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The western fairy tales have basically undergone three major stages of transitions: the oral form; the literary form and finally the digital form. Originally, fairy tales in the western civilization are oral folk tale of magic which serve to express lower classes’ wishes to satisfy their needs and wants. (Jack, )
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Toward the end of 17th century, printing press adapted oral tales into a new literary genre. The rationalization of fairy tales, due to intervention of gatekeepers in blocking fantasy fairy tales while publishing those stresses christian morality, has hindered creativity. At the same time, increased production of new tales for amusement illustrates Adorno’s culture industry which mars cultural heritage and imagination for increased production and profits.
Then came to the era of digital form, one of the most successful genres of fairy tales, during World War II and Great Depression. Widespread misery brought in the idea of producing fairy-tale films to make money from people’s longing for happiness.(Jack, ) “Standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance. The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows even stronger.” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1976)
Fairy tales have been commodified and influenced by proliferation of adaptations for films. Today, fairy tales become a form of entertainment, embracing the concept of marketing and advertising. The change is in line with two main roles of culture industry: to create profits and to stimulate economic changes.
Case study: Walt Disney Company
The fairy-tale film industry
Walt Disney, the ever successful model of fairy-tale film industry, is said to keep fairy tales alive through films and theme parks.
Bringing us back to the standard structure of western fairy tales as shown in the classic stories like “The Cinderella” and “The Sleeping Beauty”: the white princess who soon gets into trouble and rescued by Prince Charming, followed by an inheritant end of the story: and they lived happily ever after, we realize that the idea of pseudo-individualization in Disney’s early films may be true. This maybe strategy to reduce quality uncertainty as well as risk of trying to be innovative and to assure profitability by providing consumers something they familiar to or previously successful storylines.
However, realizing the fact that consumers are no longer as passive and uncritical as what Adorno critiqued, Disney fast to adapt to the ever-demanding consumers by moving in suprising and interesting ways instead of imitating or reproducing what had been done before. Modernisation has contributed to a switch-over in power to the consumers.
Disney gives birth to its first black princess, Tiana, in its recent animated fairy-tale film “The Princess and the Frog” inspired by old tale “The Frog Prince”. Everyone knows the story in which a princess finds true love by kissing a frog that magically turns into her handsome prince. Tiana still kisses a frog but the result is quite different. Besides trying to surprise its audiences with a fresh twist in the mix of humour, thrills and melody, Disney also moved away from its usual macho genre by protraying a strong and independent girl who is so determined in pursuing her dreams instead of waiting to be rescued as other princesses. By using familiar characters and title, Disney tends to appear to the public with a simple, immediate and easily recognizable identity which helps to reduce the uncertainty and to attract consumers while manifesting the differences from the original story based on their similarities.
Since film is considered an experiential commodity that quality isn’t accessible prior consumption, successful branding becomes essential as it is emotionally rewarding to consumers and financially rewarding for the business. What Disney differentiates itself from other competitors is making people happy.
In order to compete more effectively, besides using advanced technology to stand out among competitors, Disney also relies on advertising to lure consumers to watch its movie which again reflects self-renewal nature of culture industry of creating artificial needs through advertising and satisfying those needs through consumers’ consumption. Cult of stars and famous creators are also used to convince the consumers of the film’s quality by their “celebrity” status in the field.
Windowing is not new to Disney. Disney has expanded its line from VCDs, DVDs to Blu-ray in recent years as part of efforts in extending the life-cycle of its films by moving to smaller “theaters”.
Due to the rising cost of production and high risk of failure, Disney has a wide repertoire of cultural goods under it as part of risk management. As one of the world’s largest conglomerates, Disney dominates in various media business encompassing movies, music, publising, TV and theme parks.
As Negus (1999) stated, “Culture produces an industry.” Corporate culture impacts the workers and the cultural products they produce thus affect the economic profits. As one of the world’s best company to work in, Disney has always been promoting a vibrant culture that allows risk taking and innovation. It also promotes positive and inclusive ideas about families, passion and dedication among its employees.
As in other service business, the quality of service can make or break Disney. In order to keep up with consumers’ ever-more-demanding expectations, quality and service are built into all the training programs taught by Disney University. Benchmarks are set to measure employees’ quality or service. This illustrates the manipulation of emotional labour as workers are increasingly being expected to display certain emotions but to suppress others in order to provide quality services. Although workers are not passive and may react or fight back, in most cases, they tend to comply to the corporate norms as job market is very competitive.
New Trends in Disney Fairy-tale Film Industry: Threats & Opportunities
As in other industry, piracy is not a new issue facing Disney. But the advent of file sharing system and availability of free films on the Internet further undermine the industry. Copyright protection becomes tougher as users can always develop new methods to bypass.
With the advent of downloading technology, consumers are able to access to free movies just within hours after their release in theaters. Since then, consumers don’t perceive a need to pay more for cinema tickets for just once and even more expensive homevideos.
In addition, fairy-tale films’ lack of the special effects that underlying the difference between the enjoyment of the movie at the cinema or at the home is of the factors as well. Therefore, Disney’s emphasizing on 3D fairy-tale films production may be part of strategies to revive the cinema as the priviledged place for film experience and high quality entertainment.
Competition – TV 130
With new features such as streaming Internet movies and 3D capabilities added to the digital TVs, Disney is fighting a sadder trend.
Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have continually come out with new digital TVs with Internet hook-ups that can grab Flickr photos and directly link to sources such as Netflix and YouTube videos and news stories through a broadband connection. In addition, Dell and HP also sell computers with HDMI outputs that can be hooked up directly to a TV. This is especially convenient for those working people who are too busy to catch movies in cinema.
It is predicted that more valued-priced TVs with Internet connection will be born in the future. Watching films online with big-screen TV will also become a mainstream and big wave in the industry.
Digitalization becomes a landmark development in Disney’s evolution of home entertainment. Recognizing the pervasiveness of digital consumption especially among young audiences, Disney comes to embrace digitalization to expand its market and gain access to new revenue resources while meeting consumers’ demands.
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Recently, Walt Disney Corporation released KeyChest, a new technology that enables films distribution using computers and cell phone rather than DVDs and TVs. To compete more effectively, Disney provides value and above that provided by free films such as easy storage, higher quality, virus and legal threat protection, and acccess in multiple form and locations. KeyChest is also intended to be a multie-corporate venture as consumers wont have much of a variety to choose from if only Disney is involved.
Digitalization which is more cost effective than physical one expose Disney to a larger audience. Digital medium like the Internet can serve as a new platform for its established practice of windowing . In addition, being able to grasp the opportunity of digital distribution, it is believed that Disney can better control and fight against digital piracy since it ultimately has control over consumption of the content. Nevertheless, the digitalization movement may seem to widen digital divide as some people have very limited or no access to digital and information technology at all.
The high performance at box office of Disney’s films indicates that consumers are still willing to pay more for good movies. While computer screen maynot where consumers want to access their films, the industry also need to cater to those consumers who like to own a physical product. By applying value-based pricing policy, consumers can watch the films in the price that matches their values, thus expanding Disney’s market and increasing economic profits.
It is predicted that the digital distribution of films will expand significantly and transform Disney’s film from a product to a service in the recent future. Taking lessons from the music industry, the digitalisation is a great opportunity to sustain well in global market.
Tie-ins and Spin-off: Selling of disney’s products
Disney’s brand is recognized through the characters marketed in their films and mechandise. Merchandising comes with a long history, but the packages grow larger and even larger today.
Fairy-tale films, especially those gain popularity, have always been the center-piece of a package with all other accessories like book, food, toys and clothes. Disney increases its production’s shelf life and extracts money by generating people’s interest and enjoyment on it and though the succession of new audience-generations. Merchandising which starts even before the release of the film, is able to enhance the value of a movie that performs badly at the box office.
By creating cute and appealing characters targeted mainly at children, Disney seeks to entice children who are more vulnerable to such appeals by satisfying artificial needs it creates. Since consumers tend to attribute their own value to the goods, resulting in almost worship of cultural goods. The fanatical consumption of the latest release of “The Princess and the Frog” wide array of merchandises is a testament to this.
In addition, some tactics such as strategic positioning of outlets are used to increase consumer’s inclination to consume even though they never intend to do so. This brings us to realize what Bryaman (2004) called Disneyization, a process of creating variety and differences and removing of basic needs to entice consumers into consumption beyond necessity. As mentioned, consumers are not passive but most of the time, we are still unconsicously falling into the trap of consumerism.
Nowadays, Disney’s tie-ins to fast food restaurants seems to be a norm and results in what we call hybrid consumption. By giving consumers the merchandises they want either for free or at a lower price through fast food consumption, the fast food industry increases its patronage whereas Disney gains constant publicity for its existing or forthcoming films and makes profits from the process while keeping Disney in people’s mind.
According to Disney’s vice-president of marketing at Buena Vista UK, ” These movies are very expensive to make and release and these tie-ins get us exposure we couldn’t afford to buy.”
Globalization – disneyfication
Over the years, Disney has been expanding its business in a coordinated manner to almost every corner of the planet.
Robertson argued that the production and promotion of goods and services on a global scale requires close, ongoing sensitivity to cultural differences in local circumstances. Its roaring success can be attributed to its transformation into a truly global enterprise and transculturation by taking account into cultural differences while maintaining cultural authenticity – American culture. In order to ensure its films don’t look so different as to allienate the nonwestern audiences, Disney always seeks to modify its products to fit consumers tastes in each market around the world. Therefore, local managers are rendered more power and accountability to increase the globalization of Disney’s products by ensuring the products are locally relevant to the consumers, leading to more strategic distribution and marketing planning. The company also transforms the mode of presentation to which the non-western audiences can respond such as different language subtitles in the films. In China, for example, products are localized to appeal to Chinese consumers.
As globalization is no longer one way homogenous cultural flow from the West to the East but multiple processes that spreads heterogenous global culture through enrichment by variety and diversity of local cultures, Disney starts to absorb and extend its narrative repertoire to include more or less distinct cultures and non-western characters in films such as ‘Aladdin’ (Middle East), ‘The Lion King’ (Africa) and ‘Mulan’ (china). From the production perspective, the extension may be seen as marketing gimmick aimed at capturing more diverse audiences and thus expands its service coverage into international markets when it acquires more markets in these cultures.
Besides catering to the needs of global audiences, Disney also creates a sense of cultural autheticity in globalizing its local cultural products. In ‘The Princess and the Frog’, there is dialectical tension between particularism and universalism. In order to capture cultural autheticity of New Orleans, one the oldest cities in America, distinctly American sound such as Jazz and gospel is used in the film. By universalising the culture to the other side of the world, Disney came out with a natural love story blended with advernturous storytelling, offbeat comedy, captivating characters built on universal longing for happiness. The fateful kiss between Tiana and the frog from different world and social status brings them on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous. The intricate love story and characters’ flaws give consumers a sense of realistic. Disney also took advantage of feminism and wove it in the film to attract audiences, especially females, by protraying a strong and independent girl who has motivating desire in pursuing her dreams.
As in reality, it is no longer a love at first sight but a couple who really don’t like each other at first sight fall for each other after spending time together. Tiana doesn’t know how to appreciate live whereas Prince Naveen is spoiled and irresponsible. A prince that really influences a heroin, he teaches Tiana how to appreciate her life. Their flaws reflects the reality which consumers can identify. Showing family love. who then facing problems of expressing love openly. The most striking fea ture is the female protagonist, Tiana. took advantage of a feminist touch to attract Asian audiences, esp women. Focuses on a tough women and wove the feminism into the film. true love can really thriump, to strive for an ending where everyone lives happile ever after. Tiana has her own motivating desire, motivations and decisions that drive her and make her interested and sympathetic.
In fact, the film impressed the global audiences not really because of its uniqueness and exotics, but it pertains to their lives and cultures. Tiana is appealing as the female consumers can identify themselves with her and even want to cheer her on. The producer maintains a global-local perspective, exploiting the particularity of local culture on the one hand and universalizing it for the world on the other. By fusing the fairy tale, advernture, music and comedy together, the film is reproduced and presented in a new style to the global audiences. The fairy tale genre, the use of English language, the setting of New Orleans, the American music and so on served to bring forth a strong sense of cultural authenticity.
In a nutshell, besides the ability to adapt to transculturation, the budding success of technology investment, the growing conglomeration to mobilize resources and pursue opportunities more effectively, and the elevated status of English as a global language all together provide a favourable environment for the globalization of Disney’s fairy-tale films.
Disney continues to sustain our dreams despite the cruelty of reality. It is Disney’s ability to make people happy captivates a large audiences over the globe, thus it would be better with innovation without changing the happy ending that audiences emotionally attached to. Through various strategic management and its fast adaptation to threats and firm grasp of opportunities, Disney is coping well in going globalization. In fact, Disney’s fairy-tale films do leave more or less some impacts on its audiences. Some love Disney as it make them feel like kids again, while some may think Disney brainwashes the audiences by adding subliminal messages in its films and gives girls delusion that Prince Charming is going to knock on their door one day.
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