Monday, January 11, 2010
The Problem with Princesses
Once upon a time, Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty weren't part of a calculated princess franchise. They were each a part of their own unique story and film that appealed to everyone of all ages and were each a part of the great Disney family. But in 2000, somebody got a great idea. As stated in the company's own words, the consumer products division "brought all of Disney's beloved heroines -- Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White -- together in a comprehensive collection of fantasy-based girls' entertainment and products called the Disney Princess brand." (Did you notice that you don't even have to be a princess to be a Disney Princess? Just ask Mulan and Pocahontas!)
Hitting the Target. On the surface, it's hard to argue with the result: $4 billion in global sales. But is there a long term cost to this success? Because of the aggressive and successful marketing of the Disney Princess brand, these characters -- and the movies they starred in -- are now exclusively seen as the domain of little girls under the age of about 10. But the movies themselves are so iconic to the traditional image of Disney that now even the Disney brand is often associated with little girls, leading to Disney's perceived boy problem. "Aladdin" was a blockbuster hit that appealed to boys and girls of all ages and to adults and parents too. Now, it's primarily marketed as the movie with Jasmine and the magic carpet ride.
Stuck in the Swamp. "The Princess and the Frog" is the first movie conceived from the beginning as an extension of the Disney Princess brand. They were so aware of it's potential in this regard that they made sure to put it right in the title (the fairytale is traditionally called "The Frog Prince," after all). This may have been the fatal flaw. What little boy wants to go see a princess movie? What teenager wants to? When you only sell a princess movie, you will only get a princess audience. This may be the best explanation for the dissappointing box office numbers. In the short term, this calculation may pay off. Toys and other merchandise related to the movie may sell quite well, more than justifying the cost of the movie. But what about the long term value of "The Princess and the Frog"? Will it endure to become a genuine Disney classic, and not simply another princess product? Disney is at its best when it provides quality entertainment for the whole family, not aimed carefully at micro-targeted demographics. "The Princess and the Frog" certainly qualifies, even if the suits in merchandising and marketing didn't realize it.