Disney enjoys the profits of the Circle of Life

Disney as a brand has far exceeded what is considered possible. However, Jonathan Durden can’t help feeling that somehow he had no choice in whether or not to become one of its customers. Jonathan Durden is managing partner of New PHD.

I have just returned from a family holiday in one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, Disneyworld Florida, and had a wonderful time.

However, I cannot escape the feeling that I had no choice in the matter. It is as if at the birth of our first child, we willingly signed a contract in blood with Walt himself. This committed us to a yearly merchandising deal of 1,000 for branded clothes, toys and videos – with a minimum twice yearly cinema visit to his latest movies thrown in.

On the tenth birthday of the first born, thou shalt visit the theme park and shoot the camcorder evidence. Perhaps that’s what they meant by the song Circle of Life in the Lion King – an unlimited supply of repeat purchase opportunities.

As parents, we seek to relive the nostalgia of our own childhood, and to do this we are recruited as willing participants in perpetuating the Disney brand to our own kids.

Disney has perfected the art of maximising the commercial potential of its talent base, by owning all aspects of its portfolio and by building a vast and sophisticated web of services around them. From the creation and packaging to the distribution of its entertainment products through cinema, TV, video, new media, radio or publishing.

The corporation is now combined with Capital Cities ABC, and is an awesome world-class player in its chosen field.

According to its 1995 financial report, revenues exceeded $12bn (8bn), half from film, a third through theme parks and the remainder from consumer products.

Yet despite its scale, the business is well co-ordinated. In my experience, most media groups act as separate divisions, quite independently or even competitively with each other. Disney exploits cross-promotional opportunities in an apparently seamless manner. For example, mini movies demonstrating the theme park experience directly after home video main features; and one of its ABC TV stars – Ellen – is used to front a ride in the Epcot Centre.

This is an efficient and intelligent strategy and is a sign of a clearly focused culture on a mission to excel. I read a quote in Vanity Fair recently which said that the world has only three institutions: government, religion and Disney.

With an estimated market capitalisation of approximately $50bn, it has certainly come a long long way from a 1928 crackly black and white cartoon of a crudely drawn mouse on a steam boat.

Disney has changed our behaviour as a society, to a point where parents fear being branded as failures if they do not deliver the Disney experience to their offspring by a certain sell-by date – it is the equivalent of paying for your daughter’s wedding.

It is not a monopoly or without strong competition, but our access to it as an advertising medium is more restricted than for other media owners, as it guards its brands jealously and always dominates any joint promotional activity.

As a media professional I am becoming increasingly aware that everything we call a breakthrough or innovation has usually already been achieved by Disney.

As a brand, it has far exceeded what is generally considered possible and I surrender as a mindless sheep to my years of conditioning, and to the constant requests from my children.

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