U.S. Soccer Star's Turn In Mexican Ad Prompts Uproar

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Landon Donovan, of the U.S. soccer team, scores a goal during a 2002 World Cup match against Mexico.

Landon Donovan, of the U.S. soccer team, scores a goal during a 2002 World Cup match against Mexico. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In Mexico, a new advertisement featuring American soccer star Landon Donovan is being called racist, insensitive and, by some, hilarious. Donovan appears in a commercial for a new lottery dressed as a caricature of a Mexican campesino, or peasant.

Donovan is well-known in Mexico — and most Mexicans hate him. They hate him the way Boston Red Sox fans hate New York Yankees star Derek Jeter. They hate Donovan because he has scored several key goals against the Mexican national team.

And then there was the time when he urinated on the field in Guadalajara in 2004. Mexican fans have not forgiven him for that, and they boo ferociously whenever he plays in the country.

Despite his terrible public image, Donovan has been cast in an ad campaign for a new lottery in Mexico.

In a gigantic sombrero, a multicolored poncho and a huge fake mustache, Donovan is seen scooting under the border fence into Mexico. He tries to tiptoe past a dozing Mexican border guard.

The premise of the ad is that Donovan is sneaking into Mexico because it's easier to win the lottery south of the border. The guard steals Donovan's lottery ticket and then chases him back across the desert with a billy club.

The new lottery featured in the ad is called GanaGol, and it's being launched by TV giant Televisa. The company's communications department didn't respond to multiple requests for an interview about the campaign.

The ad has been the talk of talk radio in Mexico City, with most callers tearing into Donovan as an arrogant little gringo.

Sergio Sarmiento, host of a morning show on Radio Red, says about 80 percent of callers to his show are "very negative" about the ad.

"They thought it was insulting," Sarmiento says. "People thought he was making fun of Mexicans, that he was making fun especially of Mexican migratory workers in the U.S."

Last year, Burger King was forced to apologize and pull a global ad campaign for its Texican Whopper after it caused an uproar in Mexico. The campaign featured a short, squat lucha libre wrestler wearing a Mexican flag as a poncho alongside a tall, thin Texas cowboy.

"The taste of Texas with a little spicy Mexican. To understand it, you must try it," the ad said.

The campaign was supposed to show how well Texas and Mexican cuisine blend in the Texican Whopper. Mexican officials, however, demanded that the ads be withdrawn.

Online, people in Mexico have been criticizing the new ad for the GanaGol lottery, asking if Donovan will next do a commercial in China in a Fu Manchu mustache or a South African spot in a loincloth.

But Luis Gomez, who teaches sociology at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, says Donovan's costume is so over-the-top that it is funny. Gomez says in Mexico, Donovan represents the great rivalry between these two countries.

"When you dress him up as a Mexican, it's ridiculous," Gomez says. "It's not offensive. It's ridiculous. It appears comic."

Unlike Burger King, GanaGol has shown no signs that it's going to take the controversial ad off the air.

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