Does Disney really care if your kids are fat?

Picture_5 I don’t need to tell you how pro-Disney I am.  I love the brand, I love the culture, I love the actual experience.  It is where I go to re-charge and relax.  It is, in my mind, my place.

So it pains me to call bull#&*@^ on Disney.  But I’ve got to.

Thanks to a post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix (by Ted Mininni) and a follow up from Cam Beck at ChaosScenario, I learned about an article on CNN/

It reported that Disney has pledged their efforts to fight childhood obesity by launching a new line of products called Disney Garden that will include Mickey-shaped snack trays with combinations of celery, peanut butter and raisins or apples, cheese and crackers and others. Other items include sugar snap peas, honey orange carrot coins, cheesy broccoli bites and miniature apples, peaches, pears, plums and oranges.

Disney was one of a dozen companies that made a pledge before an FTC hearing in July that put more pressure on the companies to help curb the growing child obesity problem through more responsible marketing.

So Disney must be committed to eradicating childhood obesity, right?

I don’t really think so.  I’m sure they recognize its a problem.  And they certainly don’t want to purposefully fatten up your kids. 

But Disney Garden is brand extension, not social responsibility. 

Let’s face it, Disney is all about being family friendly.  They want to create brand loyalty among family decision-makers.  Where better than the grocery store?  And who better to cozy up to than Mom?  What is one of the hottest topics among parents today?  Childhood obesity.

Here’s the pesky part of this new breed of marketing. For it to be authentic and embraced by your consumers, there can’t be any "holes" in the story.  You have to be able to prove that you are walking your talk.

In this case, here are some of the holes I might reluctantly poke into Disney’s pledge against obesity (childhood or otherwise):

  • Disney has granted the exclusive privilege of a presence inside their parks to McDonalds and their french fry wagons.  So much for their break from Mickey D’s. The only thing those wagons sell — fries, sodas and bottled water.
  • Disney owned ABC Network still accepts and runs plenty of commercials for Doritos, sugar-laden cereal and other junk foods.  And they run plenty of them during Saturday morning cartoons and Hannah Montana reruns.
  • I just visited Disney’s website for Kids Island and watched a cool web ad for Cheetos.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think Disney is out to fatten up our kids.  And I know they are doing some things to offer healthy alternatives, like offering carrots instead of fries.  But to lay claim to a position as the industry leader out fighting obesity seems a stretch. 

Today’s marketing needs to be very wary of hype.  And this feels a wee bit hyped to me.  What do you think?

11 comments on “Does Disney really care if your kids are fat?

  1. I absolutely agree with you.

    It is the parents’ responsibility. Disney does their part by offering healthy choices. But it is up to us to get our kids to eat them or to limit the amount of unhealthy choices they consume.

    I don’t think Disney is the villain in this story at all. I just don’t think they’re quite as pure in purpose as the media is painting them.


  2. Nikole Gipps says:

    The scary thing is what is in these things … I actually saw some at a store a long time ago and was a bit freaked out about it. It’s just really unnatural foods – fruits that wouldn’t exist in nature, gimmicks to get kids to eat it, etc. The other hugs problem I have with this product line is the sheer amount of packaging … as someone who shops using reusable bags and doesn’t take a plastic baggie for every item I purchase in the produce department, I refuse to purchase anything from a product line that comes entirely prepackaged (plastic containers, bags, etc). I say if you want to give your kids a real lesson in healthy foods, take them to the farmer’s market or grow your own! 🙂

  3. Nikole,

    I haven’t seen the products on the shelf but I am going to look for them!

    I have the same packaging beef with software companies. You get a huge box with all sorts of inserts, cardboard and one little CD. It’s crazy.


  4. Cam,

    I think it is important to remember that no one (person or company) is only motivated by a single purpose. We’re complex creatures — and I am sure Disney’s motivations are multi-fold.

    And really, they’d be stupid if they weren’t thinking the bottom line as well.

    I do believe they care about kids and are happy to help kids eat in a healthier way. But I think the media grabs onto that and crowns them the king in the fight against obesity.

    For me the point is — be careful what you promise (as your post about the 4P’s so beautifully illustrated.) and don’t hype it beyond what it is.


  5. Larry Lehmer says:

    A “wee bit hyped?” That’s overly generous, Drew. And what about this form of brand extension? Where does this nutritional expertise come from? Decades of perpetuating fantasies built around mythical furry, funny creatures? Why should I prefer Mickey grapes to, say, Dole grapes? Call me cynical, but I see this kind of brand extension as just another spoke in the cradle-to-grave Disney Corporation wheel, emphasis on Corporation.

  6. Two Knives says:

    Gee, another Disney character on another product. Frankly, I’m sick of it. We’ve outlawed all brand extension purchases in our house. Pretty soon, we won’t be able to buy anything.

  7. Arlin Pauler says:

    Hey everybody:
    I think this is a great discussion and these are very important issues. Seems to me they all come down to social responsibility. Not just corporate social responsibility, but ours as well. Given that we can’t not make a difference, everything each of us does or doesn’t do will create a result. And that is true of even this conversation. Each of us is impacted in at least some small way by this discussion.
    So what’s my point? Drew speaks to part of my point with his comment of “I think it is important to remember that no one (person or company) is only motivated by a single purpose. We’re complex creatures — and I am sure Disney’s motivations are multi-fold. And really, they’d be stupid if they weren’t thinking the bottom line as well”.
    Seems to me the out come is always better when we speak in a balanced and compassionate way. After all some is almost always better than none. Do the people of corporate America have a long way to go? I think so. Is this a step in the right direction I think so.
    The rest of my point is this. All that’s left is do we chose to fan the wind in the direction we want to blow or do we just complain about it not blowing the way we want it to. We all have the power to make a difference. All that is left is what we do with that power. Maybe someone in this discuss knows how to send information about the counter productive nature of “Hypeholes” to someone in corporate America. After all, isn’t this how we vote in a democratic market place?
    Well I’ve just given my best shot fanning the wind in the direction that will make the difference I want – Well-Being.
    Have a fun and Fulfilling day, Arlin.

  8. Larry,

    Well I did admit that it pains me to speak ill of the Mouse House. 🙂

    I think where you could make the case that it is brand extension is that it’s an attempt to do something wholesome for kids.

    I don’t disagree that it’s more for profit than mankind. There’s nothing wrong with them wanting to make money. I have no objection to that. My issue is with the media painting them as these do-gooders who are out fighting against childhood obesity with all their might.

    I don’t think they can pull that claim off.


  9. Two Knives —

    What can you buy now?


  10. Lewis,

    Ultimately, I agree with you 100%. It’s not Disney’s job to keep our kids healthy. It’s the parent’s job to monitor and educate their kids.

    So, if Disney is lending a helping hand or creating a tool that aids the parents in their job — hooray for them.

    And if they still want to make money, I’ve got no objection to that either. I want them to make money too.

    My point is really — be careful when you puff up your chest and announce that you’re doing something for the greater good. If you are going to make that claim, you need to be able to actually back it up or endure the firestorm if you can’t.


  11. Arlin,

    “Seems to me the out come is always better when we speak in a balanced and compassionate way. After all some is almost always better than none.”

    Yup. Be honest. Be straightforward. And don’t promise more than you can deliver.

    That’s the way to communicate to the consumers of today. It’s what citizen marketing is all about. We the people are calling out companies full of hype and smoke & mirrors.

    The good news is that some companies are really starting to get this. And in the end, they’re going to be at the top of the heap, I believe.


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