Does an iconic brand really need to react to changing preferences?

By our News Team | 2023

Companies spend fortunes on tracking changing customer preferences and then adapting to them. But it seems brands like Disney may be exempt.

Most profit-driven companies will, understandably, respond to their customers’ preferences. But not all, it seems. Iconic children’s entertainment company Walt Disney Studios is one of those.

Research led by the University of Buffalo in the US indicates that this is true when it comes to the values the famous Walt Disney brand assigns to the heroes and villains found in its feature-length films.

Consumer Preferences

Photo by Bo Shou from Pexels

Lindsay Hahn, an Assistant Professor of Communication, and Tahleen Lattimer, a graduate student in the Department of Communication, and their co-authors tested whether there was a change in Disney’s content-creation values over time, based on the box office success of previous Disney pictures.

Hahn says it’s not surprising her study shows Disney heroes to be altruistic and moral, while its villains are egotistic and selfish, But what is surprising is that the results suggest no deviation of values to this over time.

“Disney holds to this pattern regardless of what audiences like and don’t like, and they don’t appear to change what they do based on audience appeal,” she says. 

“There’s obviously an extensive [approval] process going on before these films ever see the light of day, but Disney’s enduring popularity is likely at work here. The Disney brand alone is enough to predict success.”

The findings appear in the peer-reviewed Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.

Understand how Disney portrays its values to audiences

“Questions surrounding the effects of Disney content on audiences’ value systems are as old as Disney films, so we should try to understand how the values in these productions are being portrayed,” explains Hahn. 

For the study, Hahn’s research team conducted a content analysis of all 734 Disney Studios films. Nature documentaries, concert films, anthologies and musicals without dialogue were not included.

The researchers then trained human coders on the model of intuitive-motivation and exemplars (MIME), a recent theoretical advancement that provides a framework for investigations such as the current study. The MIME’s long-term component suggests a reciprocal relationship between media and audiences. If audiences appraise media content higher when it presents values that they like and relate to, then the creators of films are, in turn, more likely to produce content featuring those values.

Although Hahn observed no relationship between the number of films produced and box office earnings of value-consistent films, several factors led her to the conclusion that ‘absence of evidence’ is not ‘evidence of absence’.

“I think that even without clear evidence in our study for this claim, it makes logical sense that profit-driven media creators like Disney would want to create content that they know their audience would like, otherwise profits would be at risk,” she says. 

“Given the likelihood that creators are responding to audience preferences, it could be that we simply need to develop more sensitive methods for assessing entertainment content.”

“We might also say that Disney doesn’t need to react to any changes in audiences’ value preferences because they have been successful in the past and continue to be. But, at the same time, we should be trying to answer questions about how this is affecting audiences.”

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.