I have to apologize to FutureImagineer for derailing her Meet & Greet location change thread. That was certainly not my intention; I just got incensed. Upon realizing the consequences, I have moved my posts, and what felt like replies to them, to this thread and deleted my originals there.^^
Well, in Tokyo we still pay ￥3800, which today is about US$46, so I gotta say, those people simply piss me right off. Disney is pandering to the cheap, and they still whine. Yet they'll fork over cash for tiny little pins. I just don't get it... While it annoys me a bit that Tokyo fans, who loved Duffy and nurtured him to his current position, are now paying nearly double the price for bears which are likely produced in the same factories and with the same materials, I'm still glad they didn't lower prices because these are still the "premium" versions, and Shellie May, thankfully, is still TDS exclusive. I honestly think the American Duffy launch has ironically made me cherish Shellie May more for still being "ours." Lowering the price would have cheapened the brand (as it's done in the US), and that's not really good for Duffy or Duffy fans in the long run. The more I hear about the US, the more I wish Duffy had stayed in Japan. No...what I really wish is that someone like me was at the helm. American Disney fans need Duffy magic probably more than anywhere else in the world, but what is happening now is just so not Duffy... They couldn't even be bothered to make that light spinner toy actually look like the character!!! Nobody thought to have the "Buzz Lightyear" nameplate printed as "DUFFY" or "LIGHTBEAR." These are "details" that fans can safely hold as expectations in Tokyo.
Build-A-Bear ranges from $10 to around $20, so a lot of US guests probably do think $25 is "expensive." Plus, at Build-A-Bear, you get the whole "ritual" of selecting...stuffing (with heart)...naming...certifying...and a box "home" for adopting. As someone has already posted in a talk about Duffy, this really does probably seem like lots of "missing value" for higher cost to American consumer pragmatism. The foolish decision to offer Duffy goods so cheap from the outset has created a serious dilemma for Disney. They can't very well charge more for something that they already offered at half its original price, so improving quality is unlikely to realistically happen. I wonder if US Duffy can ever really be Duffy?
I have always thought it was the wrong move to push Duffy as "Mickey's bear," and would have been smarter to create "Minnie's Co-op Workshop" at WDW for Duffy's debut. It would have been in line with the official story that worked, highlighted guests' personal connection to Duffy in a way that Americans could understand (something Japanese fans don't really need), and ensured for US guests what Japanese guests easily understand - that Duffy does have a lot of personality because he is exactly who you want him to be. While it seems easier to pair him with Mickey in the short-term, the folks who identify with this much simpler concept are far less likely to be committed to the character for the long haul. And the real economic genius of Duffy is that you sell one bear...but then you sell all his accessories constantly...for ever. While I'm willing to spend money on my Duffy, as long as I see him as mine and see him as having a personality and see him as a representation of both the Disney brand and Disney fandom at the same time...I'm completely uninterested if it's just "Mickey's teddy bear" being shoved down my throat by "the Mouse."
The Co-op Workshop and "every Duffy is different and every Duffy is Duffy" concept was/is the way to go. It also adds a new layer to Minnie's character, as has happened very successfully in Japan with Minnie's Cuddly Bear and Minnie Couture product lines being sold to represent the new "Modiste Minnie" even outside the parks. It takes nothing away from Mickey's Duffy, but allows guests to actually bond with the character themselves, on their own terms. It lets the fans do the work of actually organically growing the character's place in their lives, in Disney culture and history. This was the Tokyo "secret sauce," and the US has largely missed this boat by oversimplifying the character/concept...again. To sell teddy bears in the volume they were expecting, he has to be more than "cute" or "that weird Japanese thing" or "Mickey's bear." The Japanese Duffy phenomenon feels literally identical to the energy and excitement of the invention of the teddy bear almost a century ago. No hyperbole or exaggeration. Duffy is literally everywhere, and ever d in Tokyo and all over Japan. I'm convinced America's only shot is a conceptual re-launch centered on a well-produced Co-op Workshop attraction and the "Every Duffy..." creed. For most people in the US who don't frequent websites like MiceChat, I imagine that Duffy is still just a "thing," and so is easily "a thing I don't need."
Of course, if the Co-op was designed by WDI, the experience of making the bear (with lots of sound effects and more customization options than Build-A-Bear, plus a Disney-quality beautiful adoption certificate) would potentially make Build-A-Bear irrelevant, at least in Anaheim and Orlando. How cool if there were limited edition Duffy fur patterns! Or if you could mix and match colors for Duffy body/face/paw/nose/eye combinations! Or scented "flavor" or special texture stuffings! Every kid would now want a bear from Minnie's Co-op and the pricing comparison to Build-A-Bear would become an absolute non-issue. This is the real challenge for Duffy in the US; Build-A-Bear is actually a very good and very effective company, and its pricing/quality ratio is nearly impossible to beat unless you just change the game and move up to the next tier. American consumers are far more skeptical about this kind of purchasing decision than Japanese ones, and Americans in general are far more skeptical about Disney on the whole. I have written extensively about this, so I'll move on for now.^^
The Co-op Workshop should have been a Duffy area at WDW that became a true destination for Duffy fans (and soon enough, Disney fans) as the only place you can still make different colored Duffy bears, the same way TDS Cape Cod is the only place on earth where you can walk through Duffy's storybooks and really be inside Duffy's hometown. Since the old colored Duffy bears still sell for upwards of US$1000 from time to time, this would have been a real coup, as long as it was paired with the "Every Duffy..." motto so that all of the bears are still invested with the magic of the character. With all the WDI bells and whistles, and being a huge bear assembly factory where guests "volunteer" to help Minnie make the Duffy bears (maybe guests even get a special namebadge for "free," built into the cost of the experience^^), this would have been a major trump card in solidifying an impression of the character that made him special enough to deeply desire. With its moving Duffy "assembly lines" in the background and technical displays and schematics plus real-world history of teddy bears, this would have created a genuine attraction worth being excited about, and a brand-new Disney place worth going to. Because Cape Cod only exists in the park and it has no "rides" to get on, the whole area itself becomes the "attraction," where guests can be fully immersed in a storybook world designed by WDI that is not some small piece of a movie, but a self-contained little magical universe. It really has become, through the storybooks, the TDS "Toontown," but in a very different, and in my opinion, more sophisticated way.
They should absolutely offer limited edition and seasonal costumes (and DCA and EPCOT's regular offerings should of course be different, too). Just like Tokyo, the US should have EPCOT's world series as regular outfits, but there should also be seasonal and limited releases; I don't really understand the goal of those 12" bears... The collectible nature of Duffy outfits in Japan is a successful model that requires no product testing or market research, but it does require a slightly different marketing strategy, albeit one that is not too hard to figure out. At its core is HIGH quality, limited availability releases. That's a given. I really cannot understand how there were no costume releases for Halloween, Christmas, or TRON: Legacy. Duffing ridiculous!...Maybe that is what is wrong with the Duffy line in the states. We know we can go back and buy a costume when ever they want too. Where in Tokyo, things get sold out in a day or longer. But most items wont always be there. And really the same thing is with Build a Bear. They have clothing that comes and goes. So maybe that is the deal with Duffy, he need to be more collectible.
At the heart of all this, there's one thing that Disney just has to either choose to embrace, or leave Duffy in Tokyo where he belongs. Duffy is not a product for cheap people!!! Duffy is, by nature and concept, a luxury item and that is exactly what made him work here, where Disney is more a designer brand and less a media corporation. It may already be too late to backpedal on this, though. They offered him cheap, in huge piles not displayed carefully one-by-one and face-forward on shelves. They offered cheap outfits at cheap prices. They offered a toy that doesn't look like the character. And they made a big ballyhoo of having marketing execs tell you that you should be thinking, "What in the world is Duffy?" They defiinitely have already made an impression. You can do all this half-fluffed crap for a million years; most of the cheap people are NEVER gonna buy into it, and the folks with the taste that Duffy requires will continue to import from Tokyo. And the worst thing is, as we have seen on MiceChat, a lot of fans are gonna see Duffy as a cheap marketing ploy out of the gate. If you do nothing to prove them wrong, you are proving them right. It's really very, very sad, because Duffy genuinely does have the potential to be the ambassador of a Disney Parks renaissance and of a Disney fandom with renewed faith in the company and a Disney company with renewed respect for the fans who stick by them.* That's what I see when I look at Duffy, but I wouldn't blame anyone in America for failing to understand that.
*in a way that I suspect even Mickey can't do alone because of decades of mismanagement and mistrust
Making Duffy cheap and anything less than the best quality guests have ever seen is making Duffy worthless, plain and simple. I said this before launch; I have said this for years. There are two real-world models to refer to - the failed Disney Bear and the mindblowingly successful Tokyo Duffy (who even now makes that old Disney Bear flop sell for over thirty times its original value^^). How is this "missable???" Don't these people have degrees and experience in marketing? Don't they love character goods and understand how to create "magic" that translates into huge sales? Isn't that what Disney is all about? It really is a shame. I'm not wrong about this. I don't care what the market research says. High quality bears and items with limited availability plus Minnie's Co-op Workshop and the "Every Duffy..." concept are the perfect garam masala to spice up the Duffy brand. But this, too, has a limited window. If the brand image of Duffy fully sets in as this "failed product they keep trying to push," nothing they can do will save him.Great post, DuffyDaisuki. You know, this might be a little bit sad, but I had a "Duffy dream" last night. No, he didn't visit me in my dreams like he did for Mickey. It was a "real world" dream where I was dealing with the US marketing executives in charge of the Duffy push. There was one guy who was just particularly down on the bear. He was badmouthing the concept and just told people to do whatever they felt like for this dumb teddy bear that he couldn't care less about. I think I must have been on the design team or something, because I was interacting with him and I basically told him off for using Duffy as a throwaway money maker. I told him that if he wanted to make money, which is all he really cared about, that he needed to invest in the character and do things right, even if he didn't understand the concept himself.
Yeah, it was a dream, but I'm sure there are lots of people in charge who couldn't care less about the concept and really just want to try as little as possible to get as much money as they can. They will cut corners, use half-hearted marketing ploys, and just general mis-management. This is not just a Duffy issue though, it's Disney as a whole that has this problem, and I can't imagine that they would miraculously "get it" with Duffy unless there were a fundamental shift in the entire company. It's just too big for it's own good these days. Way more corporation, much less creative. At least with OLC, they really only have the TDR parks to deal with...well, and some other things too, but their main bread and butter are the parks. So, they can focus on the details and do things the right way, because they are not stretched to thin...yet. Sure, Disney has a hand in design there, but OLC hold the purse strings, so even Disney can flex it's creative juices on somebody else's dime.
I truly hope that Duffy can find some kind of success with the US public, and if putting him next to Mickey and beating people over the head with who he is works, then so be it. There needs to be a lot more creativity and quality though for fans to truly be captivated.Thanks for the encouragement, but upon re-reading, I feel I almost sound angry about everything Duffy in America or angry with American Disney fans or the American public. None of that could be further from the truth. I am especially excited by the new wave of American Duffy fans, and I'm hoping they promote and pressure and become part of making Duffy history the way Japanese fans did, rather than just sitting on the sidelines and offering up dollars as docile consumers. I am angry because the marketing of Duffy in the US looks like people who don't actually have faith in or truly the character, trying to simply exploit him for profit, and I hate that. I think it's a kind of evil. They have already done it to Mickey Mouse in a million different ways (but Mickey is so awesome and so deep in our consciousness that he can take it^^). I hate to see this happen to Duffy, who has a shot at being their redemption. Created by greed and a complete lack of creativity, yet reborn in a culture and a fandom that brought him to life FAR beyond the imaginations of the marketing folks who probably only spent a couple of hours "creating" the Disney Bear, Duffy is a miracle of transcendence. He is truly an "epic" character Disney fandom needs, as he represents the magic of the parks. And they are squandering this opportunity!
When I said that "the cheap people piss me off," what I mean is that it bothers me if the Walt Disney Company is putting most of its attention on people who just throw Disney crap at kids with no respect for the Walt Disney legacy for creativity or quality. These people are, admittedly, a part of perpetuating the problem themselves, but if WDC chooses to give them what they want in pricing and cuts corners to do it, well, that's how brands get tarnished. Walt Disney and the many talents associated with the Disney name are great American artists whose vision has been simplified and corrupted, and pandering to people who aren't willing to pay for high quality creativity and craftsmanship is not the way to restore the Disney brand to its proper dignity. In Japan, Disney fans expect ridiculously high quality and are willing to pay for it, but only if it meets those expectations. Further, the Oriental Land Company so often exceeds expectations (even with the bar set so high), that fans are always hungry and excited. Because the mutual respect between fans and company is not violated, artists create with vigor and energy, while collectors support with the same enthusiasm. We are happy to pay for the highest quality, as long as we always see our money invested in the parks - and we do. Duffy's full potential is not reached when the public says, "Give it to me cheap!" and the Company says, "Sure, whaddo we care - as long as our profit margin doesn't change!" There is no chance - NO WAY - that something like that light spinner would or could ever be released in Tokyo. And if it was, no one would buy it. How can we believe they care anything about Duffy if they don't even care if the products they produce even match his likeness??? If the Company doesn't really love and believe in him, and produces him as cheaply as possible right out of the gate, how can they expect the public to rally around him as special? This is my real problem with Disney. I've said it before, the Walt Disney Company needs to fall in love with itself again. Not just a few CMs and shop clerks - every artist, manager, executive and janitor needs to be paid enough, needs enough surprises, needs to be valued enough, needs enough "magic" to really love the company and believe in its vision, and that vision needs to be about more than growth sectors and profits. And then all of these people need to connect all of the public to that same magic. That's what Disney - and only Disney - could really be about, if it really wanted to. If it loved itself and thought of itself as an art house rather than a cheap day care staffed by a woman with curlers in her hair smoking cigarettes and hitting a flask all day, with a big yellowing smile who just puts kids in front of a TV until their parents come to take them away.
The problem in America is like you've described before, Gurgi. Dedicated Disney fans are willing to accept whatever scraps we can get and not stop believing, bless us. We keep going back to that same day-care woman because we see how beautiful she is inside and we think if we just support her, someday she'll love herself enough to expect more... Besides, she's the cheapest thing in town and very conveniently located. Because of our own willingness to accept Disney as a corporation first and an art house second, understandably, the WDC is hesitant to put too much effort or expense into what they produce - especially for a "product" with such a risky concept. They are, indeed, a business after all. They have a bottom line, and it seems based in profit rather than heart. Largely, I think, because at the end of the day, only very few Disney fans - even Disney fans - have the kind of open and gentle hearts required to allow Duffy to be more than an object. We are so jaded. Rather than capitulate to this, I'd love it to be Disney's mission to eradicate it. Japanese fans don't have this dilemma. For one, that is absolutely OLC's mission, because the characters are not OLC's characters. They are not trying to promote characters; they are committed to creating experience, and the purpose of that experience is to help you live inside your imagination as much as possible, believing in dreams and the potential for a Tokyo less grey and fragmented. Among the fans, even the ones whom no one would describe as "Duffy maniacs" appreciate Duffy as a product and a character simultaneously, and most enjoy the flavor he adds to the parks (and to train rides and pedestrian areas and restaurants and hair salons and international flights and cruises and...^^).
I wish it wasn't a dream, Gurgi. I wish you or I were invited to those meetings so we could say, "That looks nothing like Duffy! We're not producing that. Let's try again. Buzz Lightyear and Woody have been sold at Build-A-Bear for years, and with higher quality production. Sure, we can make them cheaper, but we're trying to make Duffy a superstar - let's make them better instead, or just make something completely original. Anyone in this room who doesn't understand, care about, and love this character - get out now! Duffy is supposed to "bring the love," but if we ain't got it, we sure can't sell it. Now, everyone still here, let's get to work and have some fun! Sure, we may invest a lot of energy and capital into a character that doesn't take off, but at least then if it doesn't spark, we can still look back and be proud of our work. No one will say we failed because we simply didn't care or try hard enough." Duffy could be a major win for Disney, far bigger than merchandise sales; but the Company itself would have to understand this potential and become motivated to realize it. What makes me angry is all the people who talk about how much better the Tokyo Disney experience is than the US experience...I know in my heart they're right. As proud as I am of the Oriental Land Company and as lucky as a I feel to have had my first Disney park experiences here, it is shameful to me that a foreign licensing company is willing to commit and create a better version of Disney than we know in America. Duffy cannot reach his potential without a genuine sea-change; it has to be real and not just a corporate line. Seriously, if they really gave it their best effort and had faith in their work and in the fans, is there anyone who doubts that the brilliant people who are still working in all the many arms of the Walt Disney Company could actually fail to make us fall in love with something as archetypal in our minds and hearts as a teddy bear who embodies this brand? If so, why are you even reading this? As I said, dedicated Disney fans don't stop believing...even when it hurts.Is this true? I mean, the bear itself is the same quality we have in Tokyo, I think, so it is worth more. BUT...charging more for stuff without improving the quality isn't right, I think. As far as costumes, what we get here is so superior to what I've seen in the US that there isn't really a comparison. We pay for it, but it's absolutely worth it. Are they using different materials and construction processes with more pieces and parts, or just changing the price? Can one of our resident CMs to confirm this.Unfortunately Disney doesn't get it anymore. They have no idea what the fans want. They stated at the passholder event that they would not make any different colors, not even as limited editions. They have overproduced everything since the relaunch. Now they are raising the prices on everything. The Christmas Duffy is still available and they want to raise the prices $5 on most of the items. At least Vinylmation and pins had already caught on as collectibles before Disney got greedy. But then again Vinylmation and pins aren't selling that great anymore so I can see where the future of Duffy is headed. They could do so much to help Duffy connect with the average Disney fan but they just don't get it. (Bold added by DuffyDaisuki)