February 11, 2011

Disney Is Finally Making Baby Gear

branding_simba.jpg

And it won't stop until it sucks up $5 billion of parents' money each year, or until it falls on its face.

Do I start with the disclosures? No, I'll start with a blogger's whine. I haven't wanted to write about anything all week, because every time I'd start, I knew I was going to have to write something about the NY Times' Monday article, "Disney Looking Into Cradle For Customers," and it just bummed me the hell out.

The premise of the article is not just that Disney is launching Disney Baby, or even that there is a division of the company's Consumer Products business unit [undiscussed!] called Disney Moms. It's that, given the runaway success of the Disney Princess juggernaut, an expansion into the baby market is actually not just natural, but late , even long overdue.

Disney Baby begins by giving away Simba bodysuits in maternity wards through a promotional tie-in with some grungy marketing company that pays hospitals for exclusive rights to market products bedside to their patients.

Also planned are bath items, strollers, baby food and an abundance of other products -- all pushed with so much marketing muscle that Disney Baby may actually dent operating margins in Mr. Mooney's division in the near term. But this is a long-term play, and it could have its greatest value far beyond the crib. Disney Baby is also intended to draw mothers into the company's broader web of products and experiences. Mr. Mooney is working on a loyalty program, for instance, in which pregnant women might receive free theme park tickets in return for signing up for e-mail alerts.

"To get that mom thinking about her family's first park experience before her baby is even born is a home run," Mr. Mooney said, adding that a surprisingly large number of families do not become consumers of Disney products until their children reach preschool age, when they start to watch Disney Channel programs like "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

[Or, the upcoming preschool channel Disney Junior, which I've been getting dozens of publicist emails about, unlike Disney Baby, about which I have received exactly zero pitches. Whether that's because I'm a dad and thus irrelevant, or because the "blogger outreach" phase of the campaign doesn't kick in until closer to the actual product launch in May, I can't say.]

Anyway, I have to call bullshit that Disney Baby is anything like Disney Princess, and the difference is probably key to understanding the company's reticence in targeting infants directly: because they're not targeting infants, they're targeting parents. And grandparents.

The Princess thing is fed by the retrograde childhood fantasies of moms, sure, but its primary driver is kids themselves. As Peggy Orenstein explains in her new book about the Princess Industrial Complex, the urge for pink, frilly merchandise is so powerful because until the age of 7, kids think that external signs determine your gender, not just indicate it. So along with peer influence, Disney's marketing almost perfectly exploits the foundational development of a kid's identity.

But with babies, there's none of that. And there's no bogus educational claims, the kind that got Disney's Baby Einstein division in trouble with the FTC. No, this is all about you and your wanting your newborn child to look "look fabulous" in his Disney Cuddly Bodysuit. Orenstein's princess book is titled, Cinderella At My Daughter; if she writes a Disney Baby sequel, it will have to be called, I Fed My Baby To The Lion King.

Maybe now's a good time for my disclosure, just for entertaining irony: I used to work for Disney, and I loved it. I was on a parent advisory board for the relaunch of Family.com, but we didn't do anything. And we are going on... a Disney Cruise next month. My mother's idea, she thinks it's hilarious that she maneuvered me into not being able to say no. Point is, no Disney absolutist, just a savvy parent who knows what Disney's up to, and thinks that a company that's such a powerful force in kids' lives should not be so completely oriented towards endless product consumption.

Of course, the annoying part is that all this ambivalence was anticipated in the Times article, which ends with a quote from Kellogg marketing professor Philip Kotler:

But Professor Kotler added one asterisk. "There are bound to be critics -- moms and dads who think Disney is already too powerful a force in the lives of children," he said. "Disney needs those moms who are getting a free sample to stand up and say, 'Yes, I'm savvy enough to realize what Disney is up to, but I don't care because this is a really great product.'"
This is not going to end well.

Disney Looking Into Cradle For Customers [nyt]

6 Comments

bummed the hell out

That's a excellent illustration, though.

thanks, you do what you can.

I think what REALLY bugged me about this is the fact that the hospitals are giving Disney representatives access to their patients. In the hospital you already get loaded up with corporate swag, mostly from formula companies, but now you also have to contend with people trying to foist stupid furry bodysuits on you? Let me tell you, if this had happened to me in the hospital, there would have been violence.

We managed to shelter our older daughter from the Pink Princess Industrial Complex relatively well, but the younger one (now aged 4) is hooked. I asked her if boys could like princesses, and she said no. So I asked "What would happen if you did not like princesses?", and she said "Daddy, if I did not like princesses, I would be a boy."

And she has not read Peggy Orenstein's book.

Nice! Free theme park tickets during pregnancy. Roller Coaster anyone? I like very much.

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