Disney Princess Prom Gowns and Cradle-to-Grave Marketing

Just a few months ago, I wrote about how Disney Princess-styled extravagance among toddlers reflects the extraordinary extravagance of today’s proms, which now cost families an average of $1,000 to $2,000.

But until Mouse on the Mind brought it to my attention this week, I didn’t realize that there were actual Disney Princess-inspired prom gowns in production, scheduled for the 2013 prom season. (Were there any previously? I haven’t seen them.)

The plan: Each year, a new line of prom gowns will be released, and each line will take inspiration from a different Disney Princess film. The 2013 gowns are meant to evoke Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; red and black appear to be the dominant colors of the collection.

Disney Princess prom gowns 2013

With a price point of $350 to $800, these gowns definitely align with the high costs attached to today’s proms. Ouch.

So… what’s going on here? If the Disney Princess line is meant for the preschool set, why would teenage girls want Disney Princess-inspired prom dresses??

The answer can be found in a tactic called “cradle-to-grave marketing.”

As I’ve explained previously, the Disney Princess franchise is a great example of a lifestyle brand. Disney’s marketers want Princess to be everything and everywhere, integrated into as many aspects of audience members’ lives as possible. This epitomizes a basic principle of lifestyle branding: the more closely people identify with a brand–the more they feel like it is their brand, and a part of who they are–the more money the brand will make.*

Although the Disney Princess brand is primarily for little girls ages 2-8, with its strongest devotees ages 2-5, they are not its only target market. With “cradle-to-grave” marketing, Disney marketers extend engagement with the brand well beyond these years. The goal is for children to become loyal customers for life.

This has played out very well for Disney in general, as well as for the Princess line in particular: When children too young to ask for Disney products are swathed in them from birth, it’s often a because of their parents’ understandable nostalgia and fondness for Disney. Parents who loved Disney when they were children are likely to be tempted by Disney-branded sippy cups, diapers, onesies, teething rings, and toys.

Then, as children begin developing brand preferences, nostalgic parents who enjoy the fun, wholesome aspects of Disney are happy to fulfill their children’s requests.

But for a megabrand like Disney Princess, purchases on behalf of children is not enough. It’s even better for business if adults want to buy Princess products for themselves–collecting the dolls, perhaps, or film cells. But not everyone is a collector.

So, it’s logical for marketers to ask: At what points in life do people make expensive purchases that could be linked back to the brand? This, I’m sure, was the genesis of Disney’s ongoing success partnering with designers to produce Disney Princess-inspired wedding gowns, and to offer “Fairy Tale Weddings” in the Magic Kingdom.

With the average cost of the prom continuing to rise, it makes sense that proms are the newest target. Attracting teens connects more dots on that cradle-to-grave continuum.

(Now, I wonder if they’ll ever release those Disney Princess coffins that Peggy Orenstein enjoys joking about?)

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*I know that may sound cynical, like some kind of conspiracy theory, but it’s really the way the business works. Books written for members of the marketing industry are filled with tips about these tactics.

9 Comments on “Disney Princess Prom Gowns and Cradle-to-Grave Marketing

  1. Thank you for the shout out! I always appreciate your feedback on this kind of thing. I’m curious to see how these dresses fare in an extremely crowded and high-priced market. They’re not even great-looking dresses!

    • They’re not terrible, they seem pretty average to me in terms of dresses I’ve seen and I’d bet on them doing fairly well in and of themselves, but they don’t seem particularly evocative of Snow White (or any of the others, for that matter), either. I’m really not seeing it, at all. If someone showed up to a party or a prom or whatever in one of these, Disney princess would not even occur to me if I didn’t know it beforehand. If someone is looking for a dress that does that (makes them look/feel like a Disney princess specifically), they may not go for these in spite of the branding. So I’m not real sure how effective it’s going to be in that respect.

  2. Probably just being a silly ignorant European person here, but wouldn’t it be a great idea to just skip the whole institution of Prom and use the $$ for proper education?

    • It’s one of those “rites of passages” for an American teenager. If you do it right, prom doesn’t have to cost a fortune. But – some people turn it into a spending blitz, and YES that $$ could be used towards college tuition.

  3. Reblogged this on Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker and commented:
    If there was ever an academic expert on Princess Culture, Rebecca is one. See what she has to say about the creep of the Disney Princess brand from babies to prom to weddings.

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  5. Googled your Disney coffin query, got lots of nods to Snow White 😉 http://fairytalenewsblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/snow-whites-glass-coffin-comparisons.html

    Not lookin too likely they’ll come out with Disney princess canes or royal hearing aids though given that the brand tends to diss the elderly pretty summarily via stereotypes-n-shortcuts. (BYU scholars nailed the villains as elderly bit awhile back, echoed here>> http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/06/11/disney_hum.html?category=human&guid=20070611120030)

    That said, prom/wedding skim the surface given the whole home decor/adult furnishings nostalgia to ‘keep youth alive’ >> http://disney.families.com/blog/decoratingyourhomewithdisneyathome

    Mousehouse doesn’t have a corner on the retro appeal tho; reminds me of the other brands doing similar things w/target marketing (e.g. Spongebob items for millennials; wistful adults in childbearing years etc–cue the “I don’t wanna grow up I’m a ToysRus kid” jingle, eh?)

    Keep it comin’ Rebecca…always great to read your work!

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  7. I SOOO Want Snow White’s coffin when I’m dead!!! Just kidding, This is an excellent article and I really appreciate it. Please continue to shed light on what’s going on, the brainwashing is so pervasive it makes me ill.

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