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Disney in Denial; Part 1: Introduction

Imagine if The Walt Disney Company announced its intent to reshape its princess movies. Its research had shown it would be better to craft these films to appeal more to boys than to girls. The company acknowledged the move was risky, given the customer expectations that had built up over the course of generations, but it was moving ahead.

Such a strategic shift would naturally raise questions about its rationale and impact. The cultural and financial media would eagerly assess how well the new movies appealed to boys and girls and the effectiveness of the new strategy.

Disney, of course, hasn’t done this. What they have done is consciously reimagine the Star Wars franchise, historically favored by men, to resonate more with women. Had this strategy been executed thoughtfully, it could have expanded the franchise's customer base, but that’s not what happened.

The strategy’s failure started becoming apparent five years ago. Yet, the Company has made no mention of it. Outside of social media, you don’t hear much about it in the press. Perhaps, that’s because, initially, it showed such promise. Its first two theatrical releases were very successful, and the third film opened well. But it all went steadily downhill from there.

And it went downhill in a surprising and ironic way. The more Disney tried to orient its films to women, the more disengaged women became. Men disengaged as well, but women did so in greater proportion. And this pattern of disengagement isn’t limited to Star Wars movies. Across Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney+, the more an episode appears to be geared toward women, the lower women rate the show.

Yet, Disney has acted as if the only people upset about its new direction are a small group of disgruntled men. In short, Disney is in denial. Ignoring what your customers are plainly telling you is rarely good for business. I believe Disney's apparent disregard for its customers is contributing to the rapid decline of its corporate reputation."

In just four years, Disney has fallen from the fifth most respected company among US consumers to #77. It’s ranked #84 for trust, which is seriously damaging for a company expecting parents to expose their children to its content sight unseen.

Wall Street has taken notice. Netflix’ streaming service is now valued at $30 billion more than Disney’s parks, studios, merchandising, networks, etc.

There would be little to learn from this if this were just a matter of a studio that had a string of bad luck. This is something else. It’s systemic, and Disney isn’t likely to fully recover unless it is addressed.

In the coming weeks, I will tell this story one post at a time, I’ll steadily build the case that Disney embarked on a risky strategy, ignored all the signs it wasn’t working, and continues to double down.

I promise an interesting and engaging story that will help any company understand how to translate customer analytics into profitable strategies.


The next post in the series is available here.


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