Getting the Word Out in Mexico: the perifoneo is king

Colin Nekolaichuk is a Sustainable Cities CIDA IYIP intern for the spring of 2011. His work focuses on Communications + Community Development.

Make sure to check out the video at the end!

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“Tamales, calientitos, muy ricos…!”

This is one of the most ubiquitous sounds one will hear in Mexico. It reverberates off buildings, from around corners, and throughout the streets of cities. Its source is difficult to nail down, but its message is clear: tamales for sale – hot, delicious, and within earshot.

The elusive source of the tamale call is none other than the perifoneo. When you get down to it, the perifoneo is essentially the town crier for modern Mexico. To qualify as a perifoneo three things are required: a pre-recorded message, a way to make it really loud, and a way to move it around the neighbourhood. Some popular combinations include:

CD – megaphone – car

MP3 – outdoor speaker system – truck

Cassette – bullhorn – pedal cart

You get the idea. They vary greatly in production values, as well as quality and range of delivery. For instance, one provider may offer a professional recording studio while another will produce a tape you wouldn’t give to your high school girlfriend. In terms of audience reached, a car or truck could cover a lot more ground in an afternoon than a bicycle (I won’t get in to the irony of driving around for hours to promote sustainable initiatives).


 Looking to hire a perifoneo of your own? Perifoneo service providers require nothing more than a written message and basic instructions for delivery. They will then produce and deliver the message at a time and place chosen by you, the client. The service provider will cruise an area of the city at an appropriate speed given the length of the message, occasionally making a strategic stop at an intersection or shopping mall.

This all may seem a little silly to first-world communications professionals, but in developing countries where economic marginalization is common and access to computers is limited, other methods of message delivery must be sought out. For example, the Institución de Planeación para el Municipio de Colima (IPCo) engages citizens in neighbourhoods where household computer access is less than 5%. During IPCo’s most recent community outreach project over 90% of attendees surveyed said they heard about the event from a perifoneo. You can’t argue with those results.

The point is this: different publics receive messages differently. The best social media strategy in the world won’t help you if your audience doesn’t have access to computers. Signs, posters, ads in papers, or well-placed editorials won’t be effective if your audience can’t read. Trying different things is always a good idea, but communication is inextricably linked to a population’s situation and its culture.

When exploring how to communicate with a new culture three simple things will help immensely:

1. Observe. What methods of communication are most prevalent in the community? What makes people stop and pay attention? What tone do messages take? What do they say?

2. Ask. This includes before and after the execution of a communications plan. Where do the locals get different kinds of information? Where did they hear about an event? What motivated them to come?

3. Act. Take your research, adapt it to your organization’s situation, and apply it in future communications activities. Don’t be afraid to consult locals on issues of language, culture, and nuance.

The extra time and effort you spend understanding the state of your communications environment, the better equipped you will be to create and deliver messages that jive with the local culture. As in the case of the perifoneo, sometimes the simplest message delivery is the best message delivery: loud and near.



About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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One Response to Getting the Word Out in Mexico: the perifoneo is king

  1. Pingback: The Six Guidelines for a Successful Ciclovía Recreativa | Sustainable Cities International blog

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