The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Disney to make marketing icon out of Mickey

Glendale (California), July 27: If you thought Mickey Mouse was already ubiquitous, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The sainted and globally famous trademark of the Walt Disney Company is about to become the centerpiece of a movie, retail, publishing, video, and television campaign aimed at amplifying its marketplace presence.

This year is Mickey’s 75th birthday, and the Disney brass is determined not to let the cheerful geriatric rodent fade from public consciousness, the victim of company marketers too afraid to exercise the mouse’s branding power for fear of cheapening Walt Disney’s most important creation.

Last Wednesday at a theater in this Los Angles suburb, Disney chairman Michael Eisner led a parade of company executives in an rally of hundreds of employees to reinforce that message.

Mickey “is from and of every country around the world,” said Deborah Dugan, president of Disney publishing. “Bugs Bunny wishes he could say that,” she added, referring to the Warner Bros. character.

Beginning this fall, Gemstone Publishing will reintroduce Disney comic books featuring Mickey and his pals, hoping to tap into the robust comic-book sector, which spawned and capitalized on the movie success of Batman, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk.

Disney has also launched a retro-Mickey retail blitz by selling the famous Mickey T-shirts, which have in the past two years become hip, worn by such celebrities as rocker Lenny Kravitz and style-maker Sarah Jessica Parker in the HBO comedy, Sex in the City.

Roger Wyett, executive vice president of Disney’s global apparel, noted that Parker wore a Mickey T-shirt on a recent episode of Sex in the City and by the following Tuesday, the ultra-chic Fred Segal Hollywood clothing boutique had already sold 60 of the T-shirts - at $43 each.

“We timed it — (Parker) was onscreen with the T-shirt for four minutes,” Wyett said.

In other words, it was dream marketing for Mickey.

Disney’s consumer products division has been flagging since the decline of the character apparel trend in the mid-’90s.

Warner Bros. has felt the same pinch on its character wear.

In the second quarter this year, revenue for the consumer products division was $500 million, down 14 per cent from the second quarter of 2002.

Much of the drag comes from soft sales at North America’s 387 Disney stores, down from 522.

Disney sold its stores in Japan last year and said in May that it would also sell its North American and European stores to a retailer practiced in running stores.

At the same time, Disney has turned to alternative ways of marketing its products.

Nina Jacobson, president of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, was asked to hand out Mickey T-shirts to movie stars who visited her office with the hope that they would wear them and, be photographed, of course.

She gave them to Sharon Stone, Jodie Foster and Freddie Prinze Jr., among others.

Disney is engaging in guerrilla marketing elsewhere in its home city.

Disney enlisted a graffiti artist to render classic black-and-white Mickey comic strips on the sides of buildings on chic Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue — with permission, of course.

Mickey’s muscling-up is largely the work of Andrew Mooney, head of Disney consumer products.

When he arrived four years ago, he found Mickey bound by ancient and Byzantine strictures determining how he could appear and in what form.

Mickey was something of a sacred figure, and many in the company feared blaspheming him by putting him on too many products.

Mooney, an early employee of Nike, realized that Mickey was Disney’s “swoosh” — the equivalent of the logo on Nike shoes. At the same time, Mooney sought to preserve the aging mouse’s dignity, employing him judiciously.

For example, in November, dozens of Mickey statues, painted in various motifs, will debut in Disney World.

They will later tour the country.

More Mickey-intensive efforts will roll out over the next three years, including The Three Musketeers, a straight-to-video movie scheduled to be released in August 2004.

In fall of next year, Disney comic strips featuring Mickey will appear in newspapers.

But it’s likely that nothing will spread Mickey’s mouse-face as widely as a three-year US postal service commemorative stamp programme that is to begin next year.

The stamp designs will debut at Walt Disney World in October.

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