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Jocelyn Harmon 6 min read

Who is Your Favorite Princess?

I have always been really ambivalent about Disney princesses - Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel and Belle. Yuck.  They reinforce the worst stereotypes about women (and men).  A) That we (women) are passive creatures waiting for the prince to come.  B) That men have all of the answers and are the answers to our problems.  I’m also turned off by the fact that none of them look like me.  I’m an African-American woman.  Disney princesses are mostly white.

So, I was really excited last year when my daughter ran in the door and announced, "Mommy, mommy there is a black princess, there's a new black princess.  She's coming out in the movies next week." 

"Really?" I said.  (“It’s about time,” I thought.) "What's her name?"

"The Frog Princess."

"The frog what?"

Typical.  Disney FINALLY gets around to creating a black princess and they name her after a frog?  Ugh! 

My reaction was not unusual.  In fact, when production of The Frog Princess (the name of the movie was later changed to The Princess and the Frog) was announced in 2006, there was a lot of backlash from African-Americans.  

First, the movie title was terrible.  Second, the princess was originally named Maddy, which many felt sounded too much like mammy - an offensive term for a Black nursemaid.  Third, Maddy was a chambermaid.  Really?  Why not just make her a servant!  Finally, many people felt it was an insult to set the film in New Orleans, which had just suffered one of the worst hurricanes in American history and destroyed the lives of many black Americans. (You can’t make this stuff up!)

Thankfully, Disney listened to some of their critics and made several changes to the film.

  • The Frog Princess became The Princess and the Frog
  • Maddy became Tiana. 
  • Instead of working as a chambermaid, Tiana got a job as a waitress who aspires to become a restaurateur. (Better.) 
  • It's also interesting to note that Disney hired Oprah Winfrey to be a technical consultant for the film.  Winfrey eventually became the voice of Tiana’s mother, Eudora. 

I tell you this story because (in case you haven't noticed) Disney is one of the most successful marketing companies in the world and even they make big mistakes.  This post highlights the many opportunities and challenges we all face when marketing to new (and unfamiliar) audiences. Regardless of whether you like princesses or not, here are four lessons you can learn from The Princess and the Frog.

  1. If you want to reach new audiences you have to tell stories that resonate with and feature the people you are trying to reach.  Don’t believe me?  Test it.  Seriously, "like attracts like."  
  2. If you want to be taken seriously be interested in my issues and me. Your goal as a marketer is to get people to know, like and trust you.  This takes time and the right intention. 
  3. Connecting with new audiences is hard and you may need a coach to help get you there.  (If you can't afford Oprah Winfrey find other folks in your network who are also a part of the community you would like to join.)  Bring in these "translators" before your product or service or campaign is fully baked.  Let your new audiences guide development from the beginning of any project. 
  4. Be responsive to criticism.  You can't achieve consensus on every decision but pick your battles and know which boundaries you can cross and which to respect.  If you want people to trust you, you have to respect their concerns, even if it means pushing back your "launch date." 
  5. There is money to be made in marketing to new audiences and telling new stories.  Why else would Disney do it?  (The Princess and the Frog grossed $262 million dollars!) If you do it right, you can achieve great success. 

Do you have experience marketing to new audiences or joining new communities?  What has and hasn't worked for you?