The application of marketing principles creates controversy when it comes to the question of ethics (Nantel and Weeks, 1998). Consumers and pressure groups stress the necessity for businesses to pursue ethically sound operations which puts pressure on enterprises to demonstrate that they are meeting this expectation while also generating the profit and acceptable economic returns necessary to remain in business.
Consumers are interested in not just the economic value the corporations add, but also on the environmental and social values. In the following paragraphs I will critically analyse how Disney’s recognition of the consumer power of those seeking a track record of ethical performance from their suppliers, has influenced their communication mix. With this term I refer to the coordination and selection of promotional activities to produce a unified, customer focused promotional message (Kurts, Mackenzie and Snow, 2010).
This paper will explore the ethical considerations of Disney’s practice of targeting children with their advertising and consider how their communications mix balances the twin imperative of developing their business and maintaining the goodwill of the public who are increasingly concerned with corporate commitment to ethical practices. I will discuss firstly the ethical concerns and pressures surrounding advertising to children, the laws and regulations in effect to meet these concerns and then how Disney have revised their strategy to counter these restrictions and still target children as consumers.
Marketing ethics can be defined as an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral judgments, standards and rules of conduct relating to marketing decisions and marketing situations (Vitell, 1986). With morality being such a subjective and culturally determined matter, the perception of what is right and what is wrong varies with different organisations and environments. As the evolution of economics, business processes, and technology has unfolded, the definitions and domains of ethical business practice have become more ambiguous and seemingly less categorical (Vermillon, 2002).
Notwithstanding, a failure to properly consider ethical guidelines in the conduct of business run the risk of specific practices being adversely judged with the attendant likelihood of consumer backlash and its negative economic consequence. Since its founding in 1923 by brothers Walt and Roy Disney, the Walt Disney Company and its affiliated companies have remained faithful to their commitment to produce unparalleled entertainment based on the rich legacy of quality creative content and exceptional storytelling (Disney, 2011).
The company is probably best known for the products of its film studio and has enjoyed popular acclaim and commercial success with such releases as; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Bambi (1942),Cinderella (1950), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995), Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). These iconic stories, all developed in the Disney tradition over three generations have done much to shape American popular culture and define the Disney brand.
The fact that Disney remains committed to family movie entertainment is evidenced by the current Disney president and CEO Robert A Iger’s recent announcement that “The 2010 fiscal year was a financial and strategic success for The Walt Disney Company with performance driven by great content like Toy Story 3 and the way we benefited from that content across our many businesses. ”(Disney, 2010). Due to its commitments in the field of family movies and family oriented marketing the corporation has reached of$USM 38,063 in revenue with net income of $USM 4,313 in the year ending on October 2, 2010 (Disney, 2010).
The Disney group owns and operates the ABC broadcast television network and cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, and ABC Family. Each of their business segments exploits the power of the Disney brand and the iconic characters and content that they have created that reinforces the core brand values of “fun, story-telling, innovation, quality, community and optimism”(Hille, 2003). An early example of how Disney leverages its creative content can be seen in how it managed its well-known cartoon creation “Mickey Mouse”.
Disney encouraged children to join their local Mickey Mouse Clubs with the aim of building brand identity and loyalty but also with the intention of selling merchandise related to its films. Disney continues to excel with its merchandising and each new family film is heavily promoted through merchandising and advertising and will often feature in its theme parks as well. It is the integrated nature of the Disney business model that continues to produce successful financial performance as their recent results demonstrate.
The essential element of Disney’s marketing success has been its ability to connect with the young and the ‘young at heart'(Ali, 2003). It is no surprise that Disney’s products and services are targeted primarily at children and young adolescents given their core promise of unparalleled family entertainment. Disney appeals to our childhood and must continue to appeal to our children if it is to prosper.
The success of Disney will be determined by their ability to make sure that their merchandise and films remain contemporary and relevant and although the types of products marketed to children have broadly remained the same, the affluence and buying power of children and adolescents has increased dramatically. McNeal (1992) argued that teenagers and children are a market in their own right and an influential one given their impact on parental household purchases (cited in Gunter and Farnham, 1998). Experts’ estimate that 2-14 year olds have sway over 500 billion dollars a year in household purchasing (Calvert, 2010).
In addition to being highly influential this consumer group is also growing rapidly. In the United states there were almost 37 million children aged 5 to 13 years in 1967 and by 1985 this group had grown to more than 40 million (Gunter and Farnham, 1998). According to McNeal (1992) American children’s average annual income grew from $137 in 1984 to $229 in 1989 (cited in Gunter and Farnham, 1998). The affluence, influence and growth of the child consumer group have made this sector incredibly attractive to businesses with advertisers successfully positioning their campaigns in order to appeal to children.