It’s been a tough few years for the Walt Disney Firm and followers. After its popularity plummeted within the influential Axios Harris Ballot final yr, it fell additional in 2023. This appears at what’s occurred since, damaging views of the model as captured by surveys, and the way returning CEO Bob Iger feels about all of that. Plus, our commentary about causes and options for the model harm in what’s primarily a sequel to final yr’s Is Disney Ruining Its Fame?
For the second straight yr, essentially the most controversial concern in 2023 has been the corporate’s public standoff with Walt Disney World’s residence state, with an ongoing “battle” between CEO Bob Iger and Governor DeSantis. That is as soon as once more making headlines within the mainstream media, and culminated in Disney suing DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) suing Disney.
This standoff intensified as DeSantis soft-launched his presidential marketing campaign, and sought to make an instance of Disney as a logo of Hollywood hypocrisy and a California firm making an attempt to unduly affect political and social points. The corporate has additionally finished itself no favors in resolving this battle, because the now-infamous Growth Agreements between Disney and Reedy Creek Enchancment District (RCID) made nationwide information to be used of the “King Charles Clause”, which successfully revived scrutiny and this complete saga.
None of that is any large secret to those that comply with the Walt Disney Firm and even watch the nightly information, so in all probability no have to additional rehash the small print in what’s going to already be a protracted put up. No matter the place you fall on the ideological or political spectrum, you little doubt are cognizant of the controversies swirling across the firm for the final couple years.
That is mirrored by Disney’s standing within the Axios Harris Ballot 100 and 2023 Company Fame Rankings. Relatively than recovering after a dismal exhibiting final yr, the Walt Disney Firm has fallen additional in these rankings. In truth, there’s one main approach the outcomes this yr are even worse than final yr.
Whereas there are quite a lot of company and model energy rankings, this explicit ballot by Axios Harris is considered as influential inside the business. That features with Bob Iger, who in accordance with the Wall Avenue Journal, primarily based a few of his fears that his successor/predecessor Bob Chapek was killing the soul of the corporate on final yr’s outcomes on this identical ballot.
Iger believed that Chapek was a failure in an important measures of success for a CEO: inner satisfaction, investor relations and shopper assist. An inner survey of Disney discovered low morale amongst Solid Members, which involved Iger. He additionally intently adopted the Axios Harris Ballot, believing final yr’s outcomes demonstrated that followers had been “falling out of affection” with the Disney model.
Suffice to say, the Axios Harris Ballot is essential to the corporate and its CEO (Disney touted being one of many highest-ranking firms on the ballot as not too long ago as 2019). There’s no technique to spin this or paint it in a constructive mild: the outcomes are dangerous (once more) for Disney.
That is primarily based on a survey of over 16,000 Individuals in a nationally consultant pattern, and makes use of a two-step course of to find out the rankings. Right here’s the nice tier (in inexperienced) from the 2023 Company Fame Rankings from the Axios Harris Ballot 100 the place Disney lands:
For 2023, Walt Disney Firm had a rating of 70.9, which is down 12 spots from final yr however nonetheless within the “good” tier of the listing. (As soon as once more, timing comes into play–this ballot was performed throughout the ‘King Charles Clause’ saga, when it might’ve been freshest in minds and mainstream headlines.)
Final yr, Disney scored 73.4 and ranked sixty fifth on the listing, which was a drop of 28 spots as in comparison with 2021–which means that the corporate is down 40 spots in the midst of 2 years. At some point of Bob Iger’s first tenure as CEO (by 2019), Disney had scored above 80, at all times close to the highest of the listing within the “Glorious” tier. Right here’s a take a look at how that modified previous to final yr–see for those who can spot the pattern:
Beneath is Disney’s 2023 breakdown within the particular person class scores of Character, Trajectory, Belief, Tradition, Ethics, Citizenship, Imaginative and prescient, Development, and Merchandise & Companies. On the plus aspect, not less than the ‘trajectory’ is excessive–suggesting there is optimism with the return of CEO Bob Iger.
To place this into perspective, Disney scored ~13 factors behind the #1 rating Patagonia, and scored 10 factors behind ever firm within the prime 10. Different firms with related declines on the 2023 ranks had been Passion Foyer, Greenback Tree, Netflix, IBM, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s. The corporate with the most important year-to-year drop was Tesla, which fell 50 slots.
Earlier than delving into the commentary, it’s value noting that there’s quite a lot of inconsistency within the rankings. In isolation, it is sensible that Disney would’ve dropped once more. Nonetheless, the dramatic enhancements for American Categorical, Costco, Chick-fil-A, Nike, CVS, JPMorgan, GM, and so forth. are all much less apparent.
As talked about final yr, it’s doable that the Harris Ballot is a flawed technique to rank sure excessive profile firms and a great way to rank different ones. Most Individuals are each conscious of and like their native grocery retailer chains, vehicles, and shopper electronics. The typical American in all probability doesn’t know a lot about these companies; they’re conscious of the model, however clueless about its enterprise machinations. That might clarify why many of those firms yo-yo across the rankings. Then there’s Chick-fil-A and Nike, which doubtless profit from being one other yr faraway from their final controversies.
In contrast, there are firms like Disney the place the popularity is a component and parcel of the model itself. There are a number of way of life manufacturers like this, which have precise fanatics and a wider diploma of consciousness among the many normal public. Except for Disney, firms that come to thoughts right here embody Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Tesla, Patagonia, and Dealer Joe’s. There are undoubtedly others, as properly.
For these firms, motion within the rankings is perhaps way more significant. It’s much less doubtless at random, and extra doubtless reflective of how the core viewers views the corporate’s current actions. That Tesla dropped a lot in a yr when its CEO turned an more and more polarizing determine is thus unsurprising. (Even after that dramatic decline, Tesla remains to be greater than Disney.)
To that time, Disney was ranked because the fifth-most polarizing model of 100 within the 2023 Axios Harris popularity survey, measured by the hole between the assessments of Republican and Democratic respondents. Amongst Democrats, Disney jumped to 80.3 from 72.5. Conversely, the corporate plunged 14 factors with Republicans, to 61 from 75.
In line with Axios, the typical reputational hole between Republicans and Democrats on this yr’s survey was 4.4. In Disney’s case, it was 19.3. Disney’s popularity rating has been declining lately, however that pattern line had been bipartisan till 2023. That is the primary yr of a notable hole between political events.
Different firms within the ‘most polarizing’ rankings had been the Trump Group, Fox, Passion Foyer, FTX, Pfizer, Fb/Meta, TikTok, Twitter, and Chick-fil-A. The explanation why most of these would make the listing are doubtless self-evident–they’re divisive alongside political strains for apparent causes.
Nonetheless, I’ve gotta marvel who, precisely, has a good opinion of FTX? (That needs to be a lack of information–hatred of FTX ought to transcend politics.) I’m additionally stunned that there’s a niche for TikTok and, to a lesser extent, Fb. Anybody who thinks Disney is on par with or worse than that trio is flatly mistaken.
Given the present politicization of every little thing and hyper partisanship, some folks will little doubt use these survey outcomes to vindicate their preexisting beliefs about Disney’s forays into social points. That’s undermined not less than to some extent by the rankings of numerous firms which have likewise taken stances on social and political points.
The #1 rating Patagonia is amongst America’s most activist companies, loudly proclaiming its politics. On the opposite finish of the spectrum is Chick-fil-A, which ranked #5 this yr. Different high-ranking firms have been embroiled in social and political issues.
Equally as notable, Patagonia made the highest 5 lists for each Republicans and Democrats. Axios additionally notes that older generations of each political persuasions rank John Deere extremely, whereas rural residents of all varieties love 3M, and suburban consumers have an affinity for Costco. (Disliking $1.50 scorching canines is distinctly unpatriotic.)
One technique to reconcile how properly these manufacturers carry out as contrasted with the Walt Disney Firm is the fixed controversy across the latter. Customers know the place Patagonia, Chick-fil-A, and different manufacturers stand–nevertheless it’s not of their faces on a weekly foundation. Many individuals may thus be keen to miss that if they need a superior down sweater or scrumptious hen sandwich, even when they’re not ideologically-aligned with these manufacturers.
This may come as a shock to these on the entrance strains of the tradition wars, however most individuals aren’t actively engaged with these things. It’s solely delivered to their consideration when making the nightly information or perpetual headlines. By and enormous, common Individuals don’t need or want validation of their beliefs by large companies.
That’s a very good segue into how Disney can repair its slide. The apparent reply is to diffuse and deescalate the present standoff between Walt Disney World and CFTOD, Iger and DeSantis. From the attitude of the corporate’s popularity, the earlier this stops making headlines, the higher.
This isn’t to say that’s the “proper” factor to do–it’s not a worth judgment in any form or type. It’s merely viewing this feud by the slender lens of the corporate’s popularity, and acknowledging that it has inflicted model harm on Disney.
(Frankly, I’m not even positive unilateral deescalation is feasible. As we’ve repeatedly identified, that is largely political theater aimed toward giving crimson meat to the bottom and elevating political profiles–not precise governing or public coverage. There was radio silence from Disney for a number of months late final yr and in early 2023, and so they had been nonetheless a punching bag throughout that point.)
Past that, there’s the fact that high quality will at all times win out. In our commentary to final yr’s model of this put up, we checked out a high-profile string of Disney’s field workplace bombs, specifically Lightyear and Unusual Worlds, and the way the narrative that emerged round these is that they failed on account of having sure agendas.
Our view was and is that they failed as a result of they weren’t good. Numerous ‘films with messages’ succeeded final yr; many vapid blockbusters flopped. (When doubtful, make use of Occam’s razor.) However, there’s a cottage business constructed round fanning the flames on tradition wars. Films underperforming solely add gasoline to the fireplace, and powerful field workplace outcomes throw water on that.
(Within the media sphere, the very best instance refuting this notion is HBO. For so long as I can keep in mind, most of their unique programming has had apparent ideology. Only a few regular viewers cared, although, as a result of the exhibits had been so good. It wasn’t till hits had dangerous seasons or there have been high-profile flops for that to be attributed to an agenda.)
Disney may have its personal ‘case examine’ of types this weekend. Whether or not the steady-stream of shock fodder continues for The Little Mermaid hinges virtually fully on its Memorial Day field workplace outcomes. If it falls quick, that’s considered as vindication and there’s a deluge of YouTube movies and rants. If it hits $100 million for the opening weekend, that dries up–the outcomes gained’t match the preconceived narrative. (That dynamic alone ought to present how silly, exhausting, and manufactured this all is.)
In a nutshell, the best technique to quiet these criticisms on the movie entrance is producing a gradual string of hits. Whereas I don’t suppose the flops have actively harm Disney’s popularity to the diploma sure commentators counsel, I do suppose that the undeniably uneven output of Star Wars, Marvel, and animated content material hasn’t helped.
Individuals largely ignore content material that doesn’t enchantment to them however actively embrace what does resonate, particularly on an emotional degree–the hallmark of Disney’s previous successes. There’s in all probability a cause why Disney’s popularity peaked when it was cranking out hit-after-hit within the MCU, plus animated fashionable masterpieces together with Frozen, Moana, Zootopia, Inside Out, Coco, and so forth. (As a lot as I personally hate them, I’ve to confess that the reside motion remakes throughout that stretch had been additionally a very good ‘reminder’ to audiences of what they love about Disney.)
Then there’s Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The final couple of years have seen sky-high attendance, suggesting customers aren’t truly voting with their wallets to “boycott” Disney. At that very same time, there have been various adjustments negatively impacting the visitor expertise.
We’ve repeatedly talked about that visitor satisfaction scores at Walt Disney World began dropping precipitously in Fall 2021–earlier than Disney vs. DeSantis–that might observe with the corporate’s nonpartisan reputational decline previous to this yr. The discrepancy between attendance and satisfaction will be defined largely by pent-up demand, and the fact that many guests don’t know what they’re getting themselves into till they really go to the parks. (Therefore the decrease satisfaction and intent to revisit scores after their journeys!)
This has additionally led to us repeatedly harping on the shortsightedness of the corporate prioritizing short-term monetary success over cultivating an viewers of loyal, long-term followers. From our perspective, this is the crux of the most important concern for the Walt Disney Firm. This angle is strengthened by Disney seeing vital popularity drops in 2020-2022, years wherein Axios signifies there was not political polarization within the firm’s scores.
It’s fairly wild to now consider 2019 because the halcyon days of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, however with the good thing about hindsight, they had been. Go forward and watch this nice advert from 2015, which underscores simply how a lot has modified in regards to the visitor expertise. Disney’s Magical Categorical, free FastPass and MagicBands, reservations-free visits, limitless Park Hopping, and the Disney Eating Plan are unavailable…not less than, for now (and whereas the survey was performed).
That’s only a partial listing. There have additionally been the numerous value will increase, leading to an over 40% improve in visitor spending. If you would like a rundown or refresher, see this listing of the most important Walt Disney World fan complaints and that put up’s most up-to-date feedback for perception into why so many followers are disgruntled.
The excellent news is that each one of this, too, is fixable. Chapek hand-waved away considerations about visitor satisfaction, bluntly stating that demand was the motive force of value will increase and that buyers had been voting with their wallets. “It’s all as much as the patron. If shopper demand retains up, we’ll act accordingly,” he mentioned.
In contrast, it was fairly clear upon returning that Bob Iger wasn’t wild about how issues had gone below Chapek and the diploma to which there was disillusionment amongst followers. Somewhat over a month after returning, he began shifting on that sentiment by asserting 3 Massive Adjustments at Walt Disney World to Enhance Visitor Expertise & Worth. A number of months later got here the announcement of 5 Main Enhancements for 2024 at Walt Disney World.
These issues will undo most of the foremost complaints we’ve heard in the previous few years from Walt Disney World guests. That alone will create a stronger impression of the corporate within the eyes of customers and followers.
Disney has additionally deserted the highly-priced and controversial Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser (one thing we particularly pointed to final yr as being polarizing and unpopular with followers regardless of its high quality). They ought to do the identical with the $100,000 personal jet Disney Parks worldwide “journey” and the new Cotino Storyliving by Disney group on the outskirts of Palm Springs, two different Chapekian initiatives that garnered a ton of damaging consideration.
The corporate can be well-advised to cease pursuing such initiatives sooner or later that solely reinforce the notion that the notion that Disney has deserted its center class roots and is chasing the rich. Whether or not true or not, it’s a horrible look and one which comes with minimal upside. There have been 75 slots on that non-public jet journey, and possibly just a few hundred houses in that silly subdivision–in the meantime, tons of of 1000’s of atypical Individuals have learn or heard about these one-percenter plans.
It’s one factor to be an aspirational center class model–folks don’t thoughts upmarket theme parks or cruise ships. However there is a line, and Disney was higher about not crossing it. Or not less than, not doing so in such a highly-visible, in-your-face method.
Decrease costs and crowds will even assist, as will friends feeling like they’re truly valued, and never simply being nickel and dimed to demise. As we’ve talked about repeatedly, Walt Disney World already has launched over a dozen completely different reductions for 2023, which is greater than had been out there for the whole lot of final yr. Along with this, new Annual Go gross sales resumed (and haven’t but stopped!) and extra is being finished to point out appreciation to followers and locals, from new low cost ticket provides to VIPassholder Days.
On the corporate’s newest earnings name, CFO Christine McCarthy warned of a slowdown at Walt Disney World within the coming quarters. That is already occurring, with the next than regular post-spring break attendance drop, ensuing within the Slowest Six Weeks for Walt Disney World Crowds Since 2021. Whereas “shoulder season” is at all times slower than spring break or summer season, present crowds are off by roughly 20-25% as in comparison with the identical weeks final yr.
A part of what’s occurring at Parks & Resorts proper now could be undoubtedly an ‘Operation Chapek Cleanup,’ and one other half is a drop in demand necessitating guest-friendly adjustments. Pent-up demand lasted longer than anticipated, and admittedly, it was a distortion that had unhealthy penalties at Walt Disney World and past.
Placing that within the rearview mirror is sweet for customers and the long-term well being of the corporate–particularly its popularity and visitor goodwill. Walt Disney World not doing record-breaking numbers whatever the guest-unfriendly choices and adjustments they make–and as a substitute having to really compete for patrons–is an effective factor. Chapek would’ve been well-advised to understand that whilst “revenge journey” created a lot success.
It’s downright paradoxical. Excessive attendance and spending at Walt Disney World was not indicative of excessive satisfaction or a stronger popularity for the corporate–the alternative was true in truth. Now, decrease attendance and spending at Walt Disney World are resulting in constructive adjustments that nearly assuredly will enhance satisfaction and undo model harm, and usually are not indicative of boycotts or model harm. In each circumstances, pent-up demand (or lack thereof) was or is the basis trigger.
The opposite excellent news for Disney is that enchancment is feasible in the event that they make a very good religion effort to proper the ship, as most people has quick recollections relating to controversies. In spending approach an excessive amount of time finding out the Harris 100 lists between 2018 and 2023, one factor that turned clear is that almost all harm shouldn’t be deadly. Destructive headlines are most impactful the nearer they coincide with the survey window, and turn out to be more and more irrelevant as time passes.
A number of firms have bounced again the yr after large scandals, forgotten from recollections because the outrage du jour lengthy since moved on to one thing else. Until an organization is on the market repeatedly spilling oil on child seals, reputational restoration is achievable. Lengthy-standing picture and normal enterprise practices matter much more than momentary errors. As must be the case–ethics and missteps usually are not the identical.
Bob Iger is undoubtedly conscious of this and the corporate’s missteps within the final yr–a few of his deferential and concialtory responses to questions throughout the 2023 Annual Assembly of Shareholders indicated as a lot. The model harm and falling visitor satisfaction scores from the Chapek period are additionally exactly why a few of the aforementioned strikes have been made at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Now, it’s time to place the remainder of the controversies within the rearview mirror, deescalating high-profile public battles the place doable, and making each effort to make sure the corporate is producing glorious content material. High quality will at all times win out.
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What’s your tackle Disney’s declining popularity? Assume the corporate can bounce by making fewer headlines and producing high-quality content material? Hope the DeSantis vs. Disney battle begins to de-escalate quickly? Will the visitor pleasant adjustments made earlier this yr–with extra on the horizon for 2024–coupled with decrease crowds and extra reductions lead to greater happiness amongst Walt Disney World and Disneyland guests?
No matter your perspective on the explanations for Disney’s model harm, please preserve the feedback civil. This isn’t the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, private assaults, or perpetuating pointless tradition wars. There’s a technique to tactfully convey factors bearing on politics and social points with out being disrespectful or disparaging. With out regard for viewpoint, we’ll delete feedback that cross the road, are missing in decorum or don’t try and thoughtfully contribute to the dialog. Should you want to rudely shout your anger into the web abyss or troll for controversy, that’s why Fb was invented.