Many folks who were alive to be in the very first class of Mouseketeers remember that sad day when the Mouseketeers waved goodbye and had their final first run Mouseketeer Roll Call on the ABC Television network. Despite being a cultural touchstone and a wild success, the show had been canceled by the network.
Now why would such a popular show get canceled? Perhaps nostalgia has blinded those faithful Mouseketeers; the show obviously wasn’t popular enough, right? Wrong. The Mickey Mouse Club was a huge success by anyone’s standards. The people who killed The Mickey Mouse Club were the very Wall Street types who thought that Disneyland wouldn’t last 6 months, much less 60 years.
Why would a television network cancel a massive hit like The Mickey Mouse Club and what do Wall Street types have to do with the decision? Well, one would have to understand the conventional wisdom of the time. Compare TV ads for Children’s products from the 50′s to those of the 80′s or even today. In the 50′s, these ads were boring and rarely geared toward children. In fact, many television shows advised the children in the audience to grab Mom or Dad and bring them into the living room during commercial breaks. By the 1980′s, these same TV ads were colorful, full of cartoon characters and the phrase “Hey kids, get your parents and bring them in to see some important messages” was practically extinct. It appears that the business world discovered something that Walt Disney himself knew 30 years before.
Yes, back in the 1950′s, businesses rarely advertised even toys directly to children, because conventional wisdom around Wall Street at the time was that kids didn’t have money; their parents did. So if a toy company wanted to move their merchandise, they needed to gear their advertising to the adults in the audience. So while The Mickey Mouse Club was watched by virtually every American kid, advertisers felt that advertising during a show solely geared to children was a complete waste of time. It was better to advertise toys on shows that parents watched, so that a sober announcer could tell them how smart they were for buying their kids a toy that was such a great value. ABC tried valiantly, but eventually had to pull the plug because the advertising dollars just weren’t there. Children’s television remained the province of cheap local programming filled with frightening clowns and old bargain basement cartoons.
We all now see how ridiculous this theory was; anyone who has been in a Toys R Us or visited Disneyland can see that kids may not have much money, but they can definitely influence their parents. These same parents frequently cave in and buy that Barbie doll or XBox. Kids may not have money, but they have a lot of clout.
So, before you become impressed with Wall Street analysts and their wisdom, just remember- 50 years ago, conventional Wall Street wisdom stated that advertising on children’s shows was a waste of time because “Kids Don’t Have Money.”