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Commodifying Culture: Mattel’s and Disney’s Marketing Approaches to “Latinx” Toys and Media

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The Marketing of Children’s Toys

Abstract

The 2010s saw a rise in media and artifacts for children that featured elements from Latinx culture. This trend was not new. In 1988, for instance, Mattel introduced Teresa, Barbie’s new best friend who was mostly read as Latina. Over the decades, it had also introduced dolls from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Chile, and Brazil as part of the Dolls of the World line. Yet, from 2014 to the present, movies, toys, and television programming for children increasingly began to feature Latinx characters and culture. This chapter examines these broader trends while paying special attention to Mattel and Disney, two of the biggest producers of toys and media for children, including recent products such as Disney’s Elena of Avalor (2016–2020) and Coco (2017) and Mattel’s Frida Kahlo (2018) and Día de Muertos (2019 and 2020) Barbie dolls. This chapter highlights how the companies’ early efforts in marketing Latinx culture relied on strategic ambiguity, but eventually engaged in assertive “Latinx” product labeling.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The motto “Girls can be anything,” from Mattel’s 2015 campaign “Imagine the possibilities,” builds on their 1980s campaign “Girls can do anything.” These mottos focused on empowerment through imagination and Barbie play.

  2. 2.

    Save for a few plush dolls, figurines, and Vinylmation, the range of available merchandise for either José Carioca or Panchito Pistoles pales in comparison to other Disney films and media.

  3. 3.

    Capitalization and punctuation as they appear on the box.

  4. 4.

    DuCille (1999) discusses Barbie’s exoticization when a Barbie of color is seen as an “Other.”

  5. 5.

    Except Argentina Barbie Doll (2011), who was blonde.

  6. 6.

    Mexico Barbie Doll in 1989, 1996, 2012, and 2014; Princess of Ancient Mexico Barbie Doll in 2001 (The Princess Collection); and Cinco de Mayo Barbie Doll in 2006 (Festivals of the World collection).

  7. 7.

    I appreciate the use of U.S. rather than America in reference to the United States of America, as it does not use the name of a continent to address one country.

  8. 8.

    The term Hispanic refers to people from or descendants from Spanish-speaking countries, while Latinx refers to people from or who are descendants from Latin America. In many cases, a person can be both Hispanic and Latinx; hence, people often erroneously use the terms interchangeably.

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Correspondence to Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez .

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© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

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Aguiló-Pérez, E.R. (2021). Commodifying Culture: Mattel’s and Disney’s Marketing Approaches to “Latinx” Toys and Media. In: Hains, R.C., Jennings, N.A. (eds) The Marketing of Children’s Toys. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-62881-9_8

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