Marketing Advice for Disney: Check With Parents First

Guest blog: Day of the Dead and Merida makeover missteps could have been avoided

Is it just me, or has the Walt Disney Company recently made some thoughtless decisions that aren't quite in tune with the family entertainment company's wholesome brand?

To be clear, I love all things Disney. I grew up watching "The Wonderful World of Color," and my kids were entertained (not educated) by the Disney Channel.  However, I can't imagine Disney executives sitting around the conference room table, and agreeing that the next important move for the company was to trademark "Dia de los Muertos" or Day of the Dead, a Hispanic holiday honoring deceased loved ones, and then clinking tequila-laden shot glasses in approval.

Or did they?

Perhaps that's what happened because right around Cinco de Mayo (another Hispanic-related holiday with little significance south of the border) news permeated the blogosphere about Disney attempting to own the name of this cultural holiday in order to protect an upcoming film's title targeting the Hispanic population. 

But the backlash from the minority community regarding this brazen move was loud and clear: Qué te pasa Disney? (What's up with that, Disney?)

Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz managed to quickly create and publish a menacing caricature of a skeletal Godzilla-sized Mickey Mouse with the caption: "It's coming to trademark your cultura (culture)." It became a viral representation of this overreaching move by Disney.

Following the overwhelming negative reaction from the very sector the entertainment giant was trying to enfranchise, Disney retracted the trademark filling stating that they will seek an alternative title for the movie.

A few weeks later, Disney was again under heavy scrutiny resulting from another perplexing decision. The company gave the latest princess to join the classic (but not necessarily classy) line of Disney toys, "Brave's" Merida, a sexy make-over. The original character's wild red hair was tamed, her waist underwent liposuction and her dress shrunk a couple of sizes to reveal her shoulders.

The outrage from parents fed up with the sexualization of their offspring through media and merchandise, sparked the creation of a petition on directed at Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger requesting that Merida be returned to her original appearance.  So far the petition has gathered 250,000 signatures and needs 50,000 more before it can be submitted.

However, due to the public's disagreement with Merida's makeover the scandal apparently subsided when Disney announced the doll would be returned to her original look.

Could Cinco de Drinko be responsible for this set of confounding moves? Not likely. But perhaps it's time corporate starts doing their homework, or hiring paid interns to do some research about past errors in this regard ("Seal Team 6" ring a bell?) before plowing ahead with these obvious blunders.

On the other hand, the family entertainment company already has people who are willing to work close to free. Among the many proactive moves Disney makes is using their Social Media prowess to reach out to bloggers, and particularly to parent bloggers.  We are contacted months in advance with promotional material about upcoming films and products so we can soldier at the ground level and spread the news to our readers and listeners.

I would venture to think that this social media strategy can also work in reverse.  As organized as this promotional blogger outreach is, would it not be wise to sometimes also have us participate as part of a test group of sorts?

Using the same email blasts that reach bloggers' inboxes across this country to gather intelligence on future projects as a weapon against potentially damaging PR (is there such a thing?), might help lessen the seemingly tactless decisions the company has made which tend to disaffect segments of the population. 

Use grass-root bloggers to gain another perspective or insight on sensitive topics or questionable product designs. This practical and inexpensive focus group could work for other companies as well.

Parents, especially those working on the world wide web, are in touch with current issues and products, and will candidly share information about them as can be attested by the vast amount of internet babble (yes, Disney bought coming from households.

After all, parents are the consumers who will ultimately reject a film or product by not participating at the box-office or passing on purchasing sexy dolls on the shelves.  Besides, in the best/worst case, these internet-savvy parents will share their true opinions about these products with their family and friends through the power of social media.

Admittedly, the feedback you get might not match your marketing ideas, but you can always sift through opinions from your end users to test the waters and simultaneously, perhaps even gain positive word-of-mouth momentum on a project or design instead of wasting time and money retracting government filings and redesigning merchandise.

While we're at it, it is especially bewildering to many of us who pay $12 ($48 for a family of 4) to watch a (mediocre) film that looks like not many more than the execs and stars of the cheap reel saw and approved it, probably with Patron in hand, before mass releasing it on the public. Ay, ay, ay!

At any rate, witnessing Disney's recent rash of bad choices boggles the mind, especially when insensitive decisions like slapping a trademark on a foreign national holiday or putting a doll under the knife are announced without as much as a second opinion.

Échale coco, mi querido Disney.

(Use your noggin' my dear Disney)