Disney on China: Build Family Brand

Company's largest Disney Store to serve as a visitor's center to promote new park

While it’s already had a presence in China for years, the Walt Disney Co. will focus more on building its family brand with consumers there through 2015, when Shanghai Disneyland is set to open its gates.

“We’ve been building the Disney brand over the years and we will continue to,” said Disney chief Bob Iger during a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the company’s strong fourth quarter and fiscal year results on Thursday.

SEE ALSO: Disney Reports Strong Full Year and Fourth Quarter Profits

While Chinese government restrictions have limited the exposure of Disney’s characters on TV in the country, it’s been able to put more of its franchises in front of audiences through online platforms, at retail and in theaters through the addition of more screens and multiplexes. Disney has operated a theme park in Hong Kong since 2005, but the Shanghai park will be its largest behind Orlando’s Walt Disney World and its first in mainland China.

Until the end of 2015, much of Disney’s activity in China, Iger said, will be focused on growing “the theme park brand, not only to make sure people know it’s coming but also (to let them know) what will be in it,” which Disney has yet to reveal.

That will likely come in the form of TV or online programming that details the construction of the park and specials revolving around the specific attractions, Iger said.

He added that Disney’s plans in China include boosting the profile of its films and their characters that have attractions designed around them in the Shanghai park.

“If there’s a themed attraction based on a certain movie, it’s likely the Chinese will see that movie in the marketplace in a variety of ways so they can better appreciate the story,” Iger said.

Disney also announced on Thursday that it plans to build the company’s largest Disney Store (see renderings below).

The retail outlet will serve “as a quasi-visitors center” for the park when the store opens in early 2015, Iger said. Store is being built at the base of Shanghai’s massive TV tower in the city’s financial district in Pudong, a major draw for tourists and locals in the city given the hotels, restaurants and shopping malls in the area. The surrounding area attracts some 40 million visitors a year.

The 53,000-square-foot store will feature 10,800 square feet of retail space and a Disney-themed outdoor plaza area where families and kids will be able to interact with their favorite characters and stories from Disney, Pixar and Marvel as well as “Star Wars.”

“China’s flagship Disney Store will feature the largest and most diverse collection of Disney products by local and international designers,” said Stanley Cheung, Disney’s exec VP-managing director, Greater China.

The first Disney Store opened in 1987. There are now 340 outlets around the globe.

Iger added that the opening of the Shanghai park will provide Disney with “a halo effect on the brand, and appreciation of Disney stories and characters. We intend to explore all areas to take advantage of that.”

But first, “we plan on building a great park so that when (the Chinese) go, they can appreciate the stories better,” Iger said.

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