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Scott Jagow: We don't usually celebrate birthdays on this show, but we have to recognize this one. Mickey Mouse turns 80 today. Believe it or not, he's the most recognized figure by Americans, edging out Santa Claus and Jesus. And he's one of the world's most successful brands. Here's Stacey Vanek-Smith.

Stacey Vanek-Smith: On this day back in 1928, Steamboat Willie was released in theaters. The cartoon featured Mickey Mouse piloting a steamboat, and it was an instant hit.

Since, then, Mickey's eyes have gotten a lot bigger, his limbs have gotten a little thicker, and oh yeah, he's the force behind a $3 billion company.

Lisa Bradner: Mickey evokes fun and family and just goofiness.

That's Forrester Research Branding expert Lisa Bradner. She says as Disney has ballooned into a media giant, it has managed Mickey very well.

Bradner: They never cheapened him, they never let other people use him, they never licensed him in inappropriate ways. And that's really allowed that brand to stand the test of time.

Bradner says powerful brands like Mickey evoke emotional responses that give consumers a reason to buy, even when money is tight. Disney knows all about that -- Mickey Mouse grew up during the Great Depression.

I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

Follow Stacey Vanek Smith at @svaneksmith