Sleeping beauty: How Disney bested Revlon sales

'Incubating' teen stars via its programs pays off big for Mouse House

By Published on .

The next big power player in the beauty category: Walt Disney Co.

The Disney Channel's programming, which acts as a magnet for tween girls, is helping fuel a $23 billion consumer-products business-$2.2 billion of it made up of health and beauty items.

Those numbers don't represent revenue to Disney, but rather total sales of merchandise bearing Disney brands mainly under license to other marketers. And the total, while mostly cosmetics, includes items such as Huggies diapers bearing Disney characters. But even so, Disney health-and-beauty products are a much bigger business than Revlon, which logged sales of $1.4 billion last year.

The foundation of that empire is increasingly teens such as Miley Cyrus, once known simply as country singer Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter, but now Disney's latest lifestyle brand for tween girls.

Ms. Cyrus, who stars in the show "Hannah Montana" as an ordinary teen with a secret identity as a rock star, will have her face plastered on cosmetics, accessories and clothing lines this fall. She's the latest in a lineage-established only five years ago by Hilary Duff, aka "Lizzie McGuire"-of stars in nonthreatening, parent-approved series that Disney is turning into merchandising machines.

biggest trendsetter

Speaking at the Health & Beauty America 2006 conference in New York earlier this month, Sheila Ullery, director of Disney Consumer Products and a former L'Oreal executive, said she used to look at fashion magazines or cosmetics from other countries to tap trends. But she now believes the entertainment industry is by far the biggest trendsetter. And Disney Channel, with a host of top-rated shows for girls 8 to 14, is by far the biggest in the demographic, she believes.

"We bring in stars ... and we actually incubate them," Ms. Ullery said. "So it's not just about creating a show. We develop movies behind them. Records. We put them in our theme parks for major appearances. And we can also create consumer-product lifestyle brands around them."

In the case of Ms. Duff, that process took years. With new shows such as "Hannah Montana," it's happening almost overnight. The first fruits of Ms. Cyrus' lifestyle brand are hitting stores the same year her show is launching.

The Disney machine is running full tilt, including a fashion and personal-care line for boys from the Sprouse brothers, Cole and Dylan, stars of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," which hit store shelves earlier this year. Raven Symone, a fashionista on her "That's So Raven" series, is cranking out merchandise, too.

The focus of Disney health and beauty has shifted in recent years from licensing its traditional cartoon characters for infant products to developing products based on its movies and Disney Channel shows.

Most of the cosmetics come as gifts from parents or grandparents, and "everything has to be age appropriate," Ms. Ullery said. Disney has an edge in the market, she said, because "parents feel very comfortable with the Disney name."

It's still not clear if Ms. Cyrus or Ms. Symone can be quite the tween idol Ms. Duff was, said Greg Livingston, exec VP of Wondergroup, a Cincinnati teen-marketing agency. But it's clear Disney is the biggest single media influence on tween girls, giving the company a major edge in building lifestyle brands, he said.

Disney does little advertising for the brands, Mr. Livingston said, relying on what he termed "brand fusion" of entertainment and merchandise to build them. He sees it as a new take on Japan's Bandai developing toys around its "Power Rangers" series.

Still, the question remains whether girls weaned on star-inspired cosmetics will expect the same as they age. "It will be interesting to see how this plays out as they become adults," Ms. Ullery said. "Will they be bored with Hollywood or really expecting stars on their products?"
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