Marketing a tradition: Día de Muertos in Mexico
Updated: Nov 2
We can’t escape death.
This may sound bleak, but it is the core thought of the Mexican celebration “Día de Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, on November 2. This annual celebration has endured through centuries, and now it has traveled to every corner of the world. At its origin, Día de Muertos was celebrated as a way to pay tribute to Death and obtain eternal rest. Since that time a lot has changed, but one thing stays the same: we should celebrate death instead of being afraid of it.
According to the Aztec Mythology, the Underworld consisted of nine different regions, known as “The Mictlan” (Place of the Dead). The Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the underworld, watches over the dead and their souls. Death means joy, transcendence and returning to our place of origin, and while matter disintegrates, the spirit remains. During the Día de Muertos celebrations, we eat to replenish ourselves, and we dance to connect with the universe.
I remember the first “Día de Muertos” I had after my grandad died; we prepared our “Ofrenda” being very careful to include all these elements:
water: source of life
salt: to purify
candles: to light the path
copal: to cleanse
cempasúchil: a yellow / orange flower that has healing abilities
bread: “pan de muerto” represents the skeleton
his favorite things: cigarettes, chocolate and coffee
and most importantly, his photo
As the sun started to set, we lit the candles and started talking about him, telling stories and remembering him and his life, feeling happy because he had an amazing journey and was now resting and watching over all of us. What I am trying to say is that death is the only thing we have for certain after we are born. Instead of fearing it, Día de Muertos reminds us we should live fully and without restraint.
Mexico has now opened up about this day and shares it with everyone. In addition, my country actively markets this holiday to the world as a form of tourism branding and reason to visit our country.We receive a large number of tourists between the 1st and 3rd of November of each year at the different locations where traditions are still closest to the original way of celebrating. Just in 2019, we hosted more than 7 million people with more than $90 million in revenue.
Even though as Mexicans we like to see our culture represented in movies or TV series, movie producers should be very careful as to how they handle it; ie: James Bond “Spectre” claimed the prize when they included our traditions in a very respectful manner and without trying to appropriate our ancestral beliefs. In fact, this movie inspired the Ministry of Tourism to organize and carry out a Parade for Day of the Dead in Mexico City, which now attracts millions of tourists every year and an economic spillover of 212 MOD.
Unfortunately, brands can negatively use or represent our customs and traditions, as well. For example, Disney Studios’ with its movie “Coco.” Disney tried to secure the rights to the title “Day of the Dead” and themed merchandise, but they had to back off when the Latino community realized what was going on and started a petition asking the authorities not to allow Disney to trademark “Day of the Dead.” Now it is common for most brands to have a product to sell during these dates.
Examples of “Día de Muertos” in Marketing
As a Mexican, I am very proud of my culture and invite anyone who is genuinely interested to live this amazing experience. This is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity named by UNESCO where the fusion between Indigenous and Catholic beliefs come into play. An ongoing dance with Death, we joke with her; we write short poems that tell how we taunt Death and yet know that when the time comes, she will come for us without a doubt.
We visit cemeteries on given days and decorate tombs with great amounts of flowers and candles. Families gather round them and bring food and extra hot “Café de Olla,” which many times is infused with rum or tequila. Even Mariachi bands are hired to sing special favorite melodies, and then all family members join in to remember and celebrate the life of our loved ones. There is a great deal of planning beforehand, a budget needs to be followed, and money is set aside in order to ensure the desired outcome. There are sugar and chocolate skulls decorated and personalized with the name of every member of the family who has already crossed to the other side.
Our ancestors let us know that their souls come back on this day, and they expect to find their favorite dishes as well as their cherished loved ones waiting for them.
Mexico turns into a complete, cultural mosaic full of light, color and indigenous designs imprinted on every imaginable piece of merchandise, food, and buildings. Music plays everywhere and electricity runs through the whole country. So pack your bags and book your ticket, because our Día de Muertos tradition is a magical experience waiting for you a few miles away.
ShinePR’s recommendations for regions to visit for your first Día de Muertos in Mexico: