As Gov. As Florida's Ron DeSantis embarks on his presidential campaign, one of the main messages is to 'hold woke corporations accountable', as an email sent out for fund-raising stated on Tuesday. To hammer that point home, DeSantis has attacked Disney at almost every campaign stop.
DeSantis stated at a New Hampshire town hall last week that he had 'put this company on the pedestal'. In the past, it was like an all-American corporation. But they have really embraced the concept of sexualized content being included in the programming. That is a line I will not cross.
He has repeated this theme at recent rallies held in South Carolina and Oklahoma, along with his claim that Disney aims to 'rob our children their innocence'
Both sides have been at loggerheads for the past year. Mr. DeSantis boasted in speeches and during a book tour that he had punished the company because it opposed a controversial education law, which opponents branded 'Don’t Say Gay'.
Disney is still one of the most powerful brands in the entire world, despite the political attacks. Disney's public image is beginning to crack, and it now faces the unpleasant possibility of being attacked by Mr. DeSantis at least for another year. The Republican primary will run until July 2024.
Disney has spent 100 years avoiding political and cultural pitfalls, for fear of damaging its brand. Disney's family movies, shows, and rides in theme parks are, at least theoretically, aimed at all. It's the last thing Disney wants to see Mickey Mouse tarred with mud during the presidential election.
John Gerzema is the former chief executive of Harris Poll, and also a brand consultant. He said: 'Whether you have a red or blue brand, it doesn't matter. You have less of a branding'. Disney ranked No. 1 in the Axios's Harris Poll corporate reputation rankings published in May, based on surveys of 16,310 respondents. Disney is now ranked 77th, down from the previous ranking of 7. In 2017, the number 7 was ascended.
Disney executives have been debating how to deal with Mr. DeSantis's inflammatory statements. Robert A. Iger was Disney's CEO in April and attacked Mr. DeSantis for his actions against Disney. However, he hasn't spoken publicly about the issue since May 10. Mr. Iger declined to be interviewed for this article. It is unlikely that a retaliatory strike at Mr. DeSantis would improve the situation. Recent Reuters/Ipsos survey showed that the half of Americans do not pay enough attention to this fight to form a full opinion. Why risk making headlines?
Analysts said that Disney's business is not at risk unless attendance in the theme parks of the company begins to decline dramatically -- which there has been no indication yet.
In an email, Mr. Gerzema stated that 'Disney’s intangible values, perceptions of citizenship, ethics, and growth (as a measure of the future potential and relevance of the company in my life) were the fastest declining.
Disney executives deny that brand erosion is a problem in private. They have also taken steps to safeguard the company's image. Asad Iyaz was named chief brand officer by Mr. Iger in April. He said he would be responsible for "stewarding and elevating Disney's brand globally."
In subtle ways, the company has also pressed Mr. DeSantis.
Gavin Newsom of California was photographed with Mr. Iger. Gavin Newsom, the California Governor, was at Disneyland on 13 June. Mr. Newsom attended to discuss a plan for expansion that would create thousands of jobs. This was to remind Mr. DeSantis of the fact that Disney had stopped a project in Florida. Mr. Newsom attended Disneyland's Pride Nite and posed for pictures with guests wearing rainbow Mickey Mouse ear.
Disney faces a challenge in the form of soundbites on the campaign trail. Mr. DeSantis is fond of saying that Disney supports'sexualizing' children. These words are often used in local newscasts, as well as on social media platforms.
Disney, which joined over 200 other companies to oppose the Florida Education Law, said that it did so because it feared the law 'could unfairly target transgender, gay, lesbian and nonbinary families and children'. This is far from being in favour of sexualizing kids.
In a recent TV advertisement, which aired in Iowa as well as South Carolina, Mr. DeSantis' main super PAC falsely implied that the company worked to brainwash kids. The narrator of the advertisement says ominously, 'Once, Disney movies were made for children, and not to contain secret sexual content.'
Disney executives watched in horror at the spread of Mr. DeSantis' attacks. The headline of The Orlando Sentinel on May 30, read: 'DeSantis vs. Trump - Who Hates Disney More?'
A few weeks back, a group of demonstrators, with some holding DeSantis signs and others displaying Nazi symbols, gathered in front of Disney World's main entrance, attracting national attention. A Disney executive in Orlando sent a reporter a text message that said, 'Oh my god, Mickey is trending on video next to swastikas'.
Mr. Iger also has to deal with some unwelcome developments in the business world, such as poor box office results, a screenwriters strike that continues, and the departure from Disney of its chief financial officer. Investors are getting antsy. Disney shares trade at $89, down 7 % from a year earlier and up 55 % from their March 2021 peak.
Disney's main source of revenue for the past 30 years, traditional television (including ESPN), has been reduced to a shadow. This is due to cord-cutting, a lack of advertising and the rising costs of sports programming. Iger believes that streaming will bring the company back to growth. Disney+ is losing subscribers and the streaming division as a whole has lost nearly $2 billion in profit since the beginning of the fiscal year.
Disney is currently in the middle of a campaign that aims to reduce costs by $5.5. Disney is in the midst of a campaign to cut $5.5. This involves the elimination 7,000 jobs or about 4 percent of their global total. Notable layoffs include those at Pixar, ESPN, and other notable companies.
The contract of Mr. Iger expires in 2024. It's still a mystery.
Iger was expected to be sailing in retirement bliss. In 2021, he handed the reins of Disney over to Bob Chapek, an ex-theme park executive. In November, Mr. Chapek resigned and Mr. Iger was reinstated as CEO.
The successes of Mr. Chapek were overshadowed with missteps, one of which was his response to Florida's education law. It prohibits, among other things, classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identification until the third grade. Discussions are limited to older students. Florida has now extended this ban to include all grades.
Chapek initially tried to avoid taking a position, which led to a revolt among employees. He denounced then the law angering Mr. DeSantis, leading to the battle that Disney still faces today.
Mr. DeSantis acted to limit the autonomy that Disney had in managing its Disney World resort. The company worked quietly to avoid the effort and caught the governor off guard. In April, both Mr. DeSantis and Disney retaliated. They sued the governor in federal courts, pulled the plug on $1 billion of Florida projects, and said another $17 billion was at risk.
Disney's suit is moving forward, but it will take years to resolve. Meanwhile, the political conflict continues.
Disney filed documents with the federal court on Tuesday to propose the date of the trial for its lawsuit against DeSantis. The date is July 15, 2024. This coincides with the start of the Republican National Convention.
Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.