Despite its name, the Day of the Dead — the Mexican holiday celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 — is a colourful, joyous celebration of the lives of departed family and friends.

But it's also increasingly becoming a marketing opportunity for advertisers.

'Honoured to be a part of Day of the Dead'

During traditional Day of the Dead celebrations, altars are prepared with marigolds, photos, sugar skulls, gifts, festive food and decorations. People dress up in costumes and paint colourful skulls on their faces.

And in an ad for Modelo beer that ran in the U.S. last year, we see a face being painted, a guitar being played and beer being consumed. The ad ends with "Honoured to be a part of Day of the Dead."

Modelo Especial – Facepaint from Upshot on Vimeo.

Since Halloween and Day of the Dead overlap and both involve makeup, costumes and themed foods, many U.S. marketers are giving Halloween a distinctly Mexican flavour as a way to expand into the vast Latino market.

In an ad for the party supply store Party City, the focus is entirely on Day of the Dead costumes, including skull-faced mariachis and senoritas.

Other U.S. retailers offer Mexican-themed costumes like the chupacabra, which literally translates as "goatsucker," and La Llorona, which means "The Weeping Woman."

Last year, Target's Halloween advertising included a Day of the Dead virtual reality video on YouTube. It featured a skull-faced mariachi band, paper decorations and a mystery to solve in order to win a discount.

Kraft, General Mills and Unilever all posted both Halloween and Day of the Dead recipes online.

Skeleton mariachi sells lottery tickets

Retailers from Cost Plus to Amazon sold Day of the Dead masks, makeup, banners, beads and more in addition to their Halloween offerings.

And after offering Halloween games for several years, New Mexico Lottery launched a new game last year featuring a skeleton in a mariachi suit telling us being dead is no fun — but playing the lottery is.

When Disney released its movie Frankenweenie in October, 2012, it ran two different U.S. trailers — one with a Halloween theme, and one aimed specifically at Latino Americans with a Day of the Dead theme.

Even countries with smaller Latino populations are getting on the Day of the Dead bandwagon, thanks to Mexican brands eager to create new markets for their products.

'Death is weak. She can't carry me.'

A dramatic video promoting a Day of the Dead party in Amsterdam begins with the words, "Death is weak. She can't carry me."

Then we see a woman in skull makeup on a rooftop at night and the words, "Sauza Tequila presents Day of the Dead, when the dead are honoured and life is celebrated."

Closer to home, a Corona beer video promotes a Day of the Dead party in Waterloo, Ont., complete with decorations, masks and face painting.

Of course, the risk for all these marketers is that in their rush to win Latino and gringo dollars, it may look like they're co-opting and trivializing Day of the Dead — which could end up driving away the very customers they hope to win.


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.