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'Princess' rules in marketing

Disney exploited tie-ins to food, fashion, beauty, toys . . .

Disney doesn't miss a beat when it comes to merchandising, and that's never been more evident than with

The Princess and the Frog


The easy answer for the almost overwhelming amount of merchandise - from MP3 players to beauty products - associated with Princess is, well, it's Disney. The movie was also out just in time for holiday shopping. Dig deeper and you're standing on the cusp of history as Disney introduces its first black princess.

Ask them, though, and it was just chance. The marketing team was lucky enough that this particular Disney story was full of things for them to sell.

"We always try to do a strong product assortment," says Disney Consumer Products' Mary Beech, who is vice president of the Princess franchise. "This film gave us more categories than most because of the storytelling.

"You have the princess, of course, and a wonderful prince with a great personality. You have a musical element. You have cooking in the film. You have fantastic animal characters. That allowed us to do plush . . . apparel and jewelry. . . . It was very natural."

And the grooming set that includes shampoo, conditioner, hair detangler, and bubble bath from natural beauty line Carol's Daughter, which counts among its devotees Mary J. Blige and Jada Pinkett Smith? Beech said the company thought hard about "what this film was about and what it would mean."

In other words, this film would mean a lot to a lot of people, namely the black community, which was watching very closely.

After seeing a pitch of the story 24 months out and brainstorming with the animators, the team from Disney Consumer Products told the animators about different merchandising categories, including fashion and home; toys; food, health and beauty; publishing; Disney Store exclusives, etc. One of the category leaders brought Carol's Daughter to the group's attention.

"Carol's Daughter felt like a great fit. And her story mirrors Tiana's," Beech says of founder Lisa Price, who named her business after her mother, Carol Price. "It's just icing on the cake when you can find brands that can so match. Disney is the number-one licenser of characters in the world. We really set the pace, I think, for character licensing."

All animated films push the usual product suspects, but Disney is inspired when it comes to tie-ins. There's a doll for almost every outfit Tiana wears; Band-Aids; a reusable shopping tote; and a "blanket with sleeves," among many other things. There's even a cookbook - Princess Tiana shares a dream with her father to open a restaurant in New Orleans - with recipes for kids that include "Tiana's Famous Beignets" re-created from the film.

When you watch the movie, if you haven't already, you can look for tie-ins that Disney might have missed (not many). According to Beech, studio chief creative officer John Lasseter also thinks that way. He pushed the team to do more products featuring ancillary characters Louis the gator and Ray the firefly.

But Tiana is still front and center, and even apart from the other wearers of the crown in the Disney Princess line of merchandise. And that was part of the company's strategy.

"We wanted to celebrate her and her individual storytelling," said Beech. "We just wanted to celebrate the film and the DVD. She'll be integrated after the DVD release in fall 2010."

In the meantime, Tiana dances to her own beat, which includes a soundtrack that's a romp through the music closely associated with New Orleans, including musicians Dr. John, who also voices a character in the film; Terence Blanchard; and zydeco legend Terrance Simien.

Simien, whose accordion playing inspired some of the firefly Ray's movements on-screen, just wanted Disney to get it right, to get an accurate portrayal of his home of Louisiana and the people who live there.

"Princess Tiana could have been my sister or my neighbor. . . . I looked up at the screen, and I said, 'Yeah, that's us. This is how we live. We cook gumbo. It's right on time,' " Simien says. "This is gonna blow kids away."