It seems that, from a point about 45 minutes after the launch of Disney+, there was a single demand that rose up from the huddled masses of Star Wars fans. "Bring me my Baby Yoda." The demand for little stuffed Yodalings and whatever other merchandise could be on the horizon was a deafening roar. And yet. There was nothing.
Earlier this week the first batch of "The Child" merch was released on the ShopDisney website and it's...it's awful actually. It's basically all the exact same image of the character, just plastered on standard merchandise, t-shirts, mugs, etc. It looks like Disney just sent the image to Cafe Press and had them produce everything. It's certainly not up to the standards that we expect from the House of Mouse, the king of the gift shop.
It seemed that somehow the massive Disney merchandise machine had been caught flat-footed. How could they possibly not have realized how popular this character would be? Did Disney really not produce anything beforehand?
Merchandise lead times are such that in order for the stuff to be ready when the show or movie hits, the stuff has to be in production long before, meaning the stuff could reveal details about the show or movie that people don't want out there. It's happened before. So, to prevent that Disney didn't make the merchandise.
Let's say that again, and really consider what we're saying. Disney didn't make the merchandise. Disney. That Disney. Didn't make stuff to sell.
Merchandise Has Always been Key To Disney Success
Obviously, that sentence is saying a lot. Disney has a reputation for merchandise as strong as its reputation for animation. Whether you're exiting through the gift shop of an attraction at Disneyland, or walking by the Disney Store at your local mall, there's no escaping Disney merchandise.
The stuff has always been as important to Disney as the characters themselves. Make no mistake about it, Walt Disney's early licensing deals to put Mickey Mouse on stuff very quickly led to the merchandising arm of the company out grossing the animated shorts the stuff was based on. This isn't new. The importance of the merchandise is baked into the DNA of the Walt Disney Company.
But that's what makes the whole baby Yoda thing so special. Disney decided to forego the short term benefit of the holiday season sales for what will almost certainly be much bigger long term success, both on Disney+ and in stores.
Story Is King at Disney
If you listen to the people from the various heads of the Disney hydra speak, they will pretty much all tell you that the company is about storytelling first and foremost. Most of the time, we probably laugh it off. It's all about the money right? But, here we have a real world example of the storytelling taking precedence over anything else.
The entire first episode of The Mandalorian is about trying to figure out what Mando is chasing after. If we had known the answer because of leaks, it would have been a serious blow to the drama of the first episode. It wouldn't necessarily have ruined the series, but then again, for some people it perhaps would have done just that.
Still, with the popularity of Disney+ overall and the anticipation for the service, it's unlikely the spoiler would have cost Disney many subscriptions to the service. If it was all about the money, the money move would be to make the dolls. More money is being lost by not having them than would have been if people had been frustrated by a spoiler.
Word Of Mouth Is Worth A Lot
And let's not pretend that Disney isn't still profiting from this situation. Word of mouth is still a better marketing tool than anything Disney can fabricate, and so the lack of Baby Yoda toys has the effect of causing people to talk, at length, about the lack of Baby Yoda toys. Every year at the holidays there is usually one toy that becomes hard to get because it is so popular. it looks like this Christmas the most in demand toy is going to be something that might be close to impossible to get.
If you're somebody who wants a plush Baby Yoda right now, it's unlikely that feeling is going to change any time soon. You'll buy one before Christmas, after Christmas, or in February if that's what it takes. A few people might lose Baby Yoda fever during this delay, but the number is likely to be small.
And this is also a good test case for Disney when it comes to their merchandise. It's easy enough to by cynical about Disney and the importance the company puts on "the stuff," but this is proof that sometimes people actually want "the stuff."
The desire people have for Baby Yoda toys isn't because of some massive marketing push, because there wasn't one. This is actual fan desire to own the thing. Sure Disney's constant focus on merchandise may have helped facilitate this desire, but there's nothing wrong with providing a product people want, and we know for sure they want this.
This is a Good Sign for the Future of Disney
Merchandise, especially as it pertains to Star Wars, is so important to Disney there's a special day, Force Friday, dedicated just to the toys. I got to attend a preview event for this year's Triple Force Friday earlier this year and I spoke to people about the tightrope that is producing merchandise while trying to preserve the story for fans.
I confirmed that the products that have been released are only a fraction of what is to come. A lot of stuff was being held back to prevent spoilers, but Baby Yoda isn't a case of a toy that was being made but not announced, but one even the toy makers didn't know existed.
This is great to see because, whether you collect the toys and other merchandise or not, the reason the stuff matters is because the story and the characters matter, and those things do appear to really be important to Disney as well.
There will certainly be times that toys might spoil things we'd rather not know,but the fact that steps like these are ones Disney is willing to take is a good thing for all of us.