Born Into Disney

The Walt Disney Company is marketing to newborns and not everyone is thrilled

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Although streaming video into the womb isn't officially The Walt Disney Company's next frontier, its latest move into the hours-old newborn market may be the next best thing. Launched in 580 maternity wards last month, the push for the new DisneyBaby product line consists of having bilingual Disney reps visit new mothers in the hospital to talk about the site DisneyBaby, the clothing line and to try to get moms to sign up with the website for tips and alerts. Reps also give new moms a Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, aka a onesie, and then send them on their way.

This is not the first time Disney has tried to connect with moms and their infants in the hospital, but it is the first time Disney has pursued a one-to-one marketing approach. Its previous effort, and the tool through which Disney gains access to hospital rooms, is the umbrella program called Our365 that slips into maternity wards by offering newborn photographs, pharmacy discounts and access to the Our365 foundation which "provides families in need with emergency assistance for extended hospital stays."

What's different about the DisneyBaby push from Our365, however, is that it is all-Disney-all-the-time. It's also a unique setup because it can be the start of brand affiliation and recognition that goes far beyond the nursery.

Despite CEO Roger Iger's spin that DisneyBaby is “about making something easier and providing them with a personalized, high-quality product,” Disney's Consumer Products Chairman, Andy Mooney isn't so coy. According to Mooney, Disney Baby is about establishing a profitable relationship with the brand. Currently, Mooney says, most kids don't gravitate towards Disney until preschool, which means waiting two to three years before love of  all things Mickey and Princess sets in. The aim of DisneyBaby, according to Mooney, is "to get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before her baby is even born is a home run."

Not everyone likes that idea.

  • It's Pandora's Box, says Gawker's Jeff Neumann who sees the move as a harbinger of the next level of branding, saying "Maybe they'll even sell naming rights for your new baby! How great would it be to name your kid Thumper?"
  • Get Out!  The Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum says a maternity ward sales pitch is a little to close for comfort. His thoughts, "Just in case you were still wondering if anything was still sacred, that’s a no."
  • I Resent This. . .  The Stir's Lauren Flynn Kelly wants what sounds like a restraining order to keep marketers away from new moms. She says the bonding time is too precious, and wouldn't want to take away from that by accepting "something as harmless as a onesie with Minnie Mouse on it, because the implication is that I might be willing to buy something from that company later."
  • . . . But Not Really Kelly's ire is less about the marketing and more about the timing. "I know that Disney will someday be a part of my daughter's life, whether it be a love of The Little Mermaid or a desire to go to Disney World (which, by the way, I totally support; it's a playground for adults, too!). But the maternity ward is a bit early to be suiting her up in Disney merchandise" she says.
  • So What?  In a New York Times interview, new parent Elizabeth Carter said she was surprised that Disney arrived right around the same time as her daughter, Olivia, but really didn't sweat the whole sponsored-onesie issue. "I have to say Olivia looked fabulous, much better than the rough, bulky thing the hospital had her wearing,” she said.
  • Trust People  Marketing professor Philip Kotler told The New York Times the only absurd thing about Disney's approach is that it took so long for them to think of it. As for preying on parents that are too easily sucked into gimmicks, Kotler says those aren't the parents Disney is going after; he says the parents Disney wants are the ones that will say, "Yes, I’m savvy enough to realize what Disney is up to, but I don’t care because this is a really great product.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.