A few years ago, with no special promotion, a simple plush bear began selling out at Tokyo DisneySea. Disney saw opportunity to push sales further. They gave the bear a name: Duffy. They gave him a backstory: Minnie sewed the bear for Mickey to keep him company on a trip. They introduced a line of accessories and made him a walk-about mascot and soon Duffy was accounting for 40 percent of the resort's merchandise sales.
"Doing the reverse, where a character comes from a piece of merchandise and then becomes a piece of entertainment, is truly a first for us," said Disney's Manager of (kid you not) Merchandise Synergy.
Now the bear is coming to California. But will a stuffed animal with a Mickey Mouse silhouette birthmark on his back be the hit in the US that it is in Japan?
According to the NYTimes, Duffy's success in in Tokyo is due in large part to fandom among "Japan's office ladies, the unmarried 20 and 30-somethings who helped turn Hello Kitty into a pop culture staple." Disney may find this fandom a phenomenon unique to Japanese culture, as did Re-ment, the miniatures-purveyor that, based on enormous popularity for their merch in Japan, opened up a now-shuttered office in California.
Still, smart move by clever imagineers to move a brand by inventing a story for it. Maybe Sprint should come up with backstory for the Palm Pre.