In hard times also for the licensing market, The Walt Disney Company’s business has kept growing steadily thanks to the appeal of the stories and characters it keeps creating. In addition to that, Simon Philips, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Disney Consumer Products EMEA, also talks about the company’s core brands and about the Disney Baby brand.

In the morning of January 30th in Nuremberg, at the Spielwarenmesse (International Toy Fair), we had the opportunity to obtain an exclusive interview with Simon Philips, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Disney Consumer Products EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa).

The conversation with Philips starts with his considerations about the ability proven by The Walt Disney Company to counteract the crisis throughout the years: «Good content and good product is key in periods when the economy is being challenged», says Philips. «We have been very fortunate at Disney’s, because we have great content and great product. Take a look at any of the franchises we have: we have been able to continue to grow our business even in these challenged times. So our market share has increased in a period of time economically difficult for the industry, because we have the product that people want. If nothing else has come out of the last two years, for me what has been very evident is that content for the sake of content doesn’t work anymore: there was a period of time, I think five years ago, when there was a huge amount of content out there. At the time nobody was really consuming content digitally: people were still watching linear television, so there was more space, more advertising money going into children’s television and therefore more need of content, content that didn’t necessarily engage; but everybody was creating toys and T-shirts around them. What has happened over the past two years is the way kids are consuming their content now: they’re watching it on television, on their iPad, on their iPhone, on their Android devices, they’re engaging it through apps, they’re engaging it online. When something really engages them they have the opportunity to experience that and want to own the product as well. That has enabled us to gain more shelf space for our product and continue to grow by focusing on great content, wide distribution and true product».

Engaging storytelling

Stories and characters are the real strength of Disney: «Every franchise we have is built around incredible timeless storytelling», says Philips. «That’s because we have engaging content through our publishing business, through our television shows, through our movies, and since we have such great stories that truly engage at the very heart of what the child wants we can invest in the long run, not for just one season. That does make a difference because when Disney is behind something retailers and licensees know that the project has great consistency. I’ve had the privilege of working on some of the biggest toy-based properties ever: Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, phenomenal properties but they came and they went.They don’t engage in the same way as Disney characters engage because our storytelling is second to none and because most characters appeal to different generations: let’s take Frozen as an example, it has been incredibly successful because as a parent you watch it and you love it, because the storytelling is timeless and the animation is beautiful, the music is incredible, and the kids love it because the story works and it is genre neutral, it appeals to girls and boys as well. Frozen will be huge throughout 2014 and 2015, with a special show scheduled for the summer of 2014 to be followed by the Christmas program.

Looking back at 2013, we ask Philips which have been the most successful franchises for Disney consumer products on a European level: «That’s difficult. Mickey and Minnie continued to be outstanding, among our classic characters. Planes, Cars and the Princesses have been huge. Spider-Man and other Marvel characters continued to be some of the world’s best performing products. In Italy (but also in Spain, France and Eastern Europe) Violetta has been an unexpected and incredible success».

Disney Baby: a total offer for mum

The brand Disney Baby for the first time unites under the same umbrella a wide range of baby care products covering any moment of the day of mother and her child. On this subject Simon Philips comments: «The brand represents an evolution of the Disney Stores’ experience, where we merchandise by franchise not by product, because that is how the consumer shops; we took that learning and went to some key retailers across Europe (including some in Italy) and started to develop Disney areas which are merchandised by franchise. Disney Baby has been able to bring together a total offering for mum – or grandma or dad – so that she doesn’t have to shop by aisle but she can shop all in a specific section. It is an important development because it is not based on the retailer’s mentality but on the consumer’s requirements. We worked with the retailers to bring that together. It’s interesting because it’s easier to do that online rather than in physical stores; however, since shopping habits are changing and retailers are realizing that this is how the consumer shops they appreciate very much our proactive effort to bring it all together. And this is Disney Baby: it’s about understanding the consumer and providing a solution for the consumer who wants the bedding, the clothes, the changing mat, the curtains, the night light and the feeding items to be coordinated. Specialists in children’s furniture have always known this and have been acting accordingly. But the mass market retailers, the hypermarkets are not used to retailing like that. Disney Baby is both an evolution for us in terms of how we can work with our mass market retailers to pull together coordinated ranges and also of how we can satisfy the demand of the consumer, offering something very comforting and magical, as well as very reliable. That is a key point, trust with our consumers: applying Disney to a product is a responsibility, we are extremely careful, especially when it comes to the baby area, that we give a product that lives up to the expectations, and consumers have very high expectations with Disney. For all these reasons specialist retail is very much an integral part of Disney Baby as is the mass market retail. It has to be like that: wherever the consumer goes we want to be».

Author: Daniele Caroli

Editor-in-chief of Il Giornale dell’Infanzia, BCMI member magazine