Contrasting Disney Merchandise: Right and Wrong

Merchandise is one of the recurring themes here on the Animation Anomaly for the simple reason that it plays such a large role in making the technique profitable for so many people. (You can get away without it, but that’s a topic for another day.) The Walt Disney Company has a long and fruitful history of merchandise stretching all the way back to the early days of Mickey Mouse. Things have changed over the years though, and while the youth remains an ever important part of the Disney merchandise empire, the company has become ever more adroit at exploiting market segments that you’d never thought possible. Here’s a look at two competing lines of Disney merchandise that illustrate just how disparate the company can be.

The Wrong Way – Walt Disney Signature Pens

Let’s be honest, these aren’t quite as tacky as the ‘vintage’ office furniture that was bandied about a few years ago or even the line of wedding dresses the company offers, but it isn’t far off. Yes, that’s right, you can be the proud owner of a Disney pen! These however, are no ordinary pens that you can buy at any Wal-Mart. Nope, these are something else entirely. These, are the Walt Disney Signature [geddit?] collection. Behold!

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty WDS collection
The Sleeping Beauty WDS collection

The Fantasia

The Fantasia WDS Collection
The Fantasia WDS Collection

And The Executive

The Executive WDS Collection
The Executive WDS Collection

The collection is being offered by noted manufacturer Monteverde. They’re a respected company and they make many fine products, but why, for the sake of all that is sane, would they offer products like these?

Who are these targeted at? What purpose do they serve? And what do they do for the Disney brand and the animation on which they are based? Well, the simple answers are that they are aimed at people with more money than sense (we’ll get to the details in a bit), they serve no purpose other than to endow the Disney brand with a sense of false caché, of vintage style that it never really had in the first place and that they don’t do anything for the films on which they are based.

The proof? The pen’s average cost is in and around the $300 mark, topping out at almost $2,300 for a three-piece limited-edition collection. That’s not to say they aren’t good pens, they are, but the price premium over the regular pens on which they are best makes them a laughable purchase.

These are pens that are designed to appeal to folks who think that they are buying into a genuine image (of Walt or otherwise) that doesn’t really exist. It’s deceptive and of course, the films (and Walt Disney himself) don’t benefit in any way at all. One could argue that such merchandise actually debases all three because pens have next to nothing to do with any of them. A tenuous connection could be made to Walt himself if you could prove that he actually used the same pen.

That is not the case, however, and these lines come off as Disney simply looking for the easy buck. They are exploiting fans rather than engaging in genuine business with them.

So now that you’ve seen the crappy Disney merchandise, let’s look at a much better effort.

The Right Way – Mickey Mouse Moleskine Notebooks

Via: Moleskine
Via: Moleskine

Although only a special edition, the Mickey Mouse Moleskine notebook represents a much better Disney merchandise strategy. Setting aside the fact the cost factor (they’re certainly a lot less than the pens that could be used to write in them), there are far more concrete reasons for Disney to market these.

First of all, the product they are based on is a perfect match. Moleskine notebooks are something that no budding artist, writer or erstwhile creative would be seen without. The company has made a tidy business out of its products’ artistic history and even ensures that every notebook comes with a history of the same. Plenty of  artists’ blogs are replete with scans from their journal and notebook pages.

Right, so the base product has merit, what about the Disney side of things? Well, it’s Mickey Mouse (everyone loves Mickey), but perhaps most importantly, it isn’t just his face slapped on the cover, instead it’s what Disney includes on the inside: instructions on how to draw Mickey.

Via: Moleskine
Via: Moleskine

Now they aren’t very comprehensive instructions but that’s not up for debate here. The point is that unlike the pens, these Moleskine books are aimed at people who might actually have an interest in something relevant to Disney; namely drawing/sketching/illustration, you name it. It might even be possible that such notebooks might draw people in who might not otherwise have thought of themselves as artists. That is a far-fetched notion, but it’s not entirely impossible either. Can you really see the pens encouraging people to start writing?

In other words, these notebooks are much more relevant to Disney fans. They are appealing, and although they are a premium product, that is something that most fans will be willing to pay for. Unlike the premium of the pens, which is massive, the premium for the notebooks is minimal, but the extra value that fans see is enormous.


So if you’re in any doubt (and I hope that you are not), ask yourself the question: Which product would you buy if cost was irrelevant? Would you really want a pen that has little connections to what its based on, or would you rather have something that at least makes a serious attempt to be true to its origins?

I know which one I would choose. Submit your answer with a comment below!

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