Judge and Jury: Buzz Lightyear comes in peace but Disney hype sparks hostility - On the face of it, the shortage of Buzz Lightyears was a great publicity coup, but Disney may have pushed parents too far, says Alison Clarke, managing director of Welbeck Go

The hype surrounding Buzz Lightyear in the pre-Christmas period really did go as he says ’to infinity and beyond!’.

The hype surrounding Buzz Lightyear in the pre-Christmas period

really did go as he says ’to infinity and beyond!’.

At first glance the headline-grabbing stories seem an exemplary

communications plan to generate media exposure and fuel demand in a way

that advertising simply cannot. We witnessed a sustained campaign of

human interest stories as dedicated parents succeeded where Santa had

failed; the family that paid pounds 94 for Buzz at auction, another

desperate father who spent pounds 400 on adverts, phonecalls and postage

to the US as part of a toy swap with Tickle-me Elmo and the grandmother

who paid pounds 230 for Buzz as part of a radio station’s charity

appeal. The media lapped it up.

We then read of Disney stores issuing secret passwords to parents who

had ordered the toy, presumably in an effort to help them remain

anonymous and presumably avoid attack on the way home.

The final photocall of security men guarding a delivery on 20 December

served as a marvellous opportunity for more stories of abandoned cars -

and even a double decker bus left in Regent Street.

What a triumph. Or was it? Criticism of Disney is heavy. Even the

tabloids repeatedly guess at the enormity of lost sales. While the

communication makes Buzz look more desirable, corporately there must be

considerable egg on face.

How extraordinary then to announce the arrival of Intergalactic Buzz

Lightyear as we had barely finished singing ’Auld Lang Syne’. The new

improved Buzz will shortly be available across the UK but instead of

appeasing those desperate parents this announcement could well


It generated publicity but you don’t have to be a cynic for it to send

the wrong message. Maybe Disney’s communications advisers should take a

leaf out of the FA’s book and publicise a use-by date on all future

models to defuse criticism from consumers!

This jury doesn’t believe any publicity is good publicity and one cannot

help feeling a lack of strategy and control in the aftermath of Buzz and

Christmas ’96. An excellent way to remedy the situation might be a

suggestion to Blue Peter who gallantly re-created Thunderbirds’ Tracy

Island following its sell-out of Christmas 1992. I’m sure a home-grown

Buzz could be created with some sticky-backed plastic and a squeezy


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