The Marketing Behind Coco: Pixar’s Venture to Introduce the World to Mexican Culture

The Marketing Behind Coco: Pixar’s Venture to Introduce the World to Mexican Culture

Later this year, Coco will enter the theaters: Pixar’s first original story since The Good Dinosaur came out in 2015.  Click the title to read about the role of marketing in allowing the world to embrace Coco and the tradition of Día de los Muertos.

In this review

  • Summary
  • Advice for the Uncultured
  • Insight into Coco


In Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc., Catmull talks about the various Pixar departments that have “often opposing” objectives.  On page 137 he says,

The writer and director want to tell the most affecting story possible; the production designer wants the film to look beautiful; the technical directors want flawless effects; finance wants to keep the budget within limits; marketing wants a hook that is easily sold to potential viewers; the consumer products people want appealing characters to turn into plush toys and to plaster on lunchboxes and T-shirts, etc.

From the viewpoint of the marketing and consumer products departments, it only makes sense that movies like Cars 3 eventually come to fruition.  Sequels are easy to sell.  People already love the characters and the overall premise.  They are more than willing to pay to watch another story that expands on a universe they already know and love.

Recently, people have criticized Pixar for its recent abundance of sequels/prequels.  While there is excitement for more sequels like Incredibles 2 next year, a hunger exists for new stories and characters.  However, original stories are harder to sell.  With Coco, the marketing team has a challenge to overcome skepticism that comes with a story about the Day of the Dead.


Overcoming Skepticism

There are 3 main reasons why people are skeptical about Disney-Pixar’s Coco.  When Pixar announced Coco, the main concern was how Pixar would treat Día de los Muertos, a major holiday in Mexican culture.  In addition, the premise looks quite similar to The Book of Life that came out in 2014.  Lastly, people may not be as interested in watching a movie until others have verified that the movie is appealing (especially when the main characters are skeletons that may scare younger children.)  To combat these concerns, Disney-Pixar marketing has instituted 3 notable initiatives: (1) Placing a Frozen mini-movie before Coco (2) Releasing a short about Dante, a dog and (3) Creating the Plaza de la Familia at California Adventure

Getting People Hooked

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Even if you’re tired of Frozen, you can’t deny its appeal to younger children.  Since those kids are also the ones likely to be a little creeped out by the skeletons in Coco, putting Olaf’s Frozen Adventure immediately before Coco is likely going to be an effective way to get little kids in the theater.

Dante’s Lunch

I think that one way to get people interested in something is involving dogs in some way.   Dante’s Lunch, which came out earlier this year, introduced people to the character of Dante, who is the main character’s dog.  Additionally, as far as I can tell, the short does a good job of capturing the spirit of Mexico.  In that sense, Dante’s Lunch may prove as a preview to how Mexican culture is going to be at the forefront of Coco.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos through the Plaza de la Familia

Arguably, the most significant marketing tactic has been the Plaza de la Familia at California Adventure.  Plaza de la Familia started last week and will run through November 2nd (the end of Día de los Muertos).  Plaza de la Familia serves as an introduction to learning about Día de los Muertos and its impact on Mexican culture.  It got me excited to learn more about both the holiday and the movie.  I’ll share what I’ve learned from the exhibits and supplemental research.

The Gate to Plaza de la Familia

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As you enter Plaza de la Familia, you go under a gate decorated by marigolds and guarded by two calacas or skeletons.  Día de los Muertos is all about celebrating the lives of ancestors, so the skeletons are more cheerful than scary.  The marigold motif is present throughout the plaza, which got me wondering about the significance of the marigolds.  Turns out, according to Buchanan’s Native Plants Blog, the marigold Flor de Muertos (Flower of the Dead) “attracts the souls of the dead.”

Arbol de la Vida-Tree of Life

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The main area for activities features the Arbol de la Vida, which is popular during Día de los Muertos.  Disney’s take on the Tree of Life features skeletons with a large guitar at the center.

Recuerdos de mi Familia-Memories of My Family

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In the spirit of remembering family members, there is a station where you can write down a family memory and then hang it for display.   The display and the cards themselves feature the marigolds.  As far as I can tell, this hanging display is not traditional (like the wishing trees are for Lunar New Year), but I think it still captures what Día de los Muertos is about: remembering those who came before us.

Face Painting and Calaveras de Azucar

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Per “People in Mexico wear traditional skull masks, and the tradition of painting faces to look like skulls has grown up as a variation of this practice.”  Face painting is a modern way to get into the spirit of celebrating the dead.  Also, the face painting is free.  Again, it’s a fun way to introduce a possibly scary subject to young children.

Sugar skulls are iconic to Día de los Muertos.  The reason for the skulls is obvious, but I found it very interesting to learn from that the skulls are typically made out of sugar because it was cheaper to use sugar than to buy European clay figurines.


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At the Paradise Gardens Bandstand, you can hear Mariachi music, which is loud and lively.  If you’re interested, you can find the schedule on the guides near the park entrance.


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The tastiest way to learn about a particular culture is through food.  Check out the special offerings at the Paradise Garden Grill Menu (see the pictures above.)

Note: You can pause the slideshow and zoom in for a closer look.

SPOILER WARNING.  The next sections highlight pictures taken at the Coco display at Plaza de la Familia.  Although it is a good way to get a better idea of what Coco is about, please proceed with caution. The display reveals some plot points that may be minor or major (depending on your point of view).  That being said, if you’re curious about Coco and don’t mind seeing potential spoilers, feel free to continue on to the next section.


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Land of the Living vs. Land of the Dead

The Coco display is nicely organized with one side as the land of the living and the other side as the land of the dead.  A visitor gets a sense of Miguel (the main character) and the journey he takes in Coco.  At the center of the room is Miguel’s ofrenda to Ernesto de la Cruz.  An ofrenda is an altar with all sorts of decorations.

One may also notice the papel picado and candles.  NPR points out that the papel picado “represents wind and the fragility of life” while the candles “represent fire and are a light guiding the spirits back to visit the land of the living.”  Also, it makes sense for Miguel’s companion to be a dog because NPR states that, “Dogs were believed to guide the ancestral spirits to their final resting place in the afterlife.”  Feel free to flip through the pictures to learn more about Coco.

Land of the Living

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Miguel’s Ofrenda to Ernesto de la Cruz

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Land of the Dead

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Overall, it seems like Disney-Pixar is succeeding in staying true to the heart of Día de los Muertos and Mexican culture.  If you’re skeptical about watching Coco, maybe the marketing team’s steps to promoting Coco may convince you to watch it.  I look forward to reviewing Coco when it comes out in November.  Until next time, best of luck on your journey.

Thanks for reading!

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