Marketing magic

By SHARON STEEL  |  August 15, 2007

“In real life,” counters Radar’s Gray, Hudgens and Efron would “be, like, trying to hook up in a three-way. That’s what would happen in real high school — score acid and hook up in a three-way.”

It can’t be easy for Disney to cross-promote the HSM stars’ pop-icon identities (currently, Hudgens, Tisdale, and Bleu have debut solo albums out with Disney-owned labels), while simultaneously expecting them to behave as role models for five year olds.

“We hope that they’re going to be responsible, and they have been up until now,” says Healy. “But I’m glad to say it’s really important to the Disney company and to Disney in general that parents feel very protected with what they see on Disney Channel. I think the kids respect that and they know that this is not the time to act up radically. But they know that themselves without us ever having to tell them that.”

In the week leading up to HSM 2’s release, no member of the cast has had to redeem himself for any wayward behavior. Needless to say, they’re all still under contract. It remains to be seen what kind of debauchery — if any — they’ll embrace once HSM 3 is behind them and they fully vet the notion that the same company that turned them into household names caters to a subculture that rocks HSM underwear without a hint of irony. As Gray points out, “The tighter the grip that Mickey has, the more his minions squirm when they’re set free.” Disney’s masterminds are nothing if not accomplished cultural anthropologists, and the power of the imagination really does seem limitless when they find a sweet spot in the Zeitgeist and suck it dry. At times, however, the most pervasive movements are those engineered out of rebellion. In the case of Disney’s latest magic act, when hormones and the natural toxins of fame are concerned, even a private riot seems par for the course.

Surprisingly, Disney has tested the waters of quite a few lifestyle brands, including a couture collection of adult clothing and a line of exclusive wedding dresses based on the gowns inspired by several Disney princesses. As infatuated as some adults are with Disney, most aspiring fashionistas would rather buy their couture (if they’re buying it all) from Paris and their wedding gowns from Vera Wang. Marketing experiments are one thing, but it shouldn’t come as a shocker that the tween merchandising is where Disney has concentrated its energy. They’re set to unload a torrent of products that coincide perfectly with HSM 2’s release and the start of a new school year. Thanks to an exclusive merchandising deal signed with Wal-Mart, your back-to-school shopping can revolve around HSM if you like: backpacks, notebooks, pencils — even your after-school snacks, because currently, a HSM-themed Fruit ’n’ Nut Mix is on the market.

Lisa Avant, a VP of TV Licensing and Franchise Management at the Disney Channel, calls the HSM brand “evergreen,” partially due to its gender-neutrality. While the HSM actors don’t necessarily boast a similar long-lasting warranty, Disney could always dump them and hire successors for a “Next Generation” class. It might not have worked for Saved by the Bell, but the N’s Degrassi: the Next Generation put the OMG drama back in the teen soap with more punch than its ’80s precursor.

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