Today's Lesson on Possessives Brought to You by "The Emperor's New Groove"
Monday, April 20, 2009
If Disney’s latest strategy works, moppets across China will be saying “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” in a most delightful way. And with perfect diction.
The House of Mouse has announced its commitment to teaching English to children in China. Disney plans to increase its current Shanghai presence from two to four schools by June, as well as open its first Beijing location within a year. It already is recruiting teachers, promising “the chance to work for a company that knows children like no other.”
Company executives are quick to shoot down any naysaying over potential marketing in the schools. “We never saw this as an effort to teach the Disney brand and Disney characters,” they say. No focus whatsoever on the brand. Only on teaching Chinese kids English.
As part of that lack of focus on the Disney brand, schoolwork and homework revolve around Disney books, t.v. shows and movies, many of which remain unavailable to the Chinese because of government restrictions on foreign media. Success in the classroom is rewarded with special tokens that can be used to “buy” Disney-branded tchotchkes in the school lobby. An online “parent portal” allows parents to help their kids learn words along with the likes of branded characters Pooh and Piglet.
And, in a completely coincidental move, Disney hopes to open a $3 billion Shanghai Disneyland in 2014.
Unlike brand debacles past, this is pure Disney genius. The company's tremendous equity allows it to do something none of its competitors can to break down the great wall that is China’s media regulations. Disney now stands to gain unfettered access to generations (and billions) of new consumers in what soon may be the world’s most profitable market. The schools target families who have money for private education and, thus, disposable income for, say, theme parks. And Disney is taking its brand directly to the children of China who, as we well know, will determine how the brand is managed as it enters new markets across the country.
And yet, at the human level, it's more than a little unsettling. Don’t get me wrong -- the Disney brand is trusted and beloved for many good reasons. We all grew up with it. Its productions teach our children important lessons about perseverance, self-confidence and loyalty. But the flipside is the ugly materialism many will argue the Disney brand has spawned. Most of us managed to make it through the education process without having a candlestick stop its soft shoe just long enough to whisper “Do not let that participle dangle, Cherie!” in our ears.
In America, there has been a backlash against many “unhealthy” brands that have weaseled into schools through sponsorships. Does it make it ok that Disney is peddling singing mermaids and not French fries in China? Is the branded education of the world’s children inevitable?