The Year of the Mouse

It’s not common for me to dwell on Disney, but when the world’s biggest licensing organisation is mobilising behind pop culture’s number one icon, you have to take notice.

Following the launch of Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday celebrations in March, the market has seen a steady stream of noteworthy releases, turning into a small flood in the weeks leading up to November 18. In total, 2018 has seen close to eighty different brands join Mickey’s party.

Disney’s latest big push has a rather different profile to the last time it threw its weight behind one of its franchises. That was in 2015, when the reboot of Star Wars appeared to suffer from a very high concentration of low to medium-tier products. Perhaps that experience – combined with Mickey’s broader appeal – have helped its 2018 programme take on a more exclusive guise.

Of course, there’s nothing exclusive about having the same messaging as eighty other brands. This crowding, and growing indifference to big, mainstream properties in recent years, was surely a factor in the decision of many participants to rely on more than Mickey’s charms to excite their audiences. Here are some examples…


Uniqlo activated Mickey through at least two separate, artist-led campaigns: the first “Mickey Art” programme used art from six contemporary illustrators including James Jarvis and Kevin Lyons. Two months later it returned with an exclusive range of prints from the archive of Andy Warhol. Vans used a similar two-pronged approach, creating experimental summer capsules with four different artists, before returning with a separate, more inclusive in-house collection. Swatch, meanwhile, worked with Damien Hirst on two designs, with the first 1,999-piece limited edition available only on Mickey’s birthday (a Sunday). The unleashed creativity of Nixon’s work with Steven Harrington also stood out.


The Italian fast fashion chain OVS collaborated with Vogue to invite designers from four, high-genre labels like Arthur Arbesser and Au Jour Le Jour to contribute to a birthday tribute collection. Naturally the art toy market was a natural activation space for the world’s favourite mouse, where Japan’s Medicom Toy responded with several limited edition edits from the likes of fragment design and Undefeated. Meanwhile Leblon-Delienne’s special anniversary editions involved names like Marcel Wanders. Disney also attempted to refresh Mickey’s interior design credentials with a series of home living partnerships based around a collaboration with British designer, Kelly Hoppen.


“Mickey: The True Original” is the slogan Disney is using to frame its celebratory year – and the premise for a major pop-up art exhibition in New York curated by the prominent product creative, Darren Romanelli. A focus on Mickey’s role as a cultural catalyst was a premise that offered considerable appeal to brands with similar claims to be originals in their respective fields – such as Levi’s, Lacoste, Polaroid and Campbell’s Soup.

About Gavin Brown

Founder of brand innovation agency, Crescendo Brands...providing research, insights, creativity and leads to brands in need of remarkable products.