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As a longtime resident of cowboy country USA, with a cowboy country name, I encounter salsa regularly. On one such occasion recently, I was reminded of this ad. I suspect everyone over a certain age, within about a 500 mile radius of where I now sit, can recite parts of this ad. It made an impression and it spoke to a regional grievance.
What is Picante Sauce?
Pace Foods is a producer of a variety of canned salsas located in Paris, Texas. The company was founded in 1947 by David Pace when he developed a recipe for a salsa he called “Picante sauce” (picante means ‘spicy’ in Mexican), which was “made with the freshest ingredients, harvested and hand-selected in peak season to achieve the best flavor and quality”. It is now sold as “the Original Picante Sauce”.
The Mild and Hot varieties of Pace’s Picante sauce were added in 1981 to accompany the original Medium variety. “Thick & Chunky”, introduced in 1989, later became “Chunky Salsa”. In 1991, Mexican sauces overtook ketchup as the top-selling condiment in the US, with Pace being a leader. In 1995, the company was acquired by Campbell Soup Company for $1.115 billion.
At one time, it was difficult to leave my local soil and find quality salsa. Instead, what I often encountered was some form of tomato paste “salsa” that the locals were proud of in their ignorance. These Pace ads captured the spirit of my frustration.
These days, thanks to capitalism, and quality advertising such as this, much of the rest of the U.S. now has access to decent grocery store salsa (though the restaurant salsas in the Midwest and Northeast still leave a lot to be desired.) I even once found edible grocery store salsa in Germany – not surprisingly it required weeks of searching and a trip into a German Wal-Mart. That was years ago, though, so perhaps Europe’s picante sauce access has improved since.
What was unique about these ads? There were two basic and memorable elements.
- “New York City!”
The U.S. has always had a “coastal elite vs. the backward denizens of flyover country” dynamic. Depending on the circumstances, or the issue, we might see that play out in a myriad of ways politically and/or in entertainment. Here the geographic tension is played in both directions. The locals are both backward AND superior as to “picante sauce.”
- “Get a Rope.”
The ad campaign usually featured some form of over-the-top violent threat to the purveyor of bad NYC salsa. I reckon if you’re going to make fun of NYC’s salsa, you have to balance the scales by making the good salsa makers into cowboy barbarians. Here (video below), they planned to literally murder the guy doling out the NYC salsa. I remember another version of the add where the NYC salsa guy was going to have to fight an entire room filled with angry cowboys.
I no longer have a sense of how comedy works for young people in 2021 but I can say that these threats of violence were funny in the 1990s even to the cowboy barbarian types.