How the New Animated Smash, 'CoCo,' Got It Right, in Its Outreach to Latino Audiences
5 lessons for every marketer looking to engage U.S. Latinos -- all 52 million of them.
Another weekend, and another box office victory for Disney Pixar’s CoCo, the animated smash hit, which has earned over $108 million since its pre-Thanksgiving release. The film has drawn praise from critics and moviegoers alike, and has struck a particular chord, emotionally, with the U.S. Latino demographic market segment.
For those unfamiliar with the film, Coco is the story of Miguel, a 12-year-old boy in Mexico looking to connect with his ancestors on el Día de Muertos, or Day of The Dead, the Mexican holiday where the dead are remembered, honored and celebrated by friends and family members. As the film depicts, this often involves the building of an altar, or ofrenda, to which family members add photos and the favorite foods, drinks and possessions of the deceased.
CoCo should be required viewing for any marketer looking to engage the U.S. Latino market as authentically, tastefully and creatively as the film does: Aside from the music, food/drink and vibrant colors Coco beautifully illustrates, it masterfully pulls back the curtain on the Latino family dynamics behind that culture's collective family decision-making process, as well as on how elders and ancestors are cared for, remembered and revered, plus Latin culture's symbolic emphasis on the spiritual.
Even the power of an abuelita’s chancla (a grandmother’s sandal, used to lightly spank a misbehaving child) is lightheartedly incorporated as an inside joke in the film -- an authentic nod to Latino viewers who can relate.
Are Latinos in your customer base? Below are five important lessons Coco can offer you and other marketers looking to engage the United States' 52 million Latino consumers:
Whether yours is an influencer campaign targeting millennials on social media, or an earned media effort reaching baby boomers, it may be one of the many marketing/PR efforts today that are developed and executed with a specific demographic in mind.
CoCo, in fact, reaches and tells the story of an entire multigenerational household, creatively developing characters, motivations and back stories across many ages, from 12-year-old Miguel, to the wheelchair-bound great-grandmother. Content that performs well within the Latino demographic is often that which can be shared, understood and related to by an entire household.
Similarly, Coca-Cola succeeded in multigenerational storytelling with its Mother’s Day Inseparable campaign. That video begins with a Latina singing a lullaby to her daughter, with whom she later shares a Coke when the girl arrives home from school.
The daughter then grows up and sings the same lullaby to the baby inside her own womb, gazed upon by her mother, about to be an abuela, herself. This signifies the passing of a cultural tradition between mother and daughter. The video concludes with the abuela and her grandson some years later, bonding over a bottle of Coca-Cola, completing and continuing the family tradition.
Learn from your mistakes.
The journey of the film’s success cannot be told without revisiting an earlier incident that sparked tremendous backlash against the entertainment giant. Disney’s initial attempt at the animated depiction of the Day of the Dead included an actual trademark application for the Mexican holiday back in 2013. This drew the ire of many, who accused Disney of cultural appropriation. Within two weeks, Disney withdrew its trademark filing, released an official statement and went back to the drawing board.
Disney is not the first, and certainly will not be the last brand, to commit an unfortunate PR/marketing blunder involving cultural appropriation. However, everyone can learn from how it attempted to course-correct the project’s itinerary. How Disney handled and reacted to the backlash -- going beyond the usual corporate statement or creation of a diversity and inclusion position to manage public perception -- set the company apart from other brands making cultural mistakes. Think: Pepsi, with its Kendall Jenner ad, and Dove’s seemingly never-ending series of race and beauty ad controversies.
Instead, Disney extended an invitation to animators, actors and cultural experts of Latino descent to not just have a voice and a seat at the table, but also a final say and input as co-creators. Results of that cross-cultural collaborative effort were evident in every aspect of Coco, including its language/accent pronunciation, cultural observances and family dynamic.
Putting together a team with multicultural insights and experiences that can inform, shape and guide the creative process minimizes the consequences of not having the budget to incorporate multicultural insights up-front, or a team to address backlash during the final stage ad/marketing/PR campaign. The latter point, in fact, is too late to to address concerns regarding cultural appropriation.
Tap into customs and traditions, not stereotypes.
Thanks to the authentic input and insights in its development, CoCo authentically incorporated many Mexican customs and traditions without playing to the lowest common denominator or, worse, committing cultural appropriation. Yes, there were mariachi bands, sombreros, tacos and tequila prevalent throughout the film. But everything served a purpose and contributed toward the film’s broader cultural context.
One digital content platform that gets this right is mitú, which produces and distributes digital content geared toward Latino millennials. From creating memorable characters, such as an “abuela,” to stand-up monologues about growing up in a Latino household, mitú’s ability to blend humor with cultural intelligence has enabled it to reach and engage with a large audience in a short period of time.
Finally, there's the language issue: Even as Coco was made available in a full-Spanish version in select U.S. cinemas and across Mexico, the filmmakers struck a healthy balance between English and Spanish-language dialogue. This helped avoid any alienation of English-speaking viewers, yet retained a sense of authenticity for native Spanish speakers. Additionally, the script's word choice wasn't limited to basic dictionary Spanish, but used colloquial terms and mannerisms many Latino households use affectionately.
Nearly three out of four U.S. Latino residents speak Spanish at home, while 68 percent speak English proficiently, according to Pew research data. Additionally, English-dominant, Latino millennials looking to strengthen their cultural connections are consuming content in both languages.
So, whether you’re developing social copy for a Latino-inspired food recipe, or drafting call-to-action language and key messaging on a healthcare campaign aimed at Latino boomers, it's important, for developing a successful multicultural campaign, to understand the impact that authentic language selection and incorporation has on content performance.
Netflix acknowledged this trend and took an early lead in providing quality, original streaming content in English, Spanish and English/Spanish. Not only can the company's Latino subscribers add popular Netflix originals such as Daredevil, Punisher and Master of None to their queue, but they also can enjoy bilingual and Spanish-language (i.e., not dubbed) original content such as Narcos, Ingobernable and Club de Cuervos, Netflix’s first foray into original Spanish-language programming.
By no means does CoCo serve as the definitive manual for reaching and engaging the U.S. Latino market, of course. A deeper sociocultural dive would almost certainly highlight missed opportunities and oversimplified characterizations throughout the film’s 109-minute run time. Additionally, the 52 million Latinos living in the United States come from or have generational and ancestral links to 33 countries throughout Latin America, each with its own cultural customs, family traditions and language dialects and nuances. So, there may very well arise more detailed objections to parts of the film.
However, marketers would be well served to incorporate the key lessons described here into their own future account planning and activation purposes. ¿Verdad? If not, they risk falling victim to that proverbial chancla.
Luis Agostini is the media director at Henson Consulting, a public relations agency based in Chicago. A 12-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, he is the former vice president of the Hispanic Public Relations Association’s Chicago chapter, and 2014 recipient of the ¡HPRA Bravo! Award for best nonprofit campaign. He has conducted public relations for Major League Soccer, the Department of Defense Warrior Games and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among other clients; he's also worked, pro bono, in media relations supporting Puerto Rico's victims of Hurricane Maria.