offers a product line of 500 DVDs, CDs, books, toys, baby gear, and other paraphernalia.
The company was launched in 1997 by Julie Aigner-Clark, a mother of two from Colorado. She and her husband invested their US$ 18,000 personal savings into the development of their first video, "Baby Einstein Language Nursery," aimed at stimulating the senses of babies through simple images and music.
The first video's success led to more videos including "Baby Mozart" and "Baby Bach," each with a common look and feel of real-world images (from toys to nature to the couple's two daughters) on predominantly white backgrounds combined with classical music reductions as the soundtrack. Each video also employed a consistent naming system of "Baby + [Insert a Genius' Name Here]," which lent to an easily identifiable brand architecture for parents to associate the actual video title with the overall brand name.
The white background and vivid color used consistently in the videos translated over to the expanding company's visual identity and use of secondary graphics as well. The Baby Einstein logo remains to this day a colorful, hand drawn-inspired word-mark of the brand name alongside a drawing of a bespectacled, messy-haired baby genius.
It's notable that although the company was purchased in 2001 by the Walt Disney Company, Baby Einstein's visual identity has not changed since the Aigner-Clark days. What has changed visually is an ever-growing cast of cartoon-like animal characters who appear in and on the products as graphic images as well as puppets both within the videos and as products for sale. (Curiously, the Disney parent company brand endorsement has an extremely low profile, appearing visually in unobtrusive places on the website and products rather than vying for the limelight with the Baby Einstein brand identity.)
With a current DVD/video catalog of more than 20 products, the quality of the videos has evolved from simple graphic images and video shots to dramatic footage of sea animals (such as in "Baby Neptune") and real-working farm shots (such as in "Baby MacDonald"). The music has also (thankfully) evolved from simplistic synthesized keyboards to richer, more orchestrated scores. In addition, the cast and diversity of the children featured in the videos are no longer limited to the couple's two daughters.
In its early days, the Baby Einstein product line grew quickly from the original videos to CDs and books. Under Disney today, the product line has hyper-expanded (thanks to the magic of licensing) to include infant toys and puppets, baby toiletries, baby gear made by Graco, and even party supplies such as paper plates, cups, and hats.
The line is sold through the usual big-box retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys "R" Us as well as online and competes with an ever-growing array of brands (from Baby Genius to LeapFrog, VTech, and Fisher-Price) vying for a chunk of the educational market.
Where the video and book content truly do encompass the Baby Einstein brand, the toy and gear products have to rely solely on a common palette of colors and the original characters to carry the brand. Despite the cute, crudely drawn appeal of the animal characters, they hardly have enough personality for one to even remember their names. If there has been any impact on the character side, it's been through the brand's inspiration for a preschooler-targeted animated television series that debuted in 2005 on the Disney Channel called "Little Einsteins." Not surprisingly, the TV show is spawning its own product array for young prodigies.
The making-your-baby-a-genius movement is as hot as ever within the parenting community, but it is not without its critics. Earlier this year, the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (formerly Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children) complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—the US government agency that regulates radio and television broadcasting—and filed a lawsuit against Baby Einstein and other similar content companies, citing "false advertising."
The watchdog group bases its allegations on an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for children under the age of 2 years old to not watch any television. According to the group, only 6 percent of parents are actually aware of this recommendation and yet 49 percent believe that educational videos are "very important in the intellectual development of children."
Despite criticism, the baby-education concept and brand is hardly limited to the US. Baby Einstein products were introduced a few years ago in Japan and China. And two young Canadian entrepreneurs, inspired by the brand, are hoping to recreate its success by developing a similar line for the Arabic-speaking Muslim world.
Yet for all the hoopla over Baby Einstein and its diverse product offerings, actual revenue is still relatively small when you consider other products catering to kids. Although the company sold $200 million of products last year (according to Time magazine), the ever-effervescent Barbie brand sold over $3 billion.