Disney Sets Its Sights on Newborns

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Disney, undoubtedly one the brands that’s best known to young children, is looking to work its marketing magic at an even earlier age by bringing new mothers into their brand family with a new venture called Disney Baby.

The company launched the business last month by going around to 580 U.S. maternity hospitals, offering new mothers a Disney Cuddly Bodysuit free of charge, reports the New York Times.

The bodysuit, resembling the popular newborn onesie, is cheerily presented to the new mother by a bilingual representative, who asks mom to sign up on the splashy Babyzone website for email alerts, or participate as “Momgineers” to help spread the word.[more]

Disney is gaining access to maternity wards by partnering with Our365, a company that pays hospitals to be able to sell baby pictures taken bedside. Fisher-Price and Procter & Gamble also pay a fee to Our365 to reach the new mother — before she even goes home with her baby.

Disney expects to give away more than 200,000 Disney Cuddly Bodysuits before selling the item in a set of two for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Additional Disney Baby items will also be available through such retailers as Nordstrom and Target. Disney CEO Bob Iger told the Times, “If ever there was an opportunity for a trusted brand to enter a market and provide a better product and experience, it’s this.”

It does seem like a natural for Disney, a company that has managed to attract and engage children of all ages through its television, movies, live shows, interactive games, and theme parks. This new market, however, presents new challenges.

For one thing, Disney already stumbled with babies, at least a little, with its Baby Einstein division. The maker of videos and toys for babies and toddlers over-promised that its products increased a baby’s intelligence but, in 2009, the company refunded consumers’ money in some cases, according to the Times. Baby Einstein is still in business, but it has toned down its claims; now it offers products “created from a baby’s point-of-view.”

This time, however, Disney is pulling out the stops and going after a North American baby market that it says could be worth over $36 billion a year. Bodysuits are just the beginning — the Disney Baby line (which, of course, will manage to work in Disney characters) will include such items as baby food, bath accessories, hats and strollers. There is even the possibility of a loyalty program to keep mothers engaged via email, and potentially offer them free tickets to a Disney theme park as a reward.

In reality, Disney already makes products for babies, but typically through licensing arrangements, such as the one with Kimberly-Clark, which makes Huggies diapers. Through Disney Baby, however, the company will be able to consolidate baby products under one brand. Of course, that puts Disney into a competitive situation with companies like the Nestle division Gerber, long a well-known name in baby food, insurance, and babywear (Gerber created and trademarked “Onesie”).

Disney hopes to leverage its strong name with the goal of moving down a notch from preschoolers; that’s the time when a lot of families get turned onto Disney brands through the Disney Channel. In fact, on February 14 Disney plans to launch a new channel just for preschool viewers called Disney Junior. 

Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, who created the Disney Princess brand 10 years ago, growing it from $300 million to $4 billion, thinks there is significant potential to grow the Disney Baby product line over time, saying “apparel is only a beachhead.”

Philip Kotler, renowned marketing expert and author, agrees that the Disney Baby strategy is “frankly overdue, at least given Disney’s strong track record in other childhood niches. But he cautions, “There are bound to be critics — moms and dads who think Disney is already too powerful a force in the lives of children.”

Indeed, the popular Babble blog for parents has a post from a contributing mom who argues that very point.

But for Disney, a kid is never too tiny to be introduced to Minnie Mouse.

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