. Similar pieces had appeared in The New York Times timed to coincide with Orange is the New Black’s second season and at The Atlantic promoting House of Cards. That Netflix spent as much (if not more) money in drumming up awareness for Narcos shows good faith in the series and its potential success. That they chose The Wall Street Journal, one of the the most widely read newspapers in the country, further bolsters this claim.

The WSJ piece was only a part of an aggressive marketing plan that hoped to market the Latin American show to an Anglo audience, a move that merely mimics the show’s own structure. Not only is the lead character an American DEA agent who narrates and explicates the Colombian war on drugs for Netflix viewers, but the show’s main Spanish-language leading man isn’t even fluent in Spanish. Wagner Moura’s paisa accent is so bad, it has been widely panned by Latino viewers, even as his performance has been praised by English-language media outlets who experienced his Pablo Escobar via subtitles. A show ostensibly about Colombia and Pablo Escobar is pitched to English viewers even as Latino viewers are supposed to be courted by the show’s choice of locale.

Wagner Moura’s paisa accent is so bad, it has been widely panned by Latino viewers.

That sits in stark contrast to the way the streaming service launched and pitched its first Spanish-language series, Club de Cuervos. While also set in a Latin American country (in this case Mexico), the soccer comedy was billed as the first show aimed at a Hispanic market (an increasingly high priority for Netflix as the service continues its global expansion). While Narcos got a national push that looked to hook American viewers (tacitly understood to be English-speaking), the Club de Cuervos marketing team targeted instead Latin American soccer fans. In a bit of viral marketing, Netflix composed a letter written by the show’s lead, Salvador “Chava” Iglesias, Jr. (played by Luis Gerardo Méndez) addressed to the Manchester United Football club wherein Chava pledged to repatriate the famous soccer player Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.

This, he hoped, would make Los Cuervos “el Real Madrid de América Latina.” It was a viral stunt that paid dividends. It even sparked a hashtag, ‪#‎ChicharitoACuervos, that, alongside, #TodosSomosCuervos, became instrumental in raising awareness about the show. It probably doesn’t bear pointing out the way the letter, the hashtags, and the overall marketing were aimed at Spanish speakers. What a surprise then that the most press the soccer comedy got in English language online media outlets came courtesy of the most international of all languages: the GIF. Everyone from Cosmo and Queerty covered the show once the full-frontal nudity in a brief locker room sequence had Twitter users raising their eyebrows in contented interest. If nothing else, it proved that there was room to market and talk about the show within an English-speaking media environment, something Netflix didn’t seem too keen on encouraging, at least not at the level it staged for Narcos.

With an international cast and a world-renowned subject matter, it makes sense that Narcos would get a wider and broader marketing push (half of it is in English), while Club de Cuervos would succeed in being targeted at Hispanic viewers. This was clearly what drove the different marketing pushes each show got. One can see this even just by looking at the verified Twitter accounts for each show. @NarcosNetflix is maintained in English: “NARCOS tells the story of U.S. & Colombian efforts to battle the Medellín drug cartel & Pablo Escobar, the richest, most ruthless criminal organization,” reads its bio. @ClubdeCuervos is aimed at a Hispanic audience: “Primera serie en español original de Netflix. Todos los episodios ya disponibles, sólo en Netflix.” This is made all the more laughable when, in keeping with the setting of the show, @NarcosNetflix’s location on its Twitter profile is set as Medellín, Antioquia.

That’s not to say that the Narcos account tweets exclusively in English. In fact, it peppers its timeline with such well-chosen Spanish tweets as “Cállate #Narcos,” and “Plata y plomo #Narcos.” Their respective Facebook pages follow the same template, with Narcos assuming (and therefore creating) an English-speaking audience, and Club de Cuervos anticipating (and therefore attracting) a Spanish-speaking one.

One wonders why Netflix would so readily ghettoize its first Spanish-language comedy.

And yet, one can’t help but see this as yet another example of a deep misunderstanding of the ever-growing Hispanic market in the U.S. The Latin America being sold to mainstream (and presumably English-speaking audiences) is that of drugs. The Latin America being sold strategically to Latino viewers in the U.S. is that of soccer. But of course, even in cleanly dividing those two sets of audiences Netflix is making false equivalences; if Narcos is truly a move to court more Latino viewers, why would the show’s framing and marketing seemingly disregard them? And if Club de Cuervos is an attempt at breaking through to a domestic Hispanic market, why is there the assumption that Latino millennials, those who follow soccer but perhaps don’t speak Spanish as fluently as their immigrant parents, wouldn’t respond to a bilingual marketing push? More simply, why isn’t Club de Cuervos being marketed in English?

There are issues of budgets, studies, viewer preferences, and brand awareness to be factored in, but one wonders why Netflix would so readily ghettoize its first Spanish-language comedy (centered as it is on the most-followed sport in the world), all but admitting that subtitled fare cannot go mainstream even as it packages a drug trafficking show in a way that presumes its audience won’t be bothered by either the subtitles or the bad Spanish accents. It suggests a level of marketing schizophrenia that ignores the reality of Latinos in the U.S. Just as the successful use of Spanish-language marketing surely helped bolster Club de Cuervos, one wonders why Netflix didn’t (or hasn’t) just as readily tried to reach a bilingual viewership in English which, according to Nielsen, watches over 50 percent Spanish-language television. One hopes these successful shows encourage Netflix to further expand its Spanish language original programming, but understand that the 21st century Latino and the “average American viewer” need not be mutually exclusive categories. Wise up Netflix, Latinos are American too. Some of them even speak English as a first language.