Saturday 11 May 2013


May 8, 2013

A tongue-in-cheek cartoon was an example of the online response to Disney's trademark applications. Image courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz/

— It used to be, when you're working a major news story, events dictate coverage.

A bombing occurs. People are hurt, hospitals are activated. There's a widespread investigation and, eventually, the suspects are apprehended.

A wildfire spreads, homes burn, firefighters fight, the fire is contained.

A scandal is uncovered, an investigation ensues, Congress holds hearings, someone loses their job....

You get my drift.

But these days a story can take on a life of its own that has nothing to do with events. It is a fascinating process to observe and is almost a parallel journalistic universe to the one that is following actual news events. 

That happened in our Fronteras Desk newsroom this week. An obscure little story was spotted on an industry blog. The blog reported that Disney Enterprises, Inc. had filed a trademark application for the phrase "Dia De Los Muertos."

We thought, "Interesting story, let's do a spot for radio on that, and, as we're reporting the radio spot, we'll post a little story on our website."

And so our Social Media Editor John Rosman did a little reporting, found the trademark application and posted a story with a great picture on our website around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

And then we watched the story take on a life of its own. Within minutes it was being tweeted and retweeted around the twittersphere. Facebook "likes" expanded like a mushroom cloud. Page views grew and grew and grew. By midday we were looking at thousands of Facebook likes and hundreds of comments on our website. And it just continued to surge and swell. Nothing was actually happening, but the story was ALIVE, expanding in front of our eyes.

At the end of the news cycle, the Disney story on the Fronteras Desk website garnered more 71,000 visits, with 96 percent of those were from unique, first time visitors. Facebook likes on the story topped 32,000.

Oh, and by the end of the day, Disney announced to Fronteras Desk that it was withdrawing the trademark application. 

Now, those numbers probably are not much when compared to what a major news operation may get in any given day, but they were astounding for this little newsroom and even more astounding to watch as it happened.

It was not a big story; just a news blip. But it was a fascinating exercise in viral journalism. Instead of running around trying to find interviews, track down sources, collect sound and copy for a story, we're sitting in our newsroom watching the numbers spiral into the tens of thousands and ultimately impact the news itself.

For an old-school journalist like myself, it was nearly as exciting as an event-based news story. It was a different beast though, and ~ like so many have commented in the past ~ a brave new world where the story becomes the story.


Valeria Pearson, left, and Jessica Perry took a couple of hours to paint their faces like sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos. The celebration in Las Vegas takes place at the Winchester Cultural Center. 

Photo by Veronica Zaragovia.

UPDATE: A Disney studio spokesperson told Fronteras Desk late Tuesday afternoon the company will be withdrawing its trademark filing. 

“As we have previously announced, Disney-Pixar is developing an animated feature inspired by the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Disney’s trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities. It has since been determined that the title of the film will change and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”

As first reported by Stich Kingdom, on May 1, Disney Enterprises, Inc., a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, filed trademark applications to secure the phrase "Dia de los Muertos" across multiple platforms for an upcoming Pixar film.

Dia de Los Muertos is a popular holiday celebrated across Latin America, especially in Mexico and Central America, and it has become more popular in the United States. Families commemorate the lives of lost family members or friends between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 each year.

Disney filed 10 requests in the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office this month to coin the phrase. Disney's filings are mainly for merchandise, presumably connected to an upcoming film. 

The areas they are hoping to secure include “education and entertainment services,” “fruit preserves; fruit-based snack foods,” “toys, games and playthings,” “clothing,” “footwear,” “backpacks,” “clocks and jewelry” and more. 

Rod Berman, a patent attorney in California, says Disney is filing to protect products, not steal a holiday.

"Even if Disney were to obtain trademark registration, that wouldn't prevent anyone from practicing their faith or having the holiday," Berman said.

In the past, Disney sought to trademark "SEAL Team Six" the Navy SEAL team that assassinated Osama Bin Laden. They wanted exclusive rights ranging from toys to snow globes. After outcry from critics, The Wall Street Journal reported Disney withdrew the application "out of deference to the Navy." 

Many reacted angrily to the "Dia de los Muertos" news on social media, with some accusing Disney of trying to profit from a sacred Mexican tradition. Disney has not yet responded.

Do you think mass-marketed items tied to a holiday promote understanding and acceptance across cultures? Or does it profit from some people's religious traditions? 

A Houston company listed as The Valence Group already holds a 2007 trademark for "Día de los Muertos" for entertainment services like theater, plays and musicals. A gaming company in Nevada holds a 2012 trademark for "Día de Muertos."

The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office has issued trademarks related to other holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah.


May 7, 2013
A tongue-in-cheek cartoon was an example of the online response to Disney's trademark applications. Image courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz/

The Walt Disney Company told Fronteras Desk it will withdraw trademark applications related to the Day of the Dead holiday. Disney made the decision late Tuesday after an avalanche of social media backlash.

The story went viral Tuesday morning: Disney files to trademark the phrase "Día de los Muertos." That's the Spanish name for the annual Mexican tradition of honoring deceased family members and friends. 

The trademark request was related to an upcoming Disney-Pixar film inspired by the holiday. 

The news did not go over well. Grace Alvarez Sesma is a traditional Mexican healer who lives in Colorado.

"We don't need The Walt Disney Company to help us to promote our own culture," she said.

Alvarez Sesma started an online petition against Disney. Hours later it had more than 14,000 supporters. 

Twitter and Facebook exploded with posts like 'Our culture is not for sale' and 'Keep your corporate hands off.' 

By late afternoon Disney released a statement saying it would withdraw its "Día de los Muertos" trademark applications. 

Gustavo Arellano, author of the syndicated column "Ask a Mexican," said, "The Latino market is such that already there were calls for protest, boycotts and all that and Disney knows better than to poke at the so-called 'sleeping giant.'"

The term "sleeping giant" was often used during the 2012 presidential election to describe the Latino voter bloc, credited with delivering President Barack Obama a victory.

Disney's official statement said the company will withdraw the trademark filing because they've determined the title of the Mexican-inspired film will change. A spokesperson declined further comment.


  1. Since Disney are going nowhere they appear to have completed a successful public-opinion trial as well as heighten brand consciousness.

    Disney - a fantasy creating firm - awakens the 'sleeping giant' by trying to steal 'The Day of the Dead', what a movie plot.


  2. Noor, as always, great stuff.
    Howabout a new word in our vocabulary? "Jewhad"

    Can't claim it was me who coined it:


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