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The marketing of a 21st-century princess

By KJ Matthews, CNN
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Disney flick breaking barriers
  • Disney's latest film, "The Princess and the Frog," opens this Friday
  • Disney is flooding the market with more than 1,000 items related to the film
  • The company says this film already out-selling previous Disney princess items

(CNN) -- "The Princess and the Frog" is not just Walt Disney's newest animated film, it's also Disney's latest marketing campaign.

With the movie opening on Friday, Disney has already spent weeks promoting, marketing and selling hundreds of film-inspired merchandise products just in time for the holidays.

From dolls to cookbooks to shampoo to bedding to jewelry to video games, Disney is working hard to saturate the market with more than 1,000 items.

"This is such an historic event for us. We are so excited about this. It's exciting to be able to make good, inspired products from this event," said Sheila Ullery, vice president of marketing for Disney Consumer Products. "'The Princess and the Frog' is a global opportunity for us on the consumer product side."

The effort appears to be paying off for Disney. The company says it's already begun out-selling previous Disney princess items by double-digit percentages. People are buying the items from Disney stores, and retailers nationwide, which is fueling the demand, according to Disney.

A new level of Disney marketing muscle? Not so, says Sanjay Sood, associate professor of marketing at the Entertainment Media Management Institute at UCLA.

"For 'The Lion King' we saw the soundtrack. We saw consumer products; we saw a Broadway show; we had attractions at the theme parks. So Disney's really, really good at turning a movie into a big business," he said.

Sood also believes no other studio is better equipped to market an animated musical the way that Disney has.

"This is carefully planned out by Disney. They have a franchise team that builds the princess franchise. They're working with the retailers to let everybody know that this movie's going to be coming out. So this is not something that happened by accident, for sure."

J.C. Penney, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart are just some of the major retailers selling "The Princess and the Frog" consumer products. And it's not just the chain stores inspiring people to open up their pocketbooks and spend money on film items, Ullery said.

"A local cooking school was actually doing recipes from the Tiana cookbook, and the instructor was already getting pent up demand for these cooking classes so that girls could learn how to cook like Tiana using the recipes from the cookbook." Tiana is the African-American princess in the new film.

iReporter reviews "Princess and the Frog"

Besides the plethora of products, the film has also given a few African-American designers and merchants an opportunity to be a part of the massive marketing. The participants include the Carol's Daughters line of bath and body products, Quincy Jones' daughter Kidada Jones' new line of gold jewelry and Mychael Darwin's Princess jackets.

Video: Meet Tiana: Disney's new star

"I think who better to tell the African-American story than an African-American designer. It's our culture," Darwin said. "(Blacks) have always been on the forefront of fashion and music, but yet our opportunities to express that have been thwarted at times. So thank God for the exposure."

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So with jackets, T-shirts, shoes, bedding, bandages, stationery, toys, video games and collectibles for "The Princess and the Frog," what's next? Sood believes the success of this movie will ultimately determine the success of the marketplace for "The Princess and the Frog" merchandise and whether other projects will be created based on this film.

"I think you're going to see even more once licensees catch on after the movie comes out," Sood said. "Right now, this is all being driven by Disney, but when the movie comes out and if it's a hit, everybody's going to want to be on that bandwagon."