This article was translated by John R. Bopp

In this entry, we’re going to break (as we occasionally do) our rule on talking about “what the rest of the world says about the Basques”.  It goes without saying that these are personal opinions.

We’re going to talk about two billboards we’ve seen in Bilbao which have made us think about the way advertising treats, “overtreats”, or mistreats the feelings of belonging, and the symbols, of a community.

We believe that everything can be used in advertising, but we also believe in common sense and good taste should always guide any type of advertising, and it should be even more alert when using the symbols or values of the community it’s targeted at.

On Instagram (which we hereby invite you to follow us on) the other day, we shared a BMW billboard we saw covering the entire façade of a building in the center of Bilbao.  We did so because we couldn’t help smiling, thinking that the people behind the ad knew what they were doing and did it well.



Text: The best of Bilbao, which is to say, the world

The residents of Bilbao will be happy to see that BMW recognizes what they already know: that Bilbao is the capital of the world, even if the rest of the world doesn’t know it yet.  Other Basques will also smile as they walk by, thinking ‘How easy those BMW ad guys must have it, making these show-off bilbaínos happy’.  Visitors to the city probably won’t get it, but they don’t buy BMWs here anyway, do they?

Then, yesterday, we saw another ad on a website for the DIA supermarket chain, explaining that their online shopping option was now available in Bilbao.  To launch it, they created an “Euskalburro a la Luna” (Basque-donkey to the Moon) campaign, with two videos on the YouTube channel of the same name.

They also created a website announcing the new service, and on which, for reasons we can’t fathom, they don’t make any reference to this campaign or the videos, or do anything to explain the image they’re using on the site.  All that we see is an image that we’re sure only its creators understand.

Euskalburro. Supermercados Día
Euskalburro (Basque-donkey), Dia Supermarkets


El burro catalán un símbolo de Cataluña
The Catalan donkey, a symbol of Catalonia


We really don’t know why they’ve chosen a donkey as a central figure in the campaign.  Yes, there is such a thing as the Asno de la Encartaciones (“Ass of the Mining District”), but the target audience in Bilbao, outside the Mining District, isn’t going to identify with that image.  If they wanted to use a species from that area, something real Bilbao residents would more easily identify with, they could have used the Oveja Carranzana (Carranza Sheep), thanks to its links with the Oveja Latxa (Latxa Sheep).

Ardi latxa
The Latxa Sheep

We can’t help thinking that this image is a strange “mix” of the idea of theburro catalán (Catalan donkey), which has become a sort of identifying symbol for many people of that country (just like the Latxa sheep for many Basques); the Moon, which is just as related to that as the Spanish expression “hay un gallego en la luna”; and an ikurriña, which we really don’t know what it’s doing there.

It’s definitely too hard to understand its meaning, or to try to get any sort of relationship out of the message and the target demographic.

What’s more, that image can even be seen as rather negative (or really, really negative) by those who see it.  A donkey dressed as an astronaut, with an ikurriña in its hand/hoof, doesn’t send a message any Basque is going to identify with.  As we said, it needs too much explanation, which is never good in advertising.

Using a community’s symbols, or trying to reach a potential customer through their feelings of belonging really demands an intimate knowledge of that community, its codes, and its sensitivities.

The Bilbao BMW dealership got it right.  We believe that Dia has, however, launched a message that won’t be understood and may be found offensive.

We can’t finish this editorial off without referring to the two brands that have, as few others, managed to reach the heart of their target audience, Keler and San Miguel beer brands.  For us, both are worthy case studies, always bearing in mind that to get to that level, one has to be very donostiarra or very bilbaíno.

We’ll leave you with two of the many examples like this where brands have managed to reach the hearts of their target audience by using that “feeling of belonging”.