Although some say the Christmas season has been "Disney-fied" with cartoon Santas, cherubic elves, and red-nosed reindeer, what would happen if Disney (NYSE:DIS) actually tried to slap a trademark on the holiday? Its stock would get the equivalent of a lump of coal in its stocking
Well, the entertainment giant tried to do just that with one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, and faster than you could say adios, opposition to the move quickly mounted and Disney beat feet as if a zombie horde were after it.
The Day of the Dead is a centuries-old tradition in Mexico and throughout much of Latin America honoring relatives that have died. While steeped in tradition and respect for the dead, it is a holiday ripe for exploitation, with its skeleton-like Catrina figures being some of the most visible observations.
And that seems to be the motivation for Disney's trademark application, because Disney-Pixar is developing a movie around the holiday that would feature toys, games, trinkets, and even cereal, which it sought to protect.
But after a petition was filed on Change.org protesting the move and tens of thousands quickly signed on to tell Disney to essentially drop dead, the movie house backed down and withdrew its trademark applications.
While it appears distasteful to capitalize on a holiday in such a manner, some trademark lawyers don't think Disney would have been able to stifle branding and promotion surrounding the holiday, but only for items that would have specifically infringed on the Dia de los Muertos brand surrounding the movie.
Still, it exhibits a bit of zombie mindlessness to make such a move in the first place and underscores a lot of the risk American companies face when trying to exploit foreign markets.
One of the more notorious examples was when Chevy tried to sell its Nova in Latin America and it flopped because no one realized "no va" in Spanish means "doesn't go." Coca-Cola also didn't initially realize the phonetic translation into Chinese of the product name it used meant "bite the wax tadpole," while Molson Coors had problems in Spain where its "Turn It Loose" slogan translated into "Get Diarrhea."
Instead of being the Ugly American, U.S. businesses would do well to get some cultural training before trying to capitalize on international opportunities. And though in this case Disney wisely decided it was better to switch than fight and risk the wrath of the undead, since it also tried to trademark the U.S. Navy's elite Seal Team 6 following their assassination of Osama bin Laden, it seems the House of Mouse is rife with some brain-dead thinking.