Issue: Disney increasingly becomes a mainstream brand
Commentary by: David
Buried amid all of the hype for the spectacular $132mm opening weekend take for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is an interesting branding question. What effect will releasing PG-13 movies with the Disney name have on the brand? The Wall Street Journal today summarized Disney’s strategy:
Disney said moviegoers of all ages turned out to see the PG-13-rated “Dead Man’s Chest,” which stars Johnny Depp as swashbuckling pirate Jack Sparrow. That interest is a prime example of Disney’s movie strategy: The studio is extending a move in recent years toward making more Disney-branded fare appealing to a broad audience.
While this strategy seems to make financial sense (PG-13 = broader audiences = more potential moviegoers = bigger profits), this advertising blog believes that Disney is making a serious error which will hurt the brand in the long term. The question Disney should be asking is:
What Does Disney Stand For?
We know what Disney has traditionally stood for: children. Family-friendly entertainment was a means to creating the best possible experience for children. In fact, Disney has been so successful in this quest that the brand has a created a huge reservoir of trust with parents. Want to pop a DVD in the player for the kids to watch? If it has “Disney” on the box you don’t need to worry about it – it’s fine for young kids.
How Does Pirates Change This?
Disney’s move to use the Disney name instead of Touchstone Films (which they had set up to insulate the children’s franchise name Disney from adult titles) on films like the original Pirates and the sequels is slowly but surely undermining Disney’s expertise in children’s entertainment. It is clear that Disney believes this to be a good thing. But it is not. Imagine all of the places that your children would like to go for a vacation. Disney is somewhere near the top of this list, right? To get your tourism dollar, Disney World and Disneyland simply have to keep you from vetoeing your child’s vote.
Now imagine where you might choose to take your family for a vacation if it was entirely up to you. The Bahamas? Europe? This list is much longer and Disney may not feature so prominently on it. Here is the central dilemma of this Disney positioning choice – when Disney stops being the #1 choice for children and starts being family fare – or even worse mainstream entertainment – it loses its competitive advantage. Like thousands of brands from Pierre Cardin to The Ground Round, Disney risks losing its expertise and thereby its competitive power.
This will not happen overnight, of course. Pirates of the Caribbean will not confuse many parents who know what to expect, and the Disney name is fairly small on the original movie’s DVD packaging. But over time, expect to see a real shift in what Disney means. Competitors from Six Flags to Time Warner should be licking their chops because if Disney continues to follow this path they will be easy prey to more focused brands.