LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Company has started an ambitious and risky march toward the one corner of childhood it does not already dominate: newborns.
Late last month, the company quietly began pressing its newest priority, Disney Baby, in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States. A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie.
In bedside demonstrations, the bilingual representatives extol the product’s bells and whistles — extra soft! durable! better sizing! — and ask mothers to sign up for e-mail alerts from DisneyBaby.com. More than 200,000 bodysuits will be given away by May, when Amazon.com is set to begin selling 85 styles for a starting price of $9.99 for two; Nordstrom and Target will follow with more Disney Baby items, including hats.
“If ever there was an opportunity for a trusted brand to enter a market and provide a better product and experience, it’s this,” said Robert A. Iger, chief executive of Disney. “I’m extremely excited about it.”
The endeavor dances close to a flame. Disney has suffered harsh criticism in recent years over products directed at the very young. The fiercest battle has involved Baby Einstein, the Disney-owned maker of “developmental and entertainment” videos and toys for babies and toddlers.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit organization, claimed victory in 2009 when Disney, apparently acknowledging that the products did not turn babies into geniuses after all, offered some Baby Einstein refunds.
But Disney has moved on. In this new venture, the company gains access to the maternity hospitals through a company called Our365, a business that sells bedside baby pictures. Our365 pays hospitals for exclusive access, and companies like Disney pay Our365 to promote their own products. Our365 also has Fisher-Price and Procter & Gamble as clients. It is unclear whether mothers know of Our365’s financial ties to these companies.
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