A Grupo Aeromexico SAB Boeing Co. Dreamliner airplane sits parked as security employees stand inside the company's hangar at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico on Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2017. Aeromexico is scheduled to release earnings figures on February 21. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg
Aeroméxico appears wary of upsetting the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador © Bloomberg

Even without the US government stand-off, Ogilvy’s DNA Discounts campaign for Mexican flag carrier Aeroméxico is masterful. Against the backdrop of a record government shutdown over US president Donald Trump’s failure to get funding for his border wall, the idea is genius.

The advertisement takes a handful of anti-Mexico Texans and challenges their prejudices by offering them discounts on flights south of the border in proportion to the Mexican elements in their genetic make-up. “There are no borders within us,” it proclaims.

Even bigots like bargains, it seems. 

Curiously, for a campaign that was made several months ago, the ad resurfaced and went viral last week, just before Mr Trump offered to end the shutdown with a temporary immigration deal in exchange for $5.7bn to fund his border barrier. Democrats, who control the House of Representatives and are fiercely opposed to the wall, refused. 

But as the ad electrified social media — “@Aeroméxico wins Troll of the Month award. Hands down”, tweeted Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group consultancy.

The airline refused to comment. This is all the more striking because Aeroméxico executives were only too happy to talk about the last ad that took aim at Mr Trump, aired during his Mexico-bashing presidential campaign in 2016, which pointedly asked: “Borders: has anything good ever come of them?” It closed on the image of an Aeroméxico plane in the clouds as the narrator, a pilot, said: “In the sky they don’t exist . . . Excuse me, I have a job to do.” Back then, Andrés Castañeda, Aeroméxico’s marketing director, told an interviewer: “We felt at the time that we had to go out and make a bold statement.” 

The silence this time round seems significant: Aeroméxico appears wary of upsetting the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which is walking on eggshells to keep good relations with Mr Trump. The US is Mexico’s biggest trading partner and Mr López Obrador wants to keep tentative US financial support for Central America on the table.

Mr Trump says a wall would keep out drugs and crime — and migrants. He has blasted the several thousand-strong caravan of mostly Hondurans who arrived at the US border in December, and a new caravan of as many as 9,000 that began arriving in Mexico last week. “Another big Caravan heading our way. Very hard to stop without a Wall!” he tweeted. 

Mexico, which has offered migrants humanitarian visas, jobs and solidarity, hopes the US will help it tackle the root causes of migration. But Washington, faced with a flood of asylum applications, wants them to stay in Mexico while their claims trickle through US courts. 

Last month, it was announced that the US was pledging nearly $6bn for development programmes in Central America, but the plans proved to be a rehash of already pledged cash or vague promises. Two days later, in what looked like a quid pro quo, Mr Trump ordered migrants applying for asylum to be returned to Mexico pending their court hearings. 

“They both hear what they want to hear,” said a former Mexican minister, adding that the US had long been pushing its “remain in Mexico” plan. “What López Obrador hears is that the US will help pay for programmes. What Trump hears is that migrants will stay in Mexico.”

Aeroméxico is not alone in its apparent desire to make nice with the new government. Instead of causing a furore when Mr López Obrador scrapped a partially built $13bn Mexico City airport, construction companies put on a brave face and hoped for future contracts. Big businesses, which before last year’s election urged their staff not to turn back the clock to the 1970s by electing Mr López Obrador, have now signed up for a flagship social programme offering apprenticeships to young people looking for work. 

The DNA Discounts ad has also won some isolated criticism, including from one security adviser in the US who slammed Mexico’s crime rate. Homicides in 2018 leapt 15.5 per cent to a record 33,341. But most viewer comments were amused and congratulatory. The timing of the ad’s new-found fame was nevertheless ironic: unlike the US shutdown, the DNA discount offer is now over.

jude.webber@ft.com

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