animation cartoon cartoon character disney

A Critical Analysis of the Corporate Marketing Strategy of the Disney Corporation (2010)

Still one of my proudest works to date. There may be errors but it was one of my final business assignments back in 2010. Let’s deep dive back into my 22-year-old mind!


I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse (Disney, W., 1994).Contemporary Issues in Marketing

Introduction and History

Disney is a well known worldwide corporation that has stakes in many different areas of the business world. It all began with one philosophy of “Dream, Dare, Believe, Do” (Capodagli & Jackson, 1998), where in 1923 and young Walter Elias Disney, also known as Walt Disney, borrowed $500 from his Uncle to start what is now a billion dollar corporation. Walt Disney has engrained this concept in his business practices, employees, or cast members as they are called at the Disney Corporation, and his guests. It was Walt Disney’s dream to surprise, delight, and to bring imagination to life (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010). Currently Disney is sitting as the number one media conglomerate in the world just as its success from Alice in Wonderland in 3D arises (Bloomberg, 2010)

The Walt Disney Company is involved in many sectors including all of the following: Studio, Entertainment and Film; Media Networks including Broadcast Television, Cable Television, Radio, Music, Publishing and Magazines; Distributors; Parks and Resorts; Consumer Products; Education; and finally Development Studios.

The company began in a cartoon studio, creating Alice’s Wonderland, later known in the feature length cartoon movie Alice in Wonderland, without sound in what was known as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. This was later changed to Walt Disney Studio in an agreement between Walt and his brother Roy. After a complication to losing rights to a cartoon series of Steamboat Willie, the first design of the would be Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks, Disney’s premier animator, along with Walt, designed Mickey Mouse to became the first synchronized sound cartoon (Lessig, 2004). After the success of this, further characters were designed and cartoons were developed to meet demand. The first merchandise for Disney was developed in 1930 and their first feature length cartoon in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and became the highest grossing film of all time, that is until Gone with the Wind came along. The war had limited audiences and had put Disney in a financial slump however at the request of the State Department, further films were made. Walt saw potential in the television and developed the first television mini-series Davy Crockett and remained on air for 29 years. The Mickey Mouse Club was developed in 1955 for children based on stars and was a very popular television series. Once Walt had mastered television production and feature length films, he looked for new endeavours. This being theme parks and carnivals and what is known as Disneyland was born and a new park opened July 17, 1955. 

Walt Disney passed away in 1966 and in 1981 “Walt Disney Productions acquires the rights to WaltDisney’s name, likeness and portrait, as well as the steam train and monorail systems at Disneyland, from Retlaw for 888,461 shares of common stock, worth $46.2 million” (Disney, 2009). 1983 was the beginning of Walt Disney Pictures, a separate entity dedicated to the development of films and their technologies. And Tokyo Disneyland opens for business. The Disney Channel broadcasts in 1983 which started as a small part of the Disney Company, but plays now a significant amount to their returns. In 1986, Walt Disney Productions became what it is known as today, The Walt Disney Company, with the debut of The Disney Store the following year selling Disney merchandise. Euro Disney opens in 1991 to further develop the Disneyland enterprise into different continents. Disney fully obtain rights to ABC and their shareholders in 1996, this is a  key company as it involves not only television but radio and publishing sectors. Also over the course of this decade, Disney merges with Pixar and Miramax, launches Disney.com, Disney Radio premiers in 1996 and the Disney cruise line is launched in 1998 all of which moving with the time in this technological era. After the turn of the century, Disney create California Adventure, an addition to the Disneyland already functioning in Los Angeles. Also acquire the Muppets and Disneyland Hong Kong opens. Pixar is fully acquired in 2006 and Club Penguin is taken over by Disney to become a new online kids club. Disney rebrand their Hollywood Studios and DisneyNature is created as a new brand to create feature length documentaries about the environment and economic responsibility. By the end of this decade, Disney has developed a new channel DisneyXD to be released in 2010 specifically targeting boys, launch D23, an online community for Disney fans, and Disney acquires not only partial ownership in AETN who own The History Channel, but also Marvel, a comic creating company that has developed comic book heroes such as Spiderman and Ironman, proving to be quite a beneficial for both parties partnership. Finally by the end of 2009 the board of directors has executive changes and Rich Ross is appointed the new Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios and John E. Pepper Jr. Is the Chairman of the Disney Company Board since 2007. 

It is essential to understand the history of The Walt Disney Company to see how their corporate strategy has been developed and enhanced over the course of their almost 90 years in imagineering. 

Corporate Goals

As mention above in the company history, Walt Disney believed in the following philosophy: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do (Capodagli & Jackson, 1998). It was noted by Capodalgi and Jackson (1998), 10 key beliefs Disney lives by in their business practices and these include the following:

  • “Give every member of your organisation a chance to dream, and tap into the creativity those dreams embody”
  • “Stand firm on your beliefs and principles”
  • “Treat your customers like guests”
  • “Support, empower and reward employees”
  • “Build long-term relationships with key suppliers and partners”
  • “Dare to take calculated risks in order to bring innovative ideas to fruition”
  • “Train extensively and constantly reinforce the company’s culture”
  • “Align long-term vision with short-term execution”
  • “Use the storyboard technique to solve planning and communication problems”
  • “Pay close attention to detail”                         

(Capodagli & Jackson, 1998)

To reaffirm these goals, Connellan talks of seven keys to Disney’s success as being the competition is everyone, pay close attention to detail, everyone and everything must embody what it is to be Disney, all cast members are responsible for customer satisfaction, reward, recognise and celebrate individual achievements and each and everyone makes a difference to how the company is perceived, everyone matters (Connelan, 1997). These will also be addressed in Disney’s company strategies, but we can see the connection of these writers of Disney’s Corporate Goals. 

The first information they mention when looking at the Disney’s company overview is that they remain “faithful to their commitment to produce unparalleled entertainment experiences based on the rich legacy of quality creative content and exceptional storytelling” (The Walt Disney Company 1, 2010). This key mission is relevant to all their subsidiaries and affiliates, as a company for “international family entertainment and media enterprise with four business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment and consumer products” (The Walt Disney Company 1, 2010).  Disney’s philosophy is “to surprise, delight and to bring imagination to life” (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010) which is brought out in the way the company is run and how they want the atmosphere to be within not only the Disney Company but also its subsidiaries and affiliates.

Currently, Disney key operants in New Zealand are the Disney Channel, their games sold in retail stores, movies shown in New Zealand cinemas such as Alice in Wonderland, and on Sky Television in the ABC network. Also available to New Zealanders is their various websites by their subsidiaries as well as their own such as  A goal that has been inherent from the start to now by Walt Disney is making the unimaginable to being imaginable with the use of the latest technologies for all its users to enjoy (Lessig, 2004).

Corporate and B2C Brand Strategy

Disney is known for its happiness and joy bringing to children and families. This is perceived as a part of their brand strategy, it is a perception that is crucial to all areas of their company from the theme parks, to their media networks, to their subsidiaries. Many talk of brands as personalities as they can vary across nations and can be a part of a bigger picture than just a name of a business (Rajagopal, 2009), and this appears to be the case with The Walt Disney Company. 

We must therefore begin with the Walt Disney Studios is the fundamentally basis of how they operate their business and where this history lies. It has been known that Disney wants to deliver the most creative and unimaginable films and technologies to their audience and this has been done through acquiring competing businesses like Pixar, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel and soon to be closed, Mirimax. To ensure every market is obtained to gain more profits and increase the enjoyment of the end users thus increasing market share. Walt Disney Studios have been used to make their earliest cartoons to big scale movies like Pirates of the Caribbean proving to be a large asset to the Disney brand and an asset that must be held on to. This brings me to my next point of ownership. Ownership of Disney’s materials began very early in the business with the loss of Steamboat Willie. Walt Disney did not completely own this cartoon and lost it to a back hand deal by his animators. From this point on, he decided everything Disney created must be fully owned by The Walt Disney Company. Therefore if we look at Appendix One at what the company owns and where, every stage of the production process is in some way owned by The Walt Disney Company including the stars on the Disney Channel we know and love on New Zealand’s Sky Television. We may ask why, but it is simple to say that it is Walt Disney’s wish that all the money goes back into Disney at the end of the day and not lost with other corporations benefiting from what Disney has worked hard to achieve.

Disney hires over 2000 individual to act as imagineers within The Walt Disney Company. These imagineers “are the inspiration for a concept called dream retreats where a small team meets in an office of the team leader” and they map out possible, and impossible rides and create the new adventures that finally will be made into park attractions (Capodagli & Jackson, 1998). These cast members are key to the development of The Walt Disney Company as they inspire and dream for the end users to take enjoyment in. 

Through adopting Marvel, its brand and characters that come with it, it opens up more possibilities and a wider age gap that Disney can target their promotional sales and movies at. Through different media platforms and geographical markets it would be strategically enhance The Walt Disney Company’s audience and spread across the media and communications industry (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). This is, of course, all a part of their expansion strategy of advancing technology while lowering costs to production without sacrificing the quality that is expected of Disney to deliver to its stakeholders (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). To ensure positive competitiveness, Disney has streamlined it marketing, distribution and production teams within the Disney Studios to be more proactive and efficient with the production and release of films and created a new segment of the business called the Disney Interactive Media Group to keep on top of new technologies in the gaming industry thus expanding further their brand (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). 

The Walt Disney Company has a key corporate responsibility strategy segmented into six categories being children and family, contents and products, environment, community, workplace and looking ahead. These six categories illustrate where the company has proven to be evident in society as well as not being all about themselves, at least making an impression of this. They wish to develop quality entertainment that brings children and families together whilst promoting safety and encouraging confidence, happiness and fun for all ages (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010). The have a commitment to excellence and have their guests safety and heart in all aspects of its content and products, also they have diversity in content and produce reliable broadcast journalism (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010). They have recently developed DisneyNature, dedicated to improve awareness of the environment through documentaries, but they also promote conservation and draw attention to environmental issues where possible in their media (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010). They are even constantly working toward curbing their own environmental footprint. The Walt Disney Company has a commitment to communities through collaborating with local organisations and having a form of a volunteer programme, they are able to donate to causes such as building houses, donating food, clearing waste and kids all over the world are able to help (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010). In the workplace they want to make dreams come true. To promote a safe inclusive and respectful environment for people to grow and thrive. Employees are known as cast members to channel a sense of creativity and they also offer an institute for company’s to train employees in the Disney business practices that seem so successful all over the globe. Looking ahead they wish to be at the top of the technological innovations, improve efficiency to help the environment and to strengthen the connection between their consumers and neighbours in communities all over the world (The Walt Disney Company 2, 2010).  So what this ultimately means as a strategy for The Walt Disney Company is that in their business practices they keep these as values towards what they wish to achieve overall. They would be reviewed annually but the principle message they are wanting to get across is that reliance on the strength of their brands and the quality of entertainment given to their end user (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). 

From an American conglomerate point of view, a strategy used by the Coco Cola and could easily be a functional strategy for The Walt Disney Corporation is the Brand Asset Management Pyramid:(Davis, 2002)This diagram illustrates the importance of ensuring resources are used effectively and with a company like The Walt Disney Company, it is crucial that the resources are sorted through attributes, functional benefits and emotional and self expressive benefits and then that this reflect the image of the brand (Davis, 2002). As brand loyalty drives repeat business, the brand must keep the trustworthy image and therefore if the company follows through the pyramid above it will lead to this (Davis, 2002). Therefore from what we can understand of this, is that the brand is an asset to the company that must be treated as one. A way in which competitive brands are built is through giving the customers relevant, consistent and a differentiated brand experience (Davis, 2002) and The Walt Disney Company has this commitment to the brand that achieves this continually. 

As The Walt Disney Company is a key international brand, the point that the number of companies they own gives them a wider spread of brand recognition. A greater attention is needed to coordinating and integrating marketing strategy across markets (Douglas, Craig & Nijssen, 2001). Disney achieves this by having offices based in key countries such as New Zealands first contact to Disney is in Australia, having this close connection means the brand can be personalised and specifically targeted to each market. The companies brand architecture would be therefore Monolithic branding, the “corporation uses one name and identity worldwide”; and Branded Strategy, “emphasises multiple product-level brands” the corporate brand name only used as a holding company (Douglas, Craig & Nijssen, 2001). This is assumed to be the case as Disney;s subsidiaries do not explicitley say o have Disney’s brand on their service, and all products and services made directly under Disney include the brand and are assumed to be part of The Walt Disney Company (). From the research done, it is best for the corporate strategy to not only be done as an overall plan but also within each sector of the business as each has a very different part to play in the Walt Disney Company. In the 2009 fiscal report it emphasises where The Walt Disney Company wishes to plan for the future, and strategies they need to achieve this. Points included being the leader in high quality branded content through the use of technology to make that content compelling and to reach more customers in more ways (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). They believe this to be a strong strategy and will ensure competitive advantage and will deliver long term value to shareholders (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010).Stakeholder Relationships and Strategy

It can be seen in the appendix, where the key internal stakeholders lie within The Walt Disney Company. They have stakes in the following media categories: Studio, Film and Entertainment and Internet; Parks and Resorts; Consumer Products; Distributors; Development Studios; Broadcast Television; Cable Television; Radio; Music; Publishing; Magazines. Disney controls every step of the production processes of all tasks they perform. This was insisted on from the early days of the company when Steamboat Willie was lost due to lack of complete ownership (Lessig, 2004). Therefore this has become a strategy for expansion for The Walt Disney Company in order to obtain and sustain the greatest market share. Also another key feature of obtaining and holding stakeholders in through their customer service strategies. Customers are continually treated as guests. They are the stakeholder, they bring in revenue to the company, they are the most important asset to Disney and if they were to spread the word of this attitude presented to them in all aspects of Disneys business, then more consumers, buyers, or external stakeholders will express their interest and the cycle occurs again. There has almost become no need for Disney to advertise as being the largest media conglomerate (Boorstin & Wheat, 2003), they have established who they are, and if one was to notice for example the Disney Channel, there is no external advertising, only for Disney shows or up and coming events that involve Disney in one way or another. Also at prime time, the Disney Channel has more viewers than its competitors  Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network (Boorstin & Wheat, 2003). There is little need for them to advertise and therefore more would be spent within keeping this customer service elite and ensuring an advantage over competition in terms of technilogical advances and meeting consumers demands.  

Due to unforeseen circumstances, possibly because of the recession, Disney has had to dissolve Mirimax into a part of Disney and therefore Mirimax will no longer exist as a part of the Disney empire. These plans are set in stone however there are possibilities of a takeover by the original owners, the Weinstein family, however Disney overvalues Mirimax at 1.5 billion dollars and could mean this will not be possible, it all depends on whether Disney is willing to settle for a lower value (Russ Fischer, 2010). This is believed to have been occurred “from the purchase by Disney, the departure of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the takeover by Daniel Battsek, Disney continually marginalized the label, but Dick Cook said it would always continue, When Cook was ousted and Battsek shortly after, it was evident that the days of Mirimax were numbered” (Russ Fischer, 2010). As a cause of the recession and tightening of funds, a more direct approach to their strategies has had to be arranged. In 2003, it was narrowed to three aims being to develop new attractions, improve Customer Relationship Managment and set Disney up as a category beating themed destination (Burt, 2003). The guest levels were lowering at the resorts and it would only get worse so this strategy lifted the key areas of what consumers want.

As The Walt Disney Company points out that they do not discriminate and offer equal opportunities, it is perhaps interesting to note that once a year they have a Gay Day at Disneyland specifically designed to show Disney’s support to gay and bisexual rights and benefits (Silver, 1998).  This was brought at the time when it was not entirely socially accepted but needed to be brought forward as an acceptable state of being. Many obviously opposed it and threatened to boycott Disney, but as Silver (1998) states it’s almost “in” to be “out”. 

It was analysed by Richard Siklos (2009) that The Walt Disney Company wanted to strategically create an alliance with Dreamworks Animation to compliment their addition of Pixar. It was noted that they needed Steven Spielberg on board as a successful director and producer as he has an allegiance with Dreamworks. It would also mean that they are able to expand into Bollywood as Dreamworks moves some funding to make these films (Siklos, 2009) as easy money makers at over four billion New Zealand Dollars in revenue a year (Chatterjee, 2010). Also as Disney has never won a best picture award, obtaining a production company like Dreamworks and integrate them with already obtained Touchstone, then they are sure to have a winner (Siklos, 2009). This has become a twelve year plan to integrate Dreamworks with Touchstone Pictures and will be actioned over this period. By obtaining Dreamworks, it would obtain another competitors studio as their own and lowering again their competition. Competition is key when looking at The Walt Disney Company’s stakeholders, as these are the opposition that Disney wishes to have the upper hand of in the entertainment and media industry. 

Currently The Walt Disney Company sits top of the media conglomerate companies with News Corporation coming a close second as their main competitors (Bloomberg, 2010). News Corp, as it is widely known, was founded and is owned by Rupert Murdoch in 1979 and was later found to become a US Corporation in 2004. News Corp owns Fox Broadcasting Company, which owns 20th Century Fox and Fox Television, various newspapers such as the New York Post and other areas of the media (NewsCorp 1, 2010). 

Another aspect of The Walt Disney Company’s competition is Vivendi which is operated mostly in France and owns NBC Universal, Universal Music Group and 50% of Activision-Blizzard (Vivendi 1, 2010). These three key areas are also where Disney is currently operating and as a company such as Activision-Blizzard is one of the foremost gaming companies which produce Role Playing Games like World of Warcraft that have a widely committed following (11.5 million subscribers) (Vivendi, 2010), Disney should follow similar strategies from them especially as this area is not as developed at the moment but certainly will be as Disney’s position in the market place has dictated.

Apart from competition, key external stakeholders include advertisers, travel agents, studio operations, Disney Meetings and Conventions and the Disney Institute. The Walt Disney Company deals with external business wishing to learn their effective business practices or wishing to use their extravagant facilities. This is possible through their institute and meetings and convention centre. Also travel agents are needing to work alongside Disney to produce viable travel plans for their guests and effective traveling between resorts as customer service is one of Disney’s top priorities this stakeholder is a key intermediary stakeholder between Disney and its guests. Advertisers wishing to advertise at Disney resorts, on their television broadcasts, radio and other media have a stake in what Disney own as it can influence where they wish to advertise and who it is broadcasted to.

An is an interesting point is that the United States government has a large stake in the Disney empire. There is the Walt Disney World Public Affairs department whose purpose is to “work closely with internal and external stakeholders to develop legislation or other governmental policies and procedures which protect and promote Walt Disney World Company” (WDW Public Affairs, 2010). This sort of governmental involvement can mean one will start to think whether they had a bigger plan for The Walt Disney Company. This is answered by Karen Harmel (2006) who discussed the government involvement had started to push for fingerprint scanners for entry and as fingerprints would be recorded and the government is classed as a shareholder to the company they would be able to gain this information, at this point in time Disney had not disclosed whether it would be passed to the government or not. After September 11, the government approached Disney for advice on intelligence, security and biometrics in order to identify more carefully individual’s unique characteristics (Harmel, 2006). This also proves that the government have such a great stake with Disney that perhaps the giant conglomerate of the future will be Disney and that would be perhaps their ultimate future plan. If the government has a great stake in what your company does, then obviously they would want to at their best produce exactly if not better than what they expect to gain more future benefits of this sort of alliance.

Contribution to Shareholder Value

Disney does pride itself in creating value to their shareholders. They provide clear and precise annual documents to them known as a “Factbook” which detail, very colourfully, their history, current directors in all divisions, and top earnings over that year and future projects. Giving shareholders this overview along with their annual reports, helps in understanding clearly where the company is adding value to its shareholders, along with making an easy to understand outlay of revenue and expenditure, involving therefore their shareholders more through increased understanding. From the most recent Factbook, it can be understood that Disney’s film “Up” was the first to beak $100 million in 3D Box Office ticket sales, a new Disney resort is set to open in 2011 in Hawaii, Disney Consumer Products is the world’s largest licensor in terms of global sales and their ABC Television has now 233 local stations reaching 99% of the population in the United States television households (The Walt Disney Company, 2009), all of which add value to their shareholders as it adds income and attractiveness to the Disney image. Currently according to their latest annual report that they were hit by the economic recession by a loss in share price by 20% and loss in revenue by 4% (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). Within their Annual Fiscal Report various questions are asked and answered of how the company will combat certain situations, answering what can be believed to be shareholders concerns. Having these listed in such a way would be reassurance of a proper risk analysis has been completed in all the possibilities of where loss of revenue could occur (The Walt Disney Company 3, 2010). This in itself is improving shareholder value, giving them the reassurance that Disney knows what it is doing and has a plan if or when operations go awry. As mentioned above, the dissolving or potential sale of Mirimax would mean lower costs to Disney in the long term. This is a key point for contribution to shareholder value as Disney must make this cut to ensure shareholders are given the best value for money, and if Mirimax is currently losing money, this must be the best option.

The internet group owned by Disney, Walt Disney Internet Group, provide a state of the art services on all web based sites and programs. An example of their excellence was when September 11 hit, the group were able to quickly handle the extra load of traffic to the ABC website almost instantaneously when over 15 times the normal load were needing up to date information (Prencipe, 2002). Therefore they are continually checking the traffic to the website, ensuring they have the most up to date software to handle any emergencies and meet all user expectations (Prencipe, 2002). This increases value to the shareholders by knowing this reliable service is available and that they are keeping an eye on all available technologies to ensure efficient practices and services are achieved. 

A way in which The Walt Disney Company adds value to its shareholders is through this constant need to improve on current technologies. They have become their own lead users, that is they have a need that has not been developed yet and so they develop it (Schreier & Prugl, 2008). It was noted by Capodagi and Jackson (1998) that Walt Disney’s fundamental strategy was to improve their customer service, productivity, and internal relations, whilst also developing an aura of fun in the workplace and for guests. This adds to the shareholder value though improving what The Walt Disney Company is perceived by those outside of the company and end users as a great place to work and be a part of and if consumers act upon this belief and spend within the Disney Corporation, revenue therefore increases alongside the value that shareholders receive from this through dividends.

Conclusion

The Walt Disney Company have started from a small beginning to being the number one media conglomerate of the United States of America and the World. It has stakes in all of its development processes so that they will receive all revenue from their efforts. This has been distilled in the company since its early days and will continue to operate in this way well into the future. It operates to give the best entertainment to its audiences while using state of the art technologies that are always open to improvement. They ensure employees, or as they are known cast members, with respect and ensure creativity and dreams are enhanced in day to day tasks. In order to have the success that Disney has had over the last almost ninety years, it is their attention to detail that keeps guests coming back for more, and broadcasted television is continually giving end users what they want and need. 

What Walt Disney has done is recreated the past for the future for audiences young and old and developed technologies that will be further developed well into the future, what was unimaginable will always be made imaginable by the Walt Disney Company (Lessig, 2004). Ultimately, The Walt Disney Company rely on the strength of their brands and the quality of entertainment to bring them through times of good and bad and this will be the reason why they will continue to exist long into the future.


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