The Princess Incident

Whoever made up the saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ clearly had too much time on their hands. In the today’s fast paced world with millions of entertainment options across movies, music, television shows and live productions, who has time to invest significant research hours getting past the cover?


Movie posters, book covers, television program advertisements and snippets from music videos on YouTube play an enormous influence on our consumption. Take the cinema for an example. There are always lots of films showing but nobody has time to research each of them by reading reviews, watching the trailers or chatting to friends. So what do you do? You look at the artwork and you look at the title.

You may see some words that resonate. You may see some artwork that really speaks to you. But if the film isn’t appealing at first glance then chances are that you will scroll right on by.

Unfortunately, Disney learnt this lesson the hard way.

The Princess and The Frog was one of the more recent efforts to break the Disney stigma while still keeping within their brand of family entertainment. In fact, rather than the traditional distressed princess role, the frog kiss turns the princess into a frog herself rather than the frog into a handsome prince. And to add on top of the movement away from traditional fairy tales, this movie’s setting was moved to New Orleans and starred a black Princess.

But despite the lack of traditional girly qualities, The Princess and The Frog failed to crack into the boys market counting almost solely on little girls nagging their parents to take them to the cinema.

How did this happen? The product was designed with the intention of attracting this forgotten crowd who were better satisfied by the likes of the Jungle Book and The Lion King rather than Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. And as far as anyone could tell the message strongly resonated with this demographic in the cinemas. However, the whole enterprise was let down by one word.


Due to the plethora of entertainment options available to boys over the school holidays, boys and parents of boys (don’t forget that the child is often instrumental in marketing this product to the parents) saw the movie’s ‘cover’ and made a snap judgement when they read the word Princess. It may not have really been about Princesses but the fact that the title contained this word automatically knocked the movie out from progressing to the next round of consideration.

It is scary to think that an entire enterprise – especially one with the heritage and reputation of Disney – could be hurt with the choice of a single eight-letter word.

But when you don’t succeed, try and try again. And that is exactly what they did.

The next film along this reimagined vein was a new version of the classic Rapunzel. Helpless princesses locked in towers are so last century!

To avoid any potential repeat of the Princess incident and to attract a wider youth audience they named the product Tangled. Sure, it is more ambiguous, but it avoids the potentially limiting connotation that they are rehashing the same old girl’s fairy tales by putting Rapunzel in the title. But the title isn’t the only cover that audiences see.

Both the poster and the trailer have a consciously different feel to The Princess and The Frog. Gone is the emphasis on jewellery, romantic scenes and ball gowns which could quite easily have formed the cover of Tangled. Instead there is a unisex emphasis with a prominent male and female character which better reflects the action of the movie. In fact, to hammer home this point, some of the trailers even placed a higher emphasis on Flynn Rider the male lead.

Princess and Tangled

The difference? The Princess and The Frog took in a box office of $267 million dollars. Tangled doubled that figure because it managed to attract the male side of their audience through its advertising resulting in a grand total of $591.8 million.

It may be idealistic to assume that your audience won’t judge your product based on its cover, but it just doesn’t work out like that in real life. We are bombarded with entertainment options all day and there is only so much time to engage in doing a bit of research to see if you want to engage. Since that is the case, make sure that your cover truly reflects the product or you could attract a completely different audience than the one for which the product was designed!