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When it comes to Disney in Europe, it's all about quality and character

When it comes to Disney in Europe, it's all about quality and character

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London was once the center of an immense empire. One on which the sun was said to never set.

Which is why it's probably appropriate that the Walt Disney Company has chosen to base its own European headquarters in London. After all -- thanks to Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney Studios, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea -- the sun now never sets on Disney's theme park empire either.

It is out of the corporation's Hammersmith offices that teams from the Walt Disney Company U.K as well as the Walt Disney Company International - Europe determine how to market & implement most of the Mouse 's products through the rest of Europe.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with an insider of Disney's International/ Europe division. Who clued me in on some of the the trends and day-to-day analysis involved in Mickey's decision making process.

Now I know that some of the following info may seem strange to JHM's stateside readers. But please keep in mind that this analysis is based on the European perception of Disney's current situation. Which perhaps explains its somewhat different tone.

The age group analysis of the "Disney customer profile age" reveals that the company targets children from 0 to 12 years of age. This age group -- which goes from infancy to pre-teenager age -- is slightly shrinking year by year. Therefore forecasting a trend which will lead to the Walt Disney Company to target the ages 0 to 10.

At 12 years of age, children tend to start refusing all things they appreciated most during their infancy. "It feels childish," "I want to look like my older brother/sisters," etc. are all well known problems to this age group. Plus Disney characters are beloved icons for many generations. And -- given that preteens like to eventually distance themselves from everything that their parents and grandparents might love -- their relationship with the Walt Disney Company and its library of characters suffers.

So what are the strategies involved in broadening the appeal of the Disney brand to a wider age range? Making sure that preteens stay connected with Disney's Magic Kingdom as they age?

Were you to take a look at the major franchises (or "character universe" as Disney calls them) that the company is promoting in Europe, you would see something like this:

  • "Mickey & Friends" -- which has a broad appeal from infancy to adulthood (Since it is know that -- after theirs 30s -- people tend to go back to what they appreciated at younger ages.)
  • "Winnie the Pooh & his pals" -- which have moved more than $2 Billion worth of merchandise worldwide. Which have a broad appeal to children & females of all ages.
  • "Disney Princesses" -- Which groups all of Disney's princesses in one brand. A brand that has significant appeal to younger females.

Which brings us to the newcomers in the Disney Family. These are potential franchises that the corporation is still testing. Characters and shows that may eventually have broad appeal to a wider age group. But -- for now -- they still need to prove themselves. Projects like:

  • "W.I.T.C.H." -- This new set of characters -- based on a comic book that was developed here in Milan -- will soon
    be headed to the US to star in their cartoon TV series.
  • "Kingdom Hearts" --This is a franchise based on the popular video game. Though "Kingdom Hearts II" is already on its way to stores, Disney is also exploring the idea of using this game & its characters as a platform for launching a TV series as well as a stand-alone film.
  • "Power Rangers" -- As hard as this may to believe for you Disney purists out there, but the Walt Disney Company is actually counting on this former Saban series becoming a significant revenue producer for the corporation. (Which perhaps explains those "Power Ranger" displays that habe been popping up at the Disney Store both in the U.S. & Europe.
  • The new "Disney Princes / Disney Heroes" product line -- This is the new male oriented action figure and comic book line which Disney will allow them to connect better with that difficult 8 - 12 year old range.

Now keep in mind that the "Power Rangers" and "W.I.T.C.H." characters are owned, controlled and distributed by Disney but don't share the "Disney's Power Rangers" or "Disney's Witch" branding. Why? Because Disney's London office wants to try & keep the core Disney brands as pure as possible.

Which brings us to the most fascinating but of info that got handed to me by my London-based Disney insider friend: The awareness among European consumers of the Disney brands.

To explain: Walt Disney Europe regularly surveys patrons of the company's latest movies, DVDs, videos, etc. Asking these folks all sort of questions to try and see what they think about the latest Disney movies. Questions that largely focus on merchandising and synergy issues, but also to try & see if the audience is reacting as desired to the characters that the company has recently introduced.

And this -- according to the spreadsheets that I just saw -- is where Disney's real problem lies. Take this simple analysis of people recognising a new feature length cartoon as a Disney movie;

" Cinderella II : Dreams Come True" -------- 75%
" Monsters, Inc." ----------------------------- 73%
" Treasure Planet" --------------------------- 72%
" Piglet's Big Movie"-------------------------- 69%
" Atlantis: The Lost Empire"------------------ 65%
" Shrek" -------------------------------------- 62%
" Ice Age" ------------------------------------ 49%

Doesn't really seem all that bad, does it? Well, what if you were to consider the reverse of these ratios:

" Cinderella II : Dreams Come True" -- 25% of all moviegoers didn't realize this was a Disney film.
" Monsters, Inc." ----------------------- 27% of all moviegoers didn't realize this was a Disney film.
" Treasure Planet" --------------------- 28% of all moviegoers didn't realize this was a Disney film.
" Piglet's Big Movie"-------------------- 31% of all moviegoers didn't realize this was a Disney film.
" Atlantis: The Lost Empire"------------ 35% of all moviegoers didn't realize this was a Disney film.

On the upside:

" Shrek" -- 38% of all moviegoers thought that this Dreamworks/PDI animated feature was a Disney film.
" Ice Age" ---- 49% of all moviegoers thought that this Fox / Blue Skies Studio release was a Disney film.

You see the problem that Disney is facing? In Europe as well as the U.S. The lines have begun to blur for consumers. Disney has done such a poor job of deliniating its product lines these past few years that more than 1 out of 4 moviegoers can't tell Disney's films from those produced by the Mouse's competitors.

This is why product lines like "W.I.T.C.H." have become so important to Disney's overseas offices. Given that the folks back in Burbank are no longer churning product of high enough quality that European consumers can tell the difference between Dreamworks characters & Fox characters, the company's international offices are looking for product lines & characters that they themselves can control. That they can guarantee are actually of Disney quality.

With the hope that -- if they do their jobs right -- the sun will actually set on the Disney empire.

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