The Trump administration’s policy on the border of Mexico has been under a white-hot spotlight for some time. Reports of horrific conditions continue to be documented, and pressure from congressional representatives and the public is on overdrive.
The ad industry hasn’t escaped scrutiny. Ogilvy recently addressed internal tension over its client relationship with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after revelations that the agency has a contract with the governmental organization. And a litany of factors, from red tape to fear of political reprisal, have kept brands from doing much to help children and families detained at the border.
To further shine a light on the situation, a pair of creatives have created a satire site that introduces a “new” Trump Hotel—the Trump Rio Grande on the border of Mexico and Texas.
Positioned as “the only point-zero-five star resort located on the vibrant U.S.-Mexican border” and tailored after the chain’s signature black and gold design online, the site points out the “luxury” features of the accommodations (including “Toilet Spring Mineral Water” and mattresses that are fitted with “platinum” linens, referring to the metallic “space blankets” in the centers). Other touches include the “Piojos Kid’s Club” (“piojo” is the Spanish word for lice), no-flow shower spas and VIP concierges who are “here to anticipate and deny your every desire.”
Though this is a clear parody, the site has a critical remit: raising funds for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the organization that has been at the forefront of telling the story of the centers in Texas.
Freelancers Cindy Hammel and Josh Weiss developed the parody concept and executed it in less than a week. Interestingly, the duo had never worked together and met via LinkedIn only two weeks prior. During a coffee meeting in Los Angeles, they landed on the idea and decided to go for it.
“[Josh] is the first person I reached out to on LinkedIn that I didn’t know,” said Hammel, who was previously a creative director at Eleven in San Francisco and has worked at Microsoft, TBWA\Worldwide in Dubai and Publicis Seattle. “I just moved to L.A., and I was looking to build a network here, and we realized that we could work together [on this].”
Creatively, both Hammel and Weiss saw an opening that seemed obvious to exploit: positioning the squalid conditions in Texas in direct contrast to what Trump hotels portray as luxury oases.
“It was a pretty logical connection, and an obvious one that I think a lot of people overlooked,” said Weiss, who studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia and, most recently, served as senior art director at Red Tettemer O’Connell and Partners in L.A. “Prior to becoming president, Trump was a hotelier and it clicked that we should do something [like this].”
The choice of supporting RAICES, according to Hammel, was due to their higher profile and the fact that the organization continues to mobilize and further evolve beyond providing just legal services and getting immigrants and asylum seekers basic due process.
“It’s their comprehensive approach that I love,” said Hammel. “They’re making an effort to turn people into productive members of society [through their efforts].”
While the site is an obvious parody, the reaction may be swift from both sides of the issue. On the plus side, both Hammel and Weiss hope that the site’s profile elevates enough to generate both awareness and significant donations to RAICES. On the flip side, they are aware that there could very well be a considerable backlash, especially from Trump supporters.
“Should we get a cease and desist, we’ll start addressing that when it comes,” said Weiss, who also served as an art director at BBDO Atlanta and Saatchi & Saatchi L.A. “If we start getting those, then we’ll know we’ve gotten big enough and that we were able to influence what was going on [at the border].”
“I think one of the things that makes the idea of work so well is the fact that everybody knows that the Trump Organization and Trump Hotels have clearly nailed five-star luxury accommodations worldwide,” added Hammel. “In using the contrast, we’re applying like this is the exact opposite of that. I hope that the contrast uses [the parody of a] luxurious lifestyle as a way to motivate support for something that isn’t political at all … like wanting people to have soap, toothpaste, a healthy environment, and not feel incarcerated. That’s not political, that’s just human decency.”