Spanish-language entertainment giant Univision Communications plans to bolster its consumer products business by developing merchandise featuring the beloved Mexican film and music star Pedro Infante.
The guitar-playing Infante, who has been described as an amalgamation of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, died in a 1957 plane crash in Mexico at age 39. He had recorded about 350 Spanish-language love ballads and other songs, and acted in nearly 60 films.
Known as the "king of rancheras," Infante, who was born in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 1917, helped change mariachi music by singing in softer and more natural tones than had been the custom during the first part of the 20th century.
Univision on Monday announced its deal to develop Pedro Infante products in collaboration with Centerstage Brands International, which acquired merchandising rights from the late actor's estate in 2010.
"We were shopping for a licensing agent in the U.S. and wound up choosing Univision," Centerstage Brands Chief Executive Steve Smith said in an interview. Smith said he felt that Univision, the dominant Spanish-language media company in the U.S., could help his firm tap an unrealized market.
"There has been a gross negligence in Hispanic celebrity merchandising," Smith said. "We are looking to create a blueprint, not just for Pedro Infante, but for other Hispanic celebrities so they have a place to monetize their name and likeness — and their popularity."
Infante's enduring appeal, nearly 60 years after his death, was displayed in an unlikely way — the sale of long distance telephone calling cards in bodegas and convenience stores. Smith's company found that the phone calling card featuring Infante's likeness was one of its top sellers.
Centerstage Brands began working further with Lupita Infante, the actor's daughter, to expand the Pedro Infante Collection. So far, the line of products includes key chains, cigarette lighters and car air fresheners, which are expected to roll out this spring in the U.S.
Later, the company plans to introduce Pedro Infante salsa, tortilla chips and coffee.
Univision created its consumer products division less than three years ago because it, too, saw a void in the market when it came to selling merchandise that features Latino stars.
"There is an underserved market there, and Univision clearly understands that market," said Rick Alessandri, executive vice president of Univision Enterprises.
"Look at Elvis, or Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, and nobody seems to be doing that for Hispanic celebrities," said Alessandri, a former ESPN marketing executive who joined Univision nearly three years ago to find new revenue streams.
The late Mexican singer is not the first Latino celebrity that Univision has tackled. In 2012, the company struck a licensing agreement to develop products branded with the name and image of the late Cuban singer Celia Cruz, known as the "Queen of Salsa."
In addition, Univision has been working with one of its equity owners, Grupo Televisa — the Mexican entertainment juggernaut — and Malibu toy company Jakks Pacific to develop products featuring the Mexican sitcom character El Chavo.
That character was created by comedian Roberto Gomez Bolanos, and became a popular TV show, reaching an estimated 350 million viewers over its four-decade life span. The first of Jakks-produced El Chavo plush toys and finger puppets were introduced last year.
In addition to Televisa, Univision is owned by four private equity firms and Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, a savvy marketer who helped build his fortune with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Pedro Infante began his film career in 1939 and was recognized by the Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences as best actor for his role in "La Vida No Vale Nada" (Life Is Worth Nothing). He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the early 1990s.
"There is some real emotional equity there," Alessandri said.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times