What channel marketers can learn from Mexican drug cartels

There’s been a lot of media attention lately about Mexican drug kingpen El Chapo’s daring tunnel escape from an apparently not-so-high-security prison. But within hours of the escape – before the details were even known – musicians began composing folk ballads celebrating El Chapo’s seemingly cinematic jailbreak.

This video was posted on YouTube just one day after the escape:

Ballads like these, known as narcocorridos or drug ballads, have a long-standing tradition in the culture along the U.S.-Mexican border. Similar in some ways to gangster rap, narcocorridos celebrate drug violence and frequently heroize drug traffickers who use violence as a tool to further their criminal enterprises.

Drug lords as content marketers

Aside from their popularity, one of the most fascinating aspects of these ballads is that the musicians who sing them are oftentimes commissioned by the drug cartels themselves to compose them in a way that portray the drug trafficker in a sympathetic and heroic light. At first, this level of self-aggrandizement may seem to be ego driven, but it actually has a very practical application.

The survival of drug traffickers often depends upon their ability to blend in with the local population. And the more sympathetic the locals are, the more willing they are to help conceal dealers and smugglers. That sympathy is largely driven by the immense popularity of narcocorridors, which tell stories that elevate their gun-toting, drug-dealing protagonists to folk hero status.

It’s a bizarre case study in the effectiveness of content marketing – Drug lords paying money to protect and further the effectiveness of their sales channel.

“Like a good neighbor . . .”

Do Mexican drug lords know something that the CMOs of financial companies have not yet figured out? When is the last time you saw an ad from a financial company celebrating the advisors, agents and brokers who sell its products?

State Farm is better at promoting the value of their agents than most, but there are few other companies that spend substantial marketing effort on promoting the value of the individuals largely responsible for driving their revenue. And yet, not unlike drug cartels, financial companies are largely dependent on the effectiveness of the individuals selling their products. However, most financial companies spend most of their ad dollars talking about themselves – what they stand for and what their products are.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose that most financial consumers don’t care about those messages. Customers care about themselves. And they’re more willing to talk to people (i.e., agents and advisors) if they believe can help them improve their financial security.

Marketing that portrays the role of the advisor in a sympathetic light will encourage customers to seek financial advice from the professionals trained to provide it. Such messaging could also have the indirect benefit of attracting more individuals into the profession at a time when that is greatly needed.