As DeSantis Campaigns, Disney Sees a Long Road Ahead

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is embarking on a presidential run, a key pillar of his message, as noted in a fundraising email on Tuesday, is to “hold wake-up businesses accountable.” . And to drive his sentiments so hard, he has lashed out at Disney targets in nearly every election campaign.

“We screwed this company up. “But they take the idea of ​​having sexual content in shows for young kids very seriously, and it’s just a line I don’t want to cross.”

This is a theme he has repeated at recent rallies in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Iowa, alongside his claim that Disney is “trying to deprive children of their innocence.”

The two have been at odds since last year, and DeSantis has used speeches and book tours to describe how his opponents have punished the company for opposing controversial education laws, labeling them “don’t say you’re gay.” I was proud of myself.

Despite partisan attacks, Disney remains one of the world’s most powerful brands. But cracks are starting to appear in its public reputation, and the company now faces the nasty prospect of being exposed to Mr. DeSantis’ attacks for at least another year. The Republican presidential primary will run until July 2024.

For Disney, it will last forever. For 100 years, Disney has worked diligently to avoid political and cultural pitfalls for fear of damaging its happily ever after brand. At least in theory, Disney’s family movies, TV shows, and theme park rides are for everyone. The last thing the company wants is for Mickey Mouse to be dragged into the swamp of a presidential election.

“Whether it’s a blue brand or a red brand, it’s a low brand value,” said John Garzema, chief executive of Harris Poll and a former brand consultant. Axios Harris Poll Latest Company reputation rankingIn a survey released in May and based on a survey of 16,310 people, Disney ranked 77th, down from 7th place in 2017.

How to deal with Mr. DeSantis’ inflammatory allegations has been the subject of debate among Disney executives. Disney CEO Robert A. Iger attacked Mr. DeSantis in April for his actions against the company as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” but DeSantis has been outspoken about the matter since May 10. did not speak to Mr. Iger declined an interview request for this story. ) Fighting back at Mr. DeSantis now will likely make the situation even worse. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that half of Americans aren’t paying enough attention to the battle to have a fully formed opinion. Why even more headlines at risk?

Analysts said there’s no need to worry about Disney’s overall business unless attendance at the company’s theme parks starts to plummet (no signs of that so far).

But the political struggle had an effect.An Axios Harris poll found that Disney 5th Most Polarized Brand In America; the company was mostly neutral in 2021. “Disney’s intangible value, trust, citizenship, ethics and growth—a measure of future potential and relevance in my life—are declining most rapidly,” Gelzema said in an email. . .

Disney executives have privately poked holes in polls showing the brand’s decline. At the same time, he took steps to protect the company’s reputation. Mr. Iger made the appointment in April. Asad Ayaz He said he would be the company’s first chief brand officer, responsible for “managing and elevating the Disney brand globally.”

The company has also pressed Mr. DeSantis in subtle ways.

For example, Iger was pictured with California Gov. Gavin Newsom at Disneyland on June 13. Newsom was there to discuss expansion plans that would create thousands of jobs. It was a reminder to Mr. DeSantis that Disney had canceled a project in Florida.Mr. Newsom also participated in the event for the first time in Disneyland history. pride nighttaking pictures with visitors wearing rainbow Mickey Mouse ears.

Part of Disney’s challenge includes the soundbite nature of the campaign trail. DeSantis likes to say that Disney is in favor of “the objectification of children.” These words flow into local news programs and social media platforms.

When it joined more than 200 other companies in opposing the Florida Education Act, Disney said it was “used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender children and families.” There is a possibility that it will be done, ”he said. It is far from being in favor of the sexualization of children.

and recent tv ads In the show, which aired in Iowa and South Carolina, a major super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis falsely suggested that the company was secretly working to brainwash children. “Once upon a time, Disney movies were for kids, not secret sexual content,” says the ad’s narrator ominously.

Disney executives watch in horror as Mr. DeSantis’ attack unfolds. “DeSantis and Trump fight over who hates Disney more” headline In the Orlando Sentinel, read May 30.

A few weeks ago, groups of demonstrators holding Nazi symbols and DeSantis campaign signs gathered at the entrance to Disney World. attract national attention. A Disney executive in Orlando texted a reporter that day in amazement, saying, “Wow, Mickey is trending next to swastikas in video.”

Iger is also dealing with unfavorable business developments, including weak box office returns, a writer’s strike and the resignation of Disney’s chief financial officer. Investors are growing worried, with Disney stock trading at about $89, down 7 percent from a year ago and down 55 percent from its March 2021 high.

Traditional television, including ESPN, Disney’s revenue driver for the past 30 years, has been eclipsed by cut cords, weak advertising and rising costs of sports programming. Iger is betting streaming will put the company back on track. But Disney+ is losing subscribers and its broader streaming division remains unprofitable, losing nearly $2 billion since the beginning of the fiscal year.

Disney is in the middle of a $5.50 discount campaign. It costs the entire company billions. This includes 7,000 job cuts, equivalent to about 4 percent of global jobs, including notable layoffs at Pixar and ESPN.

Another worry is that Iger’s contract expires at the end of 2024. who will take over? For now, it’s a mystery.

Mr. Iger, 72, should be retired and happily sailing by now. He ended his first run at Disney in 2021, handing over the reins of the company to former theme park executive Bob Chapek. Mr. Chapek was fired in November and Mr. Iger returned as chief executive.

Chapek’s successes were overshadowed by missteps, the biggest of which was his response to the Florida Education Act. Among other things, classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited until third grade, which is limited to upper grade students. (Florida has since expanded the ban to all grades.)

Mr. Chapek initially tried to stay on his side, leading to an employee rebellion. He then denounced the law, infuriating Mr. DeSantis and leading to a dispute that Disney is still fighting today.

Mr. DeSantis has moved to limit Disney’s autonomy to oversee Disney World Resort. The company secretly tried to evade this attempt, catching the governor off guard. In April, Mr. DeSantis hit back, arguing that Disney has likewise sued the governor in federal court, halting a $1 billion project in Florida and jeopardizing another $17 billion in Disney World expansion spending. bottom.

Disney’s lawsuit is progressing slowly, but it could take years to resolve. Meanwhile, the political shootout continues.

On Tuesday, Disney filed documents in federal court. Suggest a start date Trial of case against Mr. DeSantis: July 15, 2024, the day the Republican National Convention begins.

Nicholas Nehamas Contributed to the report.

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