How Mexican Avocado Growers Seemingly Came From Nowhere to Play in the Super Bowl

20,000 growers, an 8-figure budget, and one ruthless mission

Avocados from Mexico

As most red-blooded Americans know, the Super Bowl isn’t only biggest game of football, it’s the all-star game of advertising. Only the biggest and strongest of brands can afford to play here, which is why the list of advertisers reads like a who’s who of corporate muscle: Ford Motor, Procter & Gamble, Pepsico and Anheuser-Busch InBev—multibillion-dollar titans, all.

So, ever wonder how Avocados From Mexico wound up in the same league?

Think about it. Until recently, few Americans knew a Mexican avocado from any other kind. Yet here’s that green Mexican fruit again, three years running, dropping $5 million for 30 seconds’ worth of jokes in front of 110 million American consumers. How did Avocados from Mexico get so strong so fast? How did it get such deep pockets?

As it turns out, Avocadoes From Mexico boasts one of the most dramatic and impressive rises to prominence in recent marketing history.

Mexico yields the biggest crop of avocados in the world. But for decades, Americans didn’t eat them. An obscure federal law passed in 1914 prohibited the import of the fruit from Mexico and Central America until the FDA finally lifted it in 1997. Even after that happened, marketing was slow to follow. The task of promoting avocados fell to two groups: the farmers and the packers, who had separate budgets and, frequently, redundant agendas.

All of that changed on March 8, 2013, when the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association joined forces with the Mexican Avocado Producers and Packers “to combine resources and develop and manage a common brand for the Mexican avocado industry,” said a press release at the time.

Avocados From Mexico had arrived.

The resulting trade group, a nonprofit entity, mobilized with the sole purpose of getting Mexican avocados into the American consumer’s mind through every platform possible.

And it got off to a slow start.

“There is no office; there is no staff,” CEO Tim O’Connor told the trade magazine Produce News, adding, “There is not even a bank account.”

But the growers and shippers fixed that problem in a hurry. By self-assessing 2.5 cents for every pound of imported avocados, the group found itself with a $36 million marketing budget just to get things started. (AFM’s members consist of 37 packing companies and 20,300 growers who together truck 1.3 billion pounds of the fruit into the U.S. each year. With a volume like that, the marketing funds accumulate quickly.)

By 2015, with its war chest having reached $40 million, Avocados From Mexico decided to play in the Super Bowl. Its inaugural spot, “First Draft Ever,” created by GSD&M, marked the first time any sort of produce had advertised in the Big Game. It was a feat that made the group “proud to be the first,” as Avocados From Mexico president Alvaro Luque put it.

A year later, the avocados were back again, this time with a Super Bowl spot featuring space aliens poking fun at arcane human artifacts. From the start, Avocados From Mexico tore up the usual commodity-board playbook that stressed predictable messages of sunshine and wholesome goodness in favor of the sort of irreverent swagger more commonly seen in beer and car commercials. “We really wanted to create something that was a bit over the top,” marketing director Kevin Hamilton told Adweek that year.

Today, there’s little to stop the juggernaut of Mexican avocados (except maybe that 20 percent tax President Trump’s been talking about). On Jan. 26, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray warned that if such a tax were levied, “you’re going to make things ranging from avocados to flat-screen TVs … more expensive” for consumers. Avocados From Mexico’s 2017 Super Bowl ad, which was shot before the president’s proposed plan, does not address the threat of a tax, and the proposal has since faded from view regardless.

Meanwhile, Avocados From Mexico’s gargantuan advertising budget has caused something else to fade from view: the California Avocado Commission, which, as Adweek reported in 2015, plays with a budget of just $5 million.