Disney Coming to a Maternity Hospital Room Near You!

Disney barging into hospital maternity rooms?  Hmmm.  Okay, maybe the Disney Baby reps aren’t barging into your hospital room just after you have given birth.  I’m sure they wait a few hours.  Maybe talking about cute little Disney characters would make you temporarily forget about the hours of pushing and pain you just had giving birth.  Or maybe not?  Either way, Disney has started a new priority – get to your newborn first!  Sure, you are bombarded with free stuff in the hospital from formula to diapers but I can’t ever remember a company rep visiting my hospital room with a pitch.  Leave it to Disney to make a risky move!

Disney Baby is the Walt Disney Company’s newest project and it’s already in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times article giving you all the details:

The Walt Disney Company has started an ambitious and risky march toward the one corner of childhood it does not already dominate: newborns.

Late last month, the company quietly began pressing its newest priority, Disney Baby, in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States. A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie.

In bedside demonstrations, the bilingual representatives extol the product’s bells and whistles — extra soft! durable! better sizing! — and ask mothers to sign up for e-mail alerts from DisneyBaby.com. More than 200,000 bodysuits will be given away by May, when Amazon.com is set to begin selling 85 styles for a starting price of $9.99 for two; Nordstrom and Target will follow with more Disney Baby items, including hats.

“If ever there was an opportunity for a trusted brand to enter a market and provide a better product and experience, it’s this,” said Robert A. Iger, chief executive of Disney. “I’m extremely excited about it.”

The endeavor dances close to a flame. Disney has suffered harsh criticism in recent years over products directed at the very young. The fiercest battle has involved Baby Einstein, the Disney-owned maker of “developmental and entertainment” videos and toys for babies and toddlers.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit organization, claimed victory in 2009 when Disney, apparently acknowledging that the products did not turn babies into geniuses after all, offered some Baby Einstein refunds.

But Disney has moved on. In this new venture, the company gains access to the maternity hospitals through a company called Our365, a business that sells bedside baby pictures. Our365 pays hospitals for exclusive access, and companies like Disney pay Our365 to promote their own products. Our365 also has Fisher-Price and Procter & Gamble as clients. It is unclear whether mothers know of Our365’s financial ties to these companies.

Certainly hospitals have given new mothers gift bags for decades. In recent years, however, more have banned the practice, citing criticism that free baby formula, for example, discourages breast-feeding. Privacy also is a concern. “This is taking advantage of families at an extremely vulnerable time,” said Jeff McIntyre, director of national policy for the advocacy group Children Now.

Elizabeth Carter gave birth to her daughter Olivia on Jan. 19 in Piedmont, Calif., and was given a Disney Cuddly Bodysuit as part of an Our365 photo package. “It surprised me that Disney was in there promoting something right as the baby was born, but we figured as new parents we weren’t in a position to turn free things down,” she said.

Mrs. Carter put the garment on her hours-old baby immediately. “And I have to say Olivia looked fabulous, much better than the rough, bulky thing the hospital had her wearing,” she said.

Disney estimates the North American baby market, including staples like formula, to be worth $36.3 billion annually. Its executives talk about tapping into that jackpot as if they were waging a war. “Apparel is only a beachhead,” said Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products.

As such, the company does not intend to stop with bodysuits, which are playfully adorned with Disney characters like Simba from “The Lion King.” Also planned are bath items, strollers, baby food and an abundance of other products — all pushed with so much marketing muscle that Disney Baby may actually dent operating margins in Mr. Mooney’s division in the near term. But this is a long-term play, and it could have its greatest value far beyond the crib. Disney Baby is also intended to draw mothers into the company’s broader web of products and experiences. Mr. Mooney is working on a loyalty program, for instance, in which pregnant women might receive free theme park tickets in return for signing up for e-mail alerts.

So, what do you think?  Good idea?  Or is it a bit much even for Disney?

To read the entire New York Times article go here.