Is Disney Trying to Keep Parents Out of the Loop?

Last week I sat through three different sessions at the Ypulse National Mashup (a great event) where I heard from three different representatives from Disney: one from Disney Interactive, one from Disney Mobile and one from Disney Music. The Disney Music presentation was near the end of the conference and I left his talk feeling incredibly provoked.

What I found interesting about all three presenters is that they didn’t mention parents. Actually, Stephen Saiz, manager of consumer insight and strategy of the Walt Disney Internet Group’s North American mobile division did mention parents but it was in a less than flattering way. This CNET article quotes Saiz as saying, “Teens are pushing their parents to go on mobile because they don’t really want to communicate with them directly.” I am not sure about the conclusion he’s drawing from his research but I am sure it was the only time I heard the Disney folks talk about parents.

Disney Music: Tweens are Cogs in the Machine
Damon Whiteside, senior vice president of marketing of Walt Disney Records, shared slides with us describing their musical success (read more about his talk here). High School Musical, Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers have all added to the Disney coffers as tweens and teens have spent boatloads of money on music, merchandise and more. The bulk of the purchases are made by tweens and young teens and that’s when I noticed he wasn’t mentioning parents.

When he put up a slide that literally had gears representing the machine used to get these kids to buy their stuff, I felt my hackles rise.

It seems they have this all figured out – how they are going to build and ship the next batch of new artists that will snatch the dollars out of your wallet. From Demi Lovato, featured in Camp Rock and now being teased incessantly on the Disney Channel, to KSM, an all-girl rock band that was “casted” by Disney to have maximum appeal, it’s all coming your way. Wow, I remember the old days when bands were created organically by the artists who were compelled to make music.

I Say: Talk to the Tween
If tweens are your market, it seems to me you need a parent strategy of some sort. I have been very involved with my tween’s music choices and yes, we do have every album Miley Cyrus has made (including the new one coming out tomorrow – currently in transit to us via preorder). But we don’t buy them blindly and the purchase is balanced off against other things my kid “wants.”

When I got home, I talked to my daughter about what I heard and asked her about why she likes Miley so much. Turns out she really likes her character on television and likes what’s she’s heard in interviews. My daughter believes Miley is like her especially because she’s so close to her real dad; she said the relationship between Miley and her dad is like the relationship between the two of us. And, she explained, I really like her dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) so Miley must be a good person. Hmmm, look at that, parents matter.

So Disney, I know you are a giant and you see us all as part of the machine, but there’s more at play here than just bombarding us on every media channel you own. I believe you need parents on your side and it would be nice to see you acknowledge our role in our children’s lives.

Even at a marketing conference.

PS: I asked my kid about Demi Lovato and it turns out she thinks she sucks. Who knew? She said Camp Rock was a pretty lame movie and the screaming singer (Demi) was just plain bad. What a relief, my daughter has independent thought.