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Tinker Bell breaks out on her own

Tinker Bell, the star of a new Disney movie

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:
For years, Tinker Bell has done all the dirty work. Flitting around in the background ,quietly sprinkling pixie dust, while Peter Pan gets all the glory. But no more.
Today Tinker Bell moves to center stage as Disney releases the first of four new Tink movies on DVD. The newly-empowered Tink is the cornerstone of what Disney hopes will be its next multi-billion dollar franchise.
As Marketplace's Rachel Dornhelm reports.


Rachel Dornhelm:
Disney knows something about creating franchises for young girls. Its Princess line brings in $4 billion a year on sales of everything from Sleeping Beauty pajamas to Cinderella's glass slippers. But little girls, like 9-year-old Bennet Flemmingwood, can age out of that obsession quickly. Bennet says she used to like princesses. Now they seem babyish.

Bennet Flemmingwood: They weren't doing things for themselves, other people were doing it for them. Like Snow White, she wasn't as smart. You don't take food from strangers.

But fairies . . .

Flemmingwood: They're in nature and you don't have to be, like, watching a movie or like wear a fancy dress, they can be more personality and smart.

Sitting next to Bennet for an impromptu focus group is 7-year-old Fiona McLoughlin.

Fiona McLoughlin: I have a couple fairy books at home and I read one and I like how they're creative and how they make clothes out of their own plants and stuff.

Disney picked up on this age group's affinity for fairies a few years ago.
And as fortune would have it the company had a go-to heroine.

Tape of Tinker Bell Trailer:You know her name. Tinker Bell? Tinker Bell? Tinker Bell? Tinker Bell!

For the past three years, Disney's been setting the stage for a whole new world of fairies. Today's DVD release will be followed by three more fairy movies. Tink is getting more face time at the theme parks. And there's a new online site where girls, like the ones I talked to, can create their very own sprite.

Girls: So you can pick one of those that she doesn't already have and she doesn't have an anklet.

Kathy Franklin is vice president of Global studio franchise development at Disney. She says over 7 million personalized fairies are already playing together on pixiehollow.com.

Kathy Franklin: What we found is most compelling for these girls about Disney fairies is that Tinker Bell has friends and she's figuring out who she is and what her talent is and what her place in the world is. And that's something that 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-old girls are going through themselves.

Until now, Disney's been short of characters aimed directly at this age group says Janet Oak, a marketing consultant at Just Kid Inc. And it's not a demographic the company wants to overlook.

Janet Oak: In terms of sort of that age specifically what you'll see is that they start to gain more influence with their parents over what their parents spend.

These little big girls already account for $3 billion a year in doll sales. And if Tink takes off there will be a bigger licensing market for toys and other merchandise based on her, like friendship bracelets and fairy backpacks. Oak says 5- to 8-year-old girls can be a difficult market to reach.

Oak: Yeah, I mean there's a whole lot of buzz about this KGOY they call it, kids growing older younger.

That means dolls like Barbie and Bratz that were originally aimed at this group are now popular among younger girls. And 5 to 8 year olds are tuning into tween-queen franchises like Disney's Hannah Montana. Oak says Disney would probably be very happy if more of those girls adopted fairies and stopped making their teenage franchises uncool for anyone over the age of eight. Oak says parents might be happier, too.

Oak: For moms I think it works on two levels, one it maintains a sense of childhood innocence. And it also taps into this idea of allowing children to find their special talent and what they're good at.

Tape of Tinker Bell: Your talent makes you who you are, you should be proud of it.

Disney has to be proud of its talent turning pixie dust into gold. This year, amidst an economic downturn, the fairies franchise is expected to bring in a billion dollars.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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How quickly we forget Tinker Bell's starring role in her first Disney Feature film. Since Peter Pan is a favorite of my 2 young sons, I'm quite familiar with her, and have answered such questions as "Why does Tink shake her tush and look in the mirror?", and "Why does Tink try to get Wendy killed?"

It's delightful that little girls are finally ready to look past Disney Princesses, but Tinkerbell is not the Fairy role model that I would recommend.

Parents interested in quenching their daughter's desire to delve into fairies would be advised to indulge them in the opportunity to become the ultimate pixie - Girl Scouts have been empowering Brownies for almost 100 years with friendship and self-esteem building activities….and taking millions out of our pockets, replacing our cash not with pixie dust - but Thin Mints.

Listening to Rachel Dornhelm's veritable commercial for the The Disney company's new Tinker Bell franchise, I felt so sad for the little girls of America. Fiona and Bennet, the girls quoted in the piece, seem very intelligent. Why shouldn't they be encouraged to have childhoods that belong uniquely to them, with all the creativity and wonder they deserve? Why in those special years when children are learning so much about their world, should their experience be shaped by a giant corporation whose chief goal is to make money by turning children into a consumers? I was disappointed in Marketplace because those questions and the real issue underlying them, the corporate scripting of today's childhood, was not even considered in what amounted to a free ad for the Tinker Bell products. I invite your reporters to think more deeply about such things, especially when they involve our precious children. Thank you.

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