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Watch any Mexican telenovela and you’ll bump into plenty of clichés: The filthy-rich hacendado who is invariably mean and makes life hell for the poor, the hard-working girl from the countryside, who triumphs in the end and gets the guy (“Marimar”); or the heartless señorita from the slums who turns against her parents and boyfriend because they are dirt poor, flaunting her killer looks to snatch the rich bachelor from the equally rich girl (“Teresa”).
But one thing you will not find – at least not yet – is a trend that plagues the television business in the U.S.: The blunt placement of brands and products on the screen. This “branded entertainment,” as some executives elegantly like to call it, displays a product or a brand prominently, sometimes even working it into the storyline.
But that is what Univision is doing left and right with its online telenovelas – or webnovelas - a series of bite-sized dramas that premiere online and are then packed together as one-hour TV specials.
First came “Vidas cruzadas,” starring Kate del Castillo as a woman who longs for a child but can’t find love. Throughout the story, del Castillo (who most recently starred in Telemundo’s record-breaking “La reina del sur”) was seen interacting with plenty of brands, including L’Oréal (which was the main sponsor); State Farm (whose trusted agent counseled del Castillo on the importance of life insurance); and even McDonald’s, as she loved to sip a tall McCafe while contemplating her future as a single parent.
More recently, earlier this summer Univision premiered “No me hallo (I Can’t Find Myself),” a dramedy starring Angélica Vale as Luchita Guerra, a Mexican-American woman and former singing star who is left penniless after her husband/manager deserts her. Throughout the series’ 15 episodes, we see poor Luchita move from one odd job to another, fending off a bunch of meanies (mostly the rich and not-so-wonderful) who try to take advantage of her good nature. But we also see her gulping down plenty of Sierra Mists, because more often than not she informs us of her need to be refreshed.
Catch an episode online and you’ll see that Luchita is so good at multitasking that she not only cleans houses and fixes automobiles, at one point she even helps her teacher - and eventual galán - Abelardo (Harry Geithner) produce a jingle for State Farm. (Tra-la-lá/ Sabemos por qué estás con State Farm/ Tra-la-lá...)
Last, but not least, we learn that Luchita’s dream of becoming a famous singer is only one of her many aspirations. She also longs for a full-bedroom furniture set by Casa Cristina, the Cristina Saralegui-branded collection sold at Kmart, the retailer that has also helped to clothe her and other characters in “No me hallo.”
Spoiler Alert: In the last episode of “No me hallo,” we breathe a sigh of relief upon learning that Luchita gets the guy, the singing gig and – hopefully - the Casa Cristina furniture set, which is kind of cool ... though probably not as cool as her Sierra Mist Natural.
I don’t know you, but I like my coffee hot, my beer cold and my novelas brand-free.
Laura Martínez is a New York-based journalist and the founder of MiBlogestublog.com.