Good-bye to Mexican-Speak South of the Border Billboards
The last South of the Border (SOB) billboards along I-95 have been redone to remove the "Mexican-Speak" of cartoon mascot Pedro. For over forty years, the 250 billboards, strung from New Jersey to Florida, have delighted children and annoyed parents forced to pull off at America's premier "Mexican Theme World," a huge roadside attraction in Dillon, SC. After years of disapproval by the forces of political correctness, Pedro will no longer be able to entice with his corny epithets and awful broken English puns.
According to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer, 83-year old SOB owner Alan Schafer said "We have to communicate with the present generation -- these baby boomers do not have a sense of humor." The billboards, which increase in density as one approaches Dillon, will continue to be the focus of SOB's $40M advertising budget. They get 8 million people a year to pull off and gas up, buy fireworks or "dirty old man" gifts, or eat a steak in a building shaped like a sombrero.
For years, SOB has been criticized for apparent insensitivity when it came to portrayal of Mexicans in its advertising. In 1993, the Mexican Embassy complained about the billboards in a letter to Schafer. Schafer fired off a reply that suggested the embassy consider the $1.5 million in merchandise he imports from Mexico each year.
Although the billboard makeover began about a year ago, Roadside America had noticed a long and gradual retreat from SOB's Mexican-Speak. Brochure copy from the 1970s, cheerily garbled with cartoon broken English, was rendered in regular marketing patter by 1985. At the same time, the attraction expanded, adding specialty shops and more outlandish photo opportunities.
Despite the muting of Pedro, we have consistently recognized South of the Border as one of the " Seven Wonders." And it will probably remain so -- as long as there's no plan to get rid of the Sombrero Tower.[10/26/1997]