I agree completely with the strategy re-think, though. Duffy had an installed collector appeal before the Disney "debut," due largely in fact to the MiceChat community. Though there were many lurkers, myself and a couple of others were the only people in the English-speaking world who talked positively, publicly, and regularly about the significance of Duffy for both Disney and the world before Disney took him back. We were often ridiculed, even on MiceChat, before the Duffy forum was created. There were only really the three of us for years, before the Disney marketing team started driving out the bandwagon of mediocrity. That wagon, armored in "the real Disney" brand, has forced through a dishearteningly "toddlered-down" version of Duffy that has alienated collectors to the point of, I imagine now, making that market utterly uninterested and unreachable. Not that Disney is really interested in connecting Duffy to that market anyway. If Tokyo Duffy had been in 2008 what global Duffy is now, I would never have been the slightest bit interested. The energy that's fueling Duffy fever is still the heat of the people who are invested in something not offered by the American/global releases, but more and more that energy is becoming the very simple enthusiasm of a trend. Disney's marketing strategy has made it so that the public at large will never see Duffy as a collector's item (though they may someday make "collector's editions" as a cash grab and scalpers will snatch them up to force fans to pay premiums on the secondary market). And now he's headed away from park-exclusivity, which means that to the vast majority of the public, if you are an adult Duffy collector, not only do you not only have what you paid for, but you also get put very quickly into the "creepy" box if you choose to continue to love the character and your collection anyway.
It's a real shame, too, because Disney could have controlled the message. Even if consumers had stubbornly clung to the notion that a teddy bear is not a collectible premium character object that adults can feel good about because it inspires something good in them, Disney could have limited its marketing to that message anyway and demanded that Duffy be taken seriously, that he mean something. They could have focused on Happiness and Luck, Love and Joy, Sailing and Adventure. Not just as dumbed-down versions of Japanese creative genius, but fully developed concepts filled with the magic, heart and commitment to realization that only Disney is capable of. Duffy could have been a renaissance, a legend. If only someone who really believed was at the helm. They have not done that, and show no signs of intending to do so. They have taken a generic failure crafted by unnamed visionaries into a luxury iconic juggernaut filled with genuine heart and made it into a generic flash in the pan again.
Instead of pixie dust, what seems to be happening is the gradual roll-out of the dusted off Disney Bear concept, an entire reversal of all the relentless labor undertaken by the Japanese team of unsung heroes whose names we'll never know to birth their superstar. All the while, Dara Trujillo and Monty Maldovan lap up more kudos from press, company, and fans. I won't be surprised if a whole family of multicolored teddy bears will be the global answer to ShellieMay - who needs a "girlfriend" (she is NOT his "girlfriend" :bang when you can be a big stud with a whole harem? What was once a failed concept made successful in another land, by another country's artists and supporters is becoming another Disney fad. No different from the Fairies. They are methodically stripping Duffy of every single thing that makes him Duffy except the Disney brand, and it doesn't help that so many Duffy "fans" celebrate these moves and show their support with their wallets and their full-throated defense of Duffy's exploitation for cash...on the cheap.
It took less than a year for Disney to offer Duffy on the web through the Disney Store site, although they themselves made much to-do of park exclusivity at launch, totally destroying the exclusive premium element of the brand. Then they marketed cheaply constructed clothes with thin fabrics and few elements for barrel-bottom prices, along with a thoroughly gutted retelling of the Tokyo Duffy storybook which, by the way, removed "the Bear of Happiness & Luck" moniker which had historically been OLC's replacement for "the Disney Bear." No mention was made, either, of Cape Cod. A travesty. Now they're moving to go globally local and have Duffy available in your nearest Disney Store, all rifled through and marked way down...no Happiness or Luck, Love or Joy...no finely-crafted clothes...no hand-created art books...no Cape Cod...obliterating the oeuvre meticulously crafted and powerfully established over the past near decade by OLC, and operating on such a large scale that by the time they finally kill and retire the concept - again - most of the Disney fan world will know Duffy fairly well, and will think anyone holding on to that "failed Disney bear-thing" is an idiot at best, or at worst, a "creep." I cannot understand why anyone supports this.
None of the substance that transformed the failed Disney Bear concept into the astronomic achievement that is authentic Duffy has carried back over to the US or its global rollout. It has been, in every way, on every level, a complete backwards step. The wider they stretch, the less they seem to innovate. The less they seem even interested, because the market they are trying to reach is responding. The "mass" market, the followers, the "this-is-trending-now-and-I've-got-it crowd, the look-at-me's." They are taking Duffy and making him into "the Disney Bear" all over again. But that is not what Duffy is about, and it never has been. No matter how some "fans" may have misunderstood it, Duffy has always had the potential to reconnect Disney to the core of its heart, to its roots, and that path is not being taken. The same as Tokyo DisneySEA would not exist at all, had it not been envisioned, paid for, and managed by the Oriental Land Company. A pity, and a waste.
The Paris debut we were all so excited about turned out to be just more of the same. I will be truly shocked and eat my words if it turns out that Disney is in with Duffy for the long haul, if someday they aim to genuinely acknowledge the Japanese artists who created Duffy, the Cape Cod birthplace and hometown in the most beautiful theme park on Earth, or the adult fans who have believed and created him into an astounding success; but it seems to me at this point that they are using the energy of people like me and you and Duffeteers everywhere to create buzz for a product they only ever invested in primarily because they didn't like seeing all that money being generated by their licensee, and that they only continue to invest in looking for the big payout.
The global Duffy venture, despite my brightest initial hopes (and in line with my darkest initial misgivings and fears), has never looked and does not look to me now to be charged with Happiness, Luck, Love or Joy. It seems totally money-fueled, and once the money runs out, Duffy will be gone again...at least outside Japan. When they build something as detailed and permanent as the Village Greeting Place outside Japan, or even mention Cape Cod, or when the Japanese design team who actually created and continue to develop the character of Duffy are openly acknowledged and celebrated, and their work is the gold standard for Duffy around the world, I'll believe in Disney's commitment. Until then, I just wish this whole thing would hurry up and they'd get all the money they can, and leave Duffy back to the people who actually understand and genuinely love the character.
I have said it many times, but it has never been more true -
I would rather have people never be exposed to Duffy and have the chance to discover him someday, than see some pale shadow and be so certain of the accuracy of their perception that they feel nothing but derision or aversion for it and those who love it, and never have even a hope of glimpsing the real deal.
Here's an article from Canadian Business, from round the time of Duffy's Disney rollout. Underline, bold and blue mine:
Originally posted by Canadian Business
Is there anyone who doubts that the "whole thing" Trujillo is talking about is the HUGE profits? 40% of park merchandise revenue is unbelievable for one merchandise line built around one character available exclusively in the second-gate park; with no movie tie-ins, TV shows or any presence whatsoever outside of being park merchandise. Until I read this, I had understood it to be about 20%, which I thought was amazing. Duffy got bigger than Mickey and now they are castrating him. If they'd really wanted to import the "whole thing," Duffy wouldn't have been available online so soon, his clothes would be more expensive and higher quality and the storybook would not have been rewritten, re"illustrated" and dumbed down. Cape Cod would be his hometown and the "Happiness and Luck" moniker would stand. Perhaps OLC said they'd have to pay to use those elements; who knows the details of that relationship in this regard? And if that's the case, and they refused to pay, thinking they didn't really have to have all that, what does that say about integrity and commitment?
"It started off as a wonderful piece of product that was unique to the theme park," says Trujillo...and now they're eviscerating that, as they have already done every other element that sets Duffy apart from the Disney Bear. Equally frustrating is the fact that all this history and "company lore" is presented as if the birth of Duffy from the ashes of the Disney Bear was the genesis of some Disney team, which is not at all the case. Duffy was tossed in a dumpster of has-been ideas, lovingly found and nurtured by the OLC and made into a phenomenon. Disney didn't care about the concept anymore at all until they understood how much money they were missing out on.
Disney's plan was predicted by me, as well as these analyst experts. It's all very "by the book." Jim Silver was wrong about the "slow program," though. They've completely muddied the Duffy brand in the first year. They could have made even more money by doing it right, and probably also doing it more slowly, more carefully. They could have loved Duffy, and Duffy would have lead them back to loving their own legacy as much as you and I do.
Imagine if the Walt Disney Company had fully embraced Cape Cod and taken us on a sailing, exploring adventure. Imagine if they had embraced the Minnie's Co-op Workshop/every Duffy concept and each individual Duffy had incredible history as so much more than "Mickey's bear." Instead they have underscored that Duffy is MICKEY'S teddy bear every chance they get, to the point of alienating people, to the point of now marketing Duffy with Minnie. Still missing the point that Duffy's identity is his own, and each Duffy belongs to each Tender who loves Duffy...and Disney, from the bottom of our hearts.
Can you imagine the incredible merchandise that might have come with a full-on Disney investment? Brass harmonicas with Duffy paws or hidden Mickeys, Cape Cod sheets and towels, gorgeous maps and storybooks, replicas of postcards from the Village Greeting Place, a Jim Shore or Olszewski Cape Cod light-up display... Disney could choose to do all the things Oriental Land Company can't or won't with the character, not just make him mass-market discount and more child-targeted, limited, throwaway. They could have taken him deeper rather than cheaper. Duffy has all the potential magic of any legendary character who has ever captured the hearts and minds of people anywhere, but you have to tell his story honestly, with integrity and sincere commitment. Isn't that what Disney does? Isn't that what defines the magic that defines the company's entire legacy? You might say, "the public would never have gone for that," but Mickey Mouse was not a "child's thing to make money" first. Walt Disney believed the public could be shown great things and respond in ways no one, including themselves, had yet dared imagine. And he was right.^^
Plus, there was a HUGE opportunity for sincere promotion of the partnership with Oriental Land Company and its creative team on a global stage, and a full acknowledgement of all the honor that Tokyo DisneySEA deserves. Instead they have exploited the energy, hard work and support of the Japanese Duffy creative and fan community and are actively using it to erode the character these same people have built and loved to life. I simply cannot understand why anyone supports this.
MiceChat is a forum for discussion and I feel it's been too long since we had a lot of people engaging with a topic like this. I passionately believe in what Duffy, done right, represents and inspires. He's so much more than "Mickey's cute bear." Isn't he? Or is that message also becoming accepted and ingrained even among fans?