Disney’s Reputation Falls Further
It’s been a rough few years for the Walt Disney Company and fans. After its reputation plummeted in the influential Axios Harris Poll last year, it fell further in 2023. This looks at why Disney is so polarizing and how it compares to other controversial companies. Plus, our commentary about causes and solutions for the brand damage in what’s essentially a sequel to last year’s Is Disney Ruining Its Reputation?
For the second straight year, the most controversial issue in 2023 has been the company’s public standoff with Walt Disney World’s home state, with an ongoing “battle” between CEO Bob Iger and Governor DeSantis. This is once again making headlines in the mainstream media, and culminated in Disney suing DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) suing Disney.
This standoff intensified as DeSantis soft-launched his presidential campaign, and sought to make an example of Disney as a symbol of Hollywood hypocrisy and a California company trying to unduly influence political and social issues. The company has also done itself no favors in resolving this conflict, as the now-infamous Development Agreements between Disney and Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) made national news for use of the “King Charles Clause”, which effectively revived scrutiny and this whole saga.
None of this is any big secret to those who follow the Walt Disney Company or even watch the nightly news, so probably no need to further rehash the details in what will already be a long post. Regardless of where you fall on the ideological or political spectrum, you no doubt are cognizant of the controversies swirling around the company for the last couple years.
This is reflected by Disney’s standing in the Axios Harris Poll 100 and 2023 Corporate Reputation Rankings. Rather than recovering after a dismal showing last year, the Walt Disney Company has fallen further in these rankings. In fact, there’s one major way the results this year are even worse than last year.
While there are a lot of corporate and brand power rankings, this particular poll by Axios Harris is viewed as influential within the industry. That includes with Bob Iger, who according to the Wall Street Journal, based some of his fears that his successor/predecessor Bob Chapek was killing the soul of the company on last year’s results in this same poll.
Iger believed that Chapek was a failure in the most important measures of success for a CEO: internal satisfaction, investor relations and consumer support. An internal survey of Disney found low morale among Cast Members, which concerned Iger. He also closely followed the Axios Harris Poll, believing last year’s results demonstrated that fans were “falling out of love” with the Disney brand.
Suffice to say, the Axios Harris Poll is important to the company and its CEO (Disney touted being one of the highest-ranking companies on the poll as recently as 2019). There’s no way to spin this or paint it in a positive light: the results are bad (again) for Disney.
This is based on a survey of over 16,000 Americans in a nationally representative sample, and uses a two-step process to determine the rankings. Here’s the good tier (in green) from the 2023 Corporate Reputation Rankings from the Axios Harris Poll 100 where Disney lands:
For 2023, Walt Disney Company had a score of 70.9, which is down 12 spots from last year but still in the “good” tier of the list. (Once again, timing comes into play–this poll was conducted during the ‘King Charles Clause’ saga, when it would’ve been freshest in minds and mainstream headlines.)
Last year, Disney scored 73.4 and ranked 65th on the list, which was a drop of 28 spots as compared to 2021–meaning that the company is down 40 spots in the course of 2 years. For the duration of Bob Iger’s first tenure as CEO (through 2019), Disney had scored above 80, always near the top of the list in the “Excellent” tier. Here’s a look at how that changed prior to last year–see if you can spot the trend:
Below is Disney’s 2023 breakdown in the individual category scores of Character, Trajectory, Trust, Culture, Ethics, Citizenship, Vision, Growth, and Products & Services. On the plus side, at least the ‘trajectory’ is high–suggesting there is optimism with the return of CEO Bob Iger.
To put this into perspective, Disney scored ~13 points behind the #1 ranking Patagonia, and scored 10 points behind ever company in the top 10. Other companies with similar declines on the 2023 ranks were Hobby Lobby, Dollar Tree, Netflix, IBM, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s. The company with the biggest year-to-year drop was Tesla, which fell 50 slots.
Before delving into the commentary, it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of inconsistency in the rankings. In isolation, it makes sense that Disney would’ve dropped again. However, the dramatic improvements for American Express, Costco, Chick-fil-A, Nike, CVS, JPMorgan, GM, etc. are all less obvious.
As mentioned last year, it’s possible that the Harris Poll is a flawed way to rank certain high profile companies and a good way to rank other ones. Most Americans are both aware of and like their local grocery store chains, automobiles, and consumer electronics. The average American probably doesn’t know much about those corporations; they’re aware of the brand, but clueless about its business machinations. That could explain why many of these companies yo-yo around the rankings. Then there’s Chick-fil-A and Nike, which likely benefit from being another year removed from their last controversies.
By contrast, there are companies like Disney where the reputation is part and parcel of the brand itself. There are several lifestyle brands like this, that have actual enthusiasts and a wider degree of awareness among the general public. Aside from Disney, companies that come to mind here include Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Tesla, Patagonia, and Trader Joe’s. There are undoubtedly others, as well.
For these companies, movement in the rankings might be much more meaningful. It’s less likely at random, and more likely reflective of how the core audience views the company’s recent actions. That Tesla dropped so much in a year when its CEO became an increasingly polarizing figure is thus unsurprising. (Even after that dramatic decline, Tesla is still higher than Disney.)
To that point, Disney was ranked as the fifth-most polarizing brand of 100 in the 2023 Axios Harris reputation survey, measured by the gap between the assessments of Republican and Democratic respondents. Among Democrats, Disney jumped to 80.3 from 72.5. Conversely, the company plunged 14 points with Republicans, to 61 from 75.
According to Axios, the average reputational gap between Republicans and Democrats in this year’s survey was 4.4. In Disney’s case, it was 19.3. Disney’s reputation score has been declining in recent years, but that trend line had been bipartisan until 2023. This is the first year of a notable gap between political parties.
Other companies in the ‘most polarizing’ rankings were the Trump Organization, Fox, Hobby Lobby, FTX, Pfizer, Facebook/Meta, TikTok, Twitter, and Chick-fil-A. The reasons why most of those would make the list are likely self-evident–they’re divisive along political lines for obvious reasons.
However, I’ve gotta wonder who, exactly, has a favorable opinion of FTX? (That has to be a lack of awareness–hatred of FTX should transcend politics.) I’m also surprised that there’s a gap for TikTok and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. Anyone who thinks Disney is on par with or worse than that trio is flatly wrong.
Given the current politicization of everything and hyper partisanship, some people will no doubt use these survey results to vindicate their preexisting beliefs about Disney’s forays into social issues. That is undermined at least to some extent by the rankings of countless companies that have likewise taken stances on social and political issues.
The #1 ranking Patagonia is among America’s most activist corporations, loudly proclaiming its politics. On the other end of the spectrum is Chick-fil-A, which ranked #5 this year. Other high-ranking companies have been embroiled in social and political problems.
Equally as notable, Patagonia made the top 5 lists for both Republicans and Democrats. Axios also notes that older generations of both political persuasions rank John Deere highly, while rural residents of all varieties love 3M, and suburban shoppers have an affinity for Costco. (Disliking $1.50 hot dogs is distinctly unpatriotic.)
One way to reconcile how well those brands perform as contrasted with the Walt Disney Company is the constant controversy around the latter. Consumers know where Patagonia, Chick-fil-A, and other brands stand–but it’s not in their faces on a weekly basis. Many people might thus be willing to overlook that if they want a superior down sweater or delicious chicken sandwich, even if they’re not ideologically-aligned with those brands.
This might come as a surprise to those on the front lines of the culture wars, but most people aren’t actively engaged with this stuff. It’s only brought to their attention when making the nightly news or perpetual headlines. By and large, average Americans do not want or need validation of their beliefs by big businesses.
That’s a good segue into how Disney can fix its slide. The obvious answer is to diffuse and deescalate the current standoff between Walt Disney World and CFTOD, Iger and DeSantis. From the perspective of the company’s reputation, the sooner this stops making headlines, the better.
This is not to say that’s the “right” thing to do–it’s not a value judgment in any shape or form. It’s simply viewing this feud through the narrow lens of the company’s reputation, and acknowledging that it has inflicted brand damage on Disney.
(Frankly, I’m not even sure unilateral deescalation is possible. As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, this is largely political theater aimed at giving red meat to the base and raising political profiles–not actual governing or public policy. There was radio silence from Disney for several months late last year and in early 2023, and they were still a punching bag during that time.)
Beyond that, there’s the reality that quality will always win out. In our commentary to last year’s version of this post, we looked at a high-profile string of Disney’s box office bombs, in particular Lightyear and Strange Worlds, and how the narrative that emerged around those is that they failed due to having certain agendas.
Our view was and is that they failed because they were not good. A lot of ‘movies with messages’ succeeded last year; many vapid blockbusters flopped. (When in doubt, employ Occam’s razor.) Nevertheless, there’s a cottage industry built around fanning the flames on culture wars. Movies underperforming only add fuel to the fire, and strong box office results throw water on that.
(In the media sphere, the best example refuting this notion is HBO. For as long as I can remember, most of their original programming has had obvious ideology. Very few normal viewers cared, though, because the shows were so good. It wasn’t until hits had bad seasons or there were high-profile flops for that to be attributed to an agenda.)
Disney will have its own ‘case study’ of sorts this weekend. Whether the steady-stream of outrage fodder continues for The Little Mermaid hinges almost entirely on its Memorial Day box office results. If it falls short, that’s viewed as vindication and there’s a deluge of YouTube videos and rants. If it hits $100 million for the opening weekend, that dries up–the results won’t fit the preconceived narrative. (That dynamic alone should show how stupid, exhausting, and manufactured this all is.)
In a nutshell, the easiest way to quiet these criticisms on the film front is producing a steady string of hits. While I don’t think the flops have actively hurt Disney’s reputation to the degree certain commentators suggest, I do think that the undeniably uneven output of Star Wars, Marvel, and animated content hasn’t helped.
People largely ignore content that doesn’t appeal to them but actively embrace what does resonate, especially on an emotional level–the hallmark of Disney’s past successes. There’s probably a reason why Disney’s reputation peaked when it was cranking out hit-after-hit in the MCU, plus animated modern masterpieces including Frozen, Moana, Zootopia, Inside Out, Coco, etc. (As much as I personally hate them, I have to admit that the live action remakes during that stretch were also a good ‘reminder’ to audiences of what they love about Disney.)
Then there’s Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The last couple of years have seen sky-high attendance, suggesting consumers aren’t actually voting with their wallets to “boycott” Disney. At that same time, there have been a number of changes negatively impacting the guest experience.
We’ve repeatedly mentioned that guest satisfaction scores at Walt Disney World started dropping precipitously in Fall 2021–before Disney vs. DeSantis–that would track with the company’s nonpartisan reputational decline prior to this year. The discrepancy between attendance and satisfaction can be explained largely by pent-up demand, and the reality that many visitors don’t know what they’re getting themselves into until they actually visit the parks. (Hence the lower satisfaction and intent to revisit scores after their trips!)
This has also led to us repeatedly harping on the shortsightedness of the company prioritizing short-term financial success over cultivating an audience of loyal, long-term fans. From our perspective, this is the crux of the biggest issue for the Walt Disney Company. This perspective is reinforced by Disney seeing significant reputation drops in 2020-2022, years in which Axios indicates there was not political polarization in the company’s scores.
It’s pretty wild to now think of 2019 as the halcyon days of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but with the benefit of hindsight, they were. Go ahead and watch this great ad from 2015, which underscores just how much has changed about the guest experience. Disney’s Magical Express, free FastPass and MagicBands, reservations-free visits, unlimited Park Hopping, and the Disney Dining Plan are unavailable…at least, for now (and while the survey was conducted).
That’s just a partial list. There have also been the countless price increases, resulting in an over 40% increase in guest spending. If you want a rundown or refresher, see this list of the biggest Walt Disney World fan complaints and that post’s most recent comments for insight into why so many fans are disgruntled.
The good news is that all of this, too, is fixable. Chapek hand-waved away concerns about guest satisfaction, bluntly stating that demand was the driver of price increases and that consumers were voting with their wallets. “It’s all up to the consumer. If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly,” he said.
By contrast, it was pretty clear upon returning that Bob Iger wasn’t wild about how things had gone under Chapek and the degree to which there was disillusionment among fans. A little over a month after returning, he started moving on that sentiment by announcing 3 Big Changes at Walt Disney World to Improve Guest Experience & Value. A few months later came the announcement of 5 Major Improvements for 2024 at Walt Disney World.
Those things will undo most of the major complaints we’ve heard in the last few years from Walt Disney World visitors. That alone will create a stronger impression of the company in the eyes of consumers and fans.
Disney has also abandoned the highly-priced and controversial Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser (something we specifically pointed to last year as being polarizing and unpopular with fans despite its quality). They should do the same with the $100,000 private jet Disney Parks worldwide “adventure” and the new Cotino Storyliving by Disney community on the outskirts of Palm Springs, two other Chapekian initiatives that garnered a ton of negative attention.
The company would be well-advised to stop pursuing such projects in the future that only reinforce the notion that the notion that Disney has abandoned its middle class roots and is chasing the wealthy. Whether true or not, it’s a terrible look and one that comes with minimal upside. There were 75 slots on that private jet trip, and probably only a few hundred homes in that stupid subdivision–meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have read or heard about these one-percenter plans.
It’s one thing to be an aspirational middle class brand–people don’t mind upmarket theme parks or cruise ships. But there is a line, and Disney used to be better about not crossing it. Or at least, not doing so in such a highly-visible, in-your-face manner.
Lower prices and crowds will also help, as will guests feeling like they’re actually valued, and not just being nickel and dimed to death. As we’ve mentioned repeatedly, Walt Disney World already has released over a dozen different discounts for 2023, which is more than were available for the entirety of last year. In addition to this, new Annual Pass sales resumed (and have not yet stopped!) and more is being done to show appreciation to fans and locals, from new discount ticket offers to VIPassholder Days.
On the company’s latest earnings call, CFO Christine McCarthy warned of a slowdown at Walt Disney World in the coming quarters. This is already happening, with a higher than normal post-spring break attendance drop, resulting in the Slowest Six Weeks for Walt Disney World Crowds Since 2021. While “shoulder season” is always slower than spring break or summer, current crowds are off by roughly 20-25% as compared to the same weeks last year.
Part of what’s happening at Parks & Resorts right now is undoubtedly an ‘Operation Chapek Cleanup,’ and another part is a drop in demand necessitating guest-friendly changes. Pent-up demand lasted longer than anticipated, and frankly, it was a distortion that had unhealthy consequences at Walt Disney World and beyond.
Putting that in the rearview mirror is good for consumers and the long-term health of the company–especially its reputation and guest goodwill. Walt Disney World not doing record-breaking numbers regardless of the guest-unfriendly decisions and changes they make–and instead having to actually compete for customers–is a good thing. Chapek would’ve been well-advised to appreciate that even as “revenge travel” created so much success.
It’s downright paradoxical. High attendance and spending at Walt Disney World was not indicative of high satisfaction or a stronger reputation for the company–the opposite was true in actuality. Now, lower attendance and spending at Walt Disney World are leading to positive changes that almost assuredly will improve satisfaction and undo brand damage, and are not indicative of boycotts or brand damage. In both cases, pent-up demand (or lack thereof) was or is the root cause.
The other good news for Disney is that improvement is possible if they make a good faith effort to right the ship, as the general public has short memories when it comes to controversies. In spending way too much time studying the Harris 100 lists between 2018 and 2023, one thing that became clear is that most damage is not fatal. Negative headlines are most impactful the closer they coincide with the survey window, and become increasingly irrelevant as time passes.
Multiple companies have bounced back the year after big scandals, forgotten from memories as the outrage du jour long since moved on to something else. Unless a company is out there regularly spilling oil on baby seals, reputational recovery is achievable. Long-standing image and general business practices matter a lot more than temporary mistakes. As should be the case–ethics and missteps are not the same.
Bob Iger is undoubtedly aware of this and the company’s missteps in the last year–some of his deferential and concialtory responses to questions during the 2023 Annual Meeting of Shareholders indicated as much. The brand damage and falling guest satisfaction scores from the Chapek era are also precisely why some of the aforementioned moves have been made at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Now, it’s time to put the rest of the controversies in the rearview mirror, deescalating high-profile public battles where possible, and making every effort to ensure the company is producing excellent content. Quality will always win out.
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What’s your take on Disney’s declining reputation? Think the company can bounce by making fewer headlines and producing high-quality content? Hope the DeSantis vs. Disney battle starts to de-escalate soon? Will the guest friendly changes made earlier this year–with more on the horizon for 2024–coupled with lower crowds and more discounts result in higher happiness among Walt Disney World and Disneyland visitors?
Regardless of your perspective on the reasons for Disney’s brand damage, please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, personal attacks, or perpetuating pointless culture wars. There’s a way to tactfully convey points touching on politics and social issues without being disrespectful or disparaging. Without regard for viewpoint, we will delete comments that cross the line, are lacking in decorum or don’t attempt to thoughtfully contribute to the conversation. If you wish to rudely shout your anger into the internet abyss or troll for controversy, that’s why Facebook was invented.
Bottom line is companies don’t need to have a political view- all it does is lose you money
Exactly. Left or right!!! Stay out of it, you usually need both sides to buy your product to make money!
To some of us, it isn’t about politics. For my daughter, who loves Disney World and who also is gay, Iger’s stand made her feel seen and supported by a company and a place that means a great deal to her. To me as a mother, who loves my child and who has made countless memories with her and her siblings at WDW over the decades, Disney’s stand is not about politics at all. It’s about caring for it’s customers, and showing love for it’s visitors and employees. If I had been surveyed by Harris, you can bet I would have given Disney high marks!
I doubt that you will post this, but here’s my take. First of all, in the “war” between Disney & DeSantis, there are no winners, only losers. Both sides need to dial it down. A lot. I’m surprised that you’re surprised about Tik Tok and Facebook being so polarizing. Both are viewed by many as promoting left wing ideology. In fact, Til Tok has been accused of brainwashing our youth with CCP’s ideology. Both sides of the aisle agree on that. It is now illegal for ANYONE to use Tik Tok in Montana. (Not just government workers. Talk about a totally unenforceable law.). But many would say Disney is even worse than that, since many believe their target audience is young children and adolescents. Many parents, like me, are sick and tired of the cultural engineering from the C-Suite. Literally half the population in our country leans conservative. What was Disney thinking when they dove head first into a topic as polarizing as that. And Iger has shown no signs of relenting. It all just makes me so sad to see the company that I grew up loving, now offending even me, who used to be a die-hard Disney fan. I just want my old Disney back. 🙁
“Both sides of the aisle agree on that.”
That’s precisely why it’s surprising.
I would not be surprised to see a poll showing TikTok is polarizing between generations, because it is. But that essentially comes down to those using TikTok versus everyone else. TikTok presents security risks, could be leveraged by a hostile government to ‘shape’ public opinion, or worse. It should be viewed more negatively than any U.S. based social media company, and it’s not like those are exactly beloved.
Agreed. I don’t want politics with my beer, or my entertainment, or my clothes. Unfortunately the 24 hour news cycle demands eyeballs and they get them by blowing almost every dispute they touch out of proportion. This unfortunately bleeds over into everyday life. The louder some groups yell the more coverage they get, and they know it. I love a good debate, but emotion needs to be kept in check. Facts should rule, and opinion and theory is not fact no matter how loudly it is shouted by either sude. In any case, in my opinion, Disney and others have largely brought this mess on themselves by attempting to alter their offerings and their creative history to “please” some of these groups while simultaneously increasing profit. Again. in my opinion, this is not possible and cannot end well, and obviously, it isn’t. It started with the unnecessary retheming of Splash Mountain. Where it’s going to end I’m not sure, but I do know that if it continues our families and 5k of DVC points won’t be around to see it. I don’t care what causes Disney espouses, thats their bysiness. I just want them out of my face when I’m on vacation!
I wish there was a way to publicly communicate that my refusal to see any live-action remakes has nothing to do with casting and everything to do with the fact that I reject the idea on principle. >D Perhaps this comment achieves that?
I would also like to register my ‘vote’ on this issue.
On the plus (?) side, it has already given us little gems like this: https://twitter.com/WilliamBibbiani/status/1661613348331614209
SAME! I’m just so over the live action remakes. And I have no interest in all the CGI that will be required in Little Mermaid.
I second this!
Tom I have reread my comment and don’t see anything that violates your policy, How would you respond to my granddaughter when she asks why Arial looks different? Should there be an African American Mickey too? Is Disney going to have black and white versions of Arial walking around the Park? Cant talk about race? Race only comes up because Disney chose to make it an issue.
How do you respond to your grandaughter that Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle are all creepy, uncanny valley photorealistic animals instead of the cute cartoons from the original? That’s probably going to be a bigger issue for most kids than casting Halle Bailey (who has Jodi Benson’s enthusiastic approval and, based on reviews, is the only reason to see the new version). Race is something made up by adults that kids have to be taught. Maybe just take your granddaughter and don’t worry about it. Be happy for the young girls who can see themselves reflected in Ariel this time around.
The difference is that my granddaughter currently BELIEVEs that Arial is REAL. Its a wonderful time to go to Disney while that is the case. She’s only 4 and we have been twice . Your are right. She doesn’t see color. Which is an awesome thing. Until someone points it out to her. In this case it was Disney. Because REAL people don’t change COLOR.
First of all, there is a white Ariel in Magic Kingdom and a Black Ariel in Hollywood Studios.
Second, I love this idea that a 4 year old believes fish people are real but doesn’t believe that skin can change colors (which it actually can do- it’s called tanning.) I highly doubt she will even bring it up.
As the mother of a 3.5 year old, let me provide you with a script as this is the easiest parenting I will do all day.
Child: Why does Ariel look different?
Adult: This is a new version of Ariel. You know how Santa looks a little different in different places? like some Santas have curly beards and some have straight beards? and some Santas have long hair and some are bald on top? This is like that. Sometimes princesses like Ariel look a little different in different places.
By the time children start questioning different looking Santas, they don’t BELIEVE any more. The point is race is only an issue when someone makes it an issue. By changing Arials race, it opens the discussion unnecessarily. My granddaughter was just as excited to see Tiana and Doc McStuffins as she was Snow White. But apparently she shouldn’t be able to aspire to be a doctor like Doc McStuffins, because Doc is black, and she cant see herself reflected in her. Argument sounds stupid, doesn’t it.
I’m having trouble believing that this is a real comment because I thankfully don’t meet many people who are still so openly prejudiced. But shoutout to KF for a perfect response!
Children can distinguish skin color. The significance they attach to it, however, is taught to them, typically by parents and parental figures. I would simply say that Ariel is a bold, independent mermaid princess who can sing beautifully; don’t you think Halle portrays that perfectly?
I think Halle’s interview about getting the role encapsulates why her casting as Ariel matters. She said she couldn’t believe they were picking her for Ariel, she thought it would just be one of the sisters. The possibility of being cast as the lead in a Disney fairytale is still appears so unlikely to people of color, even of Halle’s generation.
So what I am gathering from this thread is that you are okay with your granddaughter believing half-fish/half-human creatures are real, but incredibly uncomfortable helping her understand that people of color exist.
Tesla leadership promotes a right wing agenda and Disney leadership promotes a left wing agenda. Both drop drastically in this poll.
Maybe companies should stay out of politics?
Tom Why wont you post my comment?
From immediately above the comments section:
“Regardless of your perspective on the reasons for Disney’s brand damage, please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, personal attacks, or perpetuating pointless culture wars. There’s a way to tactfully convey points touching on politics and social issues without being disrespectful or disparaging. Without regard for viewpoint, we will delete comments that cross the line, are lacking in decorum or don’t attempt to thoughtfully contribute to the conversation. If you wish to rudely shout your anger into the internet abyss or troll for controversy, that’s why Facebook was invented.”
So you don’t think that the reason why Splash Mountain is being reimagined or Halle Berry starring as Ariel or the reason why DeSantis is attacking Disney, has anything to do with the reason their reputation is plunging?
Hey Tom? Assuming you live in Florida, or even if not, have you ever considered doing a “live” event somewhat like various subject-themed cruises that have taken place in the past? I know you two are presently otherwise occupied with your first child on the way, but maybe in the future . . . .? Some of these things would be fun discussing/ debating among us, in person, maybe over a beer?
I can guarantee you that neither Halle BAILEY’s casting nor Splash Mountain had any affect on Disney’s earnings. Bailey has a legion of fans lining up to see the movie who will more than makeup for those refusing to see it because a mythological character is a different race than how she was portrayed in a cartoon and while Splash Mountain will always be beloved, it was about time they got rid of IP based on a collection of stories compiled to keep black people in their place and a movie deemed so racist Disney won’t allow anyone to see it. DeSantis is another story, but even then it’s not because Disney decided to speak out against Don’t Say Gay, it’s because investors are a bit spooked by DeSantis’s messing with Disney’s operations in such an aggressive manner.
Show me a single scene in the Splash Mountain ride that depicted something derogatory toward black people. I don’t care what movie it was based on. If you want to use that as an excuse, then the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train should also be shut down and reimagined because Peter Dinklage thinks Snow White is “… a ****ing backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together”.
Its also Halle Berry (not Bailey) by the way. She will be a box office draw. But answer the simple question. Why did Disney need to do it? Who was offended by a white Ariel? Why don’t we replace Will Smith with some white dude in Alladin 2? Just to keep it fair. (I know as the genie he was blue).
Halle Berry is a 56 year old Oscar winning actor. Halle Bailey is the teenaged lead of the live action Little Mermaid.
One perk, I would like to see return is the resort delivery service. I might have bought more souvenirs if I didn’t have to lug them around the park. Then again, better to have that money in my pocket I suppose. If only I hadn’t bought that last dole whip and popcorn on the way out.
I think authenticity accounts for the spread between Patagonia’s and Disney’s scores. Patagonia has been loud and unwavering in its public position, and is, essentially, a not-for-profit after last year’s move to divert any profit over operating expenses into a fund to address climate crises. Disney’s relatively recent plunge into the culture war whirlpool came too late for die-hard liberals, and in a way too easily criticized by die hard conservatives. Their late moves to incorporate diversity and LGBTQIA+perspectives into storylines and public statements often feel like calculated bet-hedging, rather than advocacy of fundamental principles. It feels like Disney is just trying to offend the fewest pocketbooks. I think that cosumers are smart enough to sense that, and it impacts their respect for the brand. Disney is only one of thousands of companies actively grappling with this politically activated consumer landscape, but their narrative prevalence, access to children (the supposed victims of most culture war boogie men), and unfortunately placed outpost in the backyards of two press hungry conservative primary candidates, make this a bigger challenge for Disney than the likes of, say, a Chick-Fil-A.
Very fair points.
I’m in no way offended by what Disney has done, but much of it strikes me as calculated or contrived, and like they’re seeking a pat on the back rather than just letting things happen organically. With that said, I absolutely love Coco and Moana, which strike me as more authentic and wholehearted instances of this. (To the best of my recollection, neither of those movies were met with significant resistance or controversy, either.)
Ah, perfect counterpoint, Tom!! Moana and Coco are two of my three favorite Disney animated films!! I would agree that their magic comes, in large part, from the respect and authenticity Disney brings to the cultures represented. These are the gold standard for what it looks like when Disney gets this right.
Not surprised Disney fell further down the ladder. All you need to know is the stock has not bounced back yet. In an earlier blog I said the problem with Disney suing Florida is that it just keeps bad news front and center whether they’re in the right or not. Unfortunately there are many who think Disney isn’t and the constant ongoing battle won’t win any converts. Disney has hurt its brand in so many different ways. It will get better but it will never be what it was when Walt was alive or for the many years under Roy and his son. I dislike saying never but they won’t take the necessary steps that would bring them all the way back.
That doesn’t mean they won’t ride high again but it will not be the same.
Here’s a good example. I love Disney World. I have some wonderful and happy memories that surround some of my trips and associations. Today I feel worn down by how they’ve operated as a company. It’s like you love your Dad, but if he doesn’t stop drinking, that relationship isn’t going to be there later on. “My father used to say I want you to have the things that I never had. Apparently, my dad never had a beating.”
Please, Disney, you’re killing me.
“All you need to know is the stock has not bounced back yet.”
I wouldn’t look at the stock price as a sign of anything, other than that Wall Street is not yet confident that Disney+ and Hulu will be among the winners of the streaming wars–or that streaming is a viable business model, in the first place. That and overall market changes are what the bigger picture of the stock price boils down to.
Otherwise, I can definitely empathize with your perspective. It’s been a brutal few years, even setting aside the standoff with the state.
I don’t know a lot about stocks so I’ll yield that point to you. What you say makes sense as to why stocks drop in value. That said, I know some people who sold their Disney stock because they they believed that Disney’s actions were causing the stock to go down and were concerned they would lose even more value. They had bought their shares a long time ago so they made plenty but they also lost money in the sense that it had been much higher just months earlier. This is why I keep my money in my mattress, which rarely goes up or down.
Do you see follow up comments that are made days later?
“It’s pretty wild to now think of 2019 as the halcyon days of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but with the benefit of hindsight, they were.”
I miss the days when the most contentious thing going on with the company was the Rise of the Resistance virtual queue. Compared to the endless posts about Covid safety, Genie+, and operational shortages, one virtual queue seems so quaint. Thank you for staying level headed during all of this, Tom; I’m honestly not sure how you do it.
I won’t pretend that I love the content moderation side of this–that’s a definite challenge.
I find the topics themselves fascinating, though. For the most part, it’s interesting to see how different people think about these issues, even when I don’t agree. I love dispassionate discourse–I just don’t like when it gets ugly.
Nobody ever talks much about it, but their animated movies have taken a noticeable dive in the years since they got rid of John Lasseter. I don’t know the specifics of what he did, but it must not have been that bad if he has since partnered with Apple.
I think Disney is crazy for taking on a state government and to be honest, I am borderline shocked the board of directors is allowing them to proceed. It has already cost them (Reedy Creek dissolved). What is the end game for Disney?
I think they are making a huge mistake
Relatively easily tried: No matter who was responsible for the post Iger 1 changes, go back to the system mechanics, overt philosophies and customer perks in use prior to Chapek and try it for six months to a year. A trend should become obvious rather quickly.
It seems like that’s pretty close to what they’re doing, minus DME and FastPass. Undoing both of those is going to take a lot longer, if it ever happens–hard to give up that added revenue once getting a taste of it in the case of Lightning Lanes, and third party contracts with DME.
It’ll be interesting to see what else changes in the next several months.
Tables, Magical Express, lengthen restaurant booking lead times, put DVC points use rules back where they were . . . lots is still left out there Tom. If Disney wants to increase profits they have to improve product desirability. Cutting costs has an immediate effect on the bottom line as do layoffs, but ultimately they can too easily morph into self-defeating philosophies.
I suspect that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, there would be grousing about Chapek but the changes he made would still be chugging along. But the pandemic changed so much so fast, and Chapek just didn’t read the room and it left people with a terrible taste in their mouth.
If the pandemic hadn’t happened, Chapek as CEO wouldn’t have happened. At least, not when it did.
Maybe I’m not representative of the general public. I don’t forget. I still don’t patronize Hobby Lobby or Chik-Fil-A because of their controversies. I’m more inclined to spend money on WDW trips, ShopDisney, and Disney movies because of the current controversy. But these things don’t erase negative feelings over bad experiences. As a solo traveler at the very beginning of February 2022, I had to wait 75 minutes past my reservation time to be seated inside at Liberty Tree Tavern. There was nowhere available near the entrance to sit and wait, and I’m a senior citizen with a bad back. And it was hot. After almost an hour I went to the kiosk to complain about the long wait in bad conditions, and they let me (but just me) come into the air-conditioned lobby with a bench to sit on. That was nice. The 75-minute wait was kind of unforgivable.
I think your first sentence is accurate.
There have been countless studies showing that boycotts and controversies have almost no long-term impact on the vast majority of companies.
Something I have come to appreciate is that monocausal explanations for any phenomenon (e.g. Disney’s drop in the rankings) are almost always wrong. There are (almost) always many forces at play. Monocausal explanations tend to be more reflective of our personal biases than reality. You did a great job in this piece considering many of the factors that are contributing to Disney’s reputational hit. Kudos.
Side note, when I saw the rankings a couple days ago my immediate thought was that Patagonia is a great data point that you can be an activist brand, and still be loved by most. Glad to see you included it (with the same thoughts).
Thanks. With stuff like this, I think it’s key to include examples from both sides of the aisle, so to speak, to help cut through those personal biases.
Even that probably still isn’t changing many minds, but at least it’s not feeding into further polarization.
This is gonna be my last response because I don’t wanna get sucked too far into a discussion that really has nothing to do with the post (please feel free to delete all these, Tom!)
1. So you are saying if kids really BELIEVE, they don’t notice differences in appearance? Great! Sounds like you don’t have a problem with your granddaughter!
2. Race is always an issue. Everybody has to learn about it sometime. As adults, our job is to provide age-appropriate answers to the questions kids have.
3. Again, LOL. Yes, the argument does sound silly because there are literally dozens of white doctors on TV and in real life they far outnumber Black doctors. Your granddaughter has plenty of examples to aspire to and there’s nothing wrong with giving Black kids more examples to aspire to.
You really need to think hard about why this casting bothers you so much. Hint: it has nothing to do with your granddaughter.
1. Of course kids notice differences in appearance. What they don’t do, unless they are taught otherwise, is treat people differently because of that difference.
2. Race would not be an issue if we didn’t make it an issue. By changing Arials race, Disney made it an issue. Black children couldn’t relate to Arial and aspire to be a Mermaid because she was white?
3. When all else fails, play the race card
I think the message has been fairly clear for a couple of years. The price of everything Disney has gone beyond what average families can truly afford. Probably quite a few visitors are putting their visits on a credit card and praying they can pay off the debt in the next decade. Disney is charging for perks that used to be included in the price of a ticket. Staying at the resorts doesn’t really have any valuable perks associated with it anymore. Going to the parks requires someone in your party to be tied to their phone all day long. My parents refuse to visit Disney anymore because they don’t have smartphones and don’t want/can’t learn the Genie system. I’m sure they aren’t the only people in their generation feeling excluded by the technology. Diversity in good storytelling is fantastic and I loved Coco and Encanto because the stories were heartwarming. But Disney is remaking classics that really weren’t asking to be remade for no good reason except to check a few boxes. Any new creative media content seems to fall in line with the remakes and the purpose also seems to check a few boxes. Disney needs to take a hard look at what it’s consumers value while building a new generation of Disney lovers. Give us a reason to fall in love with Disney again.
“But Disney is remaking classics that really weren’t asking to be remade for no good reason except to check a few boxes.”
I’m not completely sure of what you’re suggesting, so I’ll just say that the main box Disney is trying to check with the remakes is $$$$$$.
The remakes are low-risk since the stories are a known quantity and have built in nostalgia among older generations. They also introduce the IP to audiences that would otherwise resist it. In particular, those who view animation as being “for kids” and the Chinese box office.
The big issues with these remakes is that they’re creatively bankrupt and only one (Pete’s Dragon) has surpassed its animated counterpart. None of the rest can justify their own existence–they’re just cash grabs.
You have a typo talking about the optimism in 2023 with the return of Bob Chapek. I think you meant Bob Iger.
Thanks for the heads up–fixed it!
I’ll just say that other people must have much better experiences than I do with Delta Airlines.
We have a ton of experience with every legacy domestic carrier, and Delta is far and away the best. It’s not even a remotely close call IMO, and the gap has definitely grown since ~2019.
I’m with you, Gary. I had one round trip Delta flight last year, and their systems screwed up my ticket so badly after a mechanical delay that they tried to kick me off the plane. I get system errors, but my app showed that I had a seat while theirs didnt, and all they needed to do was correct it instead of yelling at me.
Then, on the flight back the pilot actually *missed* the airport and had to circle around for another go a half hour later.
I believe what you say, Tom, but that was a lot of bad all at once.
I just don’t understand how the government (in this case, the Florida state government) can get away with attempting to take control of a private enterprise. It does not seem very capitalism-friendly.
Disney was granted rather broad autonomy when it was the only game in town. Let’s reverse the question a bit. Why should Disney enjoy perks that SeaWorld, Universal and Busch dont?
I am certainly on the “side” of Disney in this standoff, but I also understand how the last couple years have caused brand damage for Disney.
With today’s polarization, they had a very delicate needle to thread with the initial statement(s)–and Chapek botched them. A defter touch by a savvier communicator, and Disney may have escaped the fallout. (I think their reputation would’ve still taken a hit to some degree for the other reasons discussed here.)
Universal and Sea World both have their own improvement districts and have for nearly 30 years, same as Disney. They pay for needed improvements to surrounding infrastructure.
Jack, there are over 1,800 special districts in Florida. Unfortunately, the media has made it look like Disney is the only one.
Sorry Sue -Apples and Oranges. I won’t post the many, MANY rebuttals to that arguement but this from the Tampa Bay Tribune sums it up best: “Local governments have given some special privileges to Disney’s theme park competitors. But none approach the state’s arrangement with Disney.”
Two examples: Disney can build a nuclear power plant or an airport (It used to have one!) if it feels like it!