Love your Mickey mug? We speak with the man behind Disney products
Allen Au-Yeung, The Walt Disney Company’s vice president of creative and product development for APAC
Tell us about your role.
A lot of what we do is creating tie-in products and organising promotional events with PR and marketing teams, while keeping the work unified across APAC. When a movie comes out, we think about how to package it for local markets and what makes consumers tick. Mulan [liveaction film] is coming out soon, and in China we feel like we have to own that and create a lot more products. Covering all of APAC, what I try to do is take something that is great in a certain country and transform and transfer it to other countries.
What role do these products serve for the Disney brand?
If you find the right partners, it attracts attention and gets people talking about what Disney can do. For instance, people were surprised when we partnered with Gucci. We also worked with the Shanghai Museum, making art works with Mickey embedded into the artefacts, while creating a little promotional exhibition. Now the Forbidden City in Beijing wants to do something similar. So we are not selling a character; we are selling a story, a story that can get people excited.
What are some ways you localise the visuals for different Asian markets?
We do a lot of research on how to tackle different Asian countries. In Japan there’s the sensibility of kawaii, that visual feeling of cuteness that my team in Tokyo understands how to execute right. But this aesthetic might not work in China, where we need a little bit more colour. There we need gold on black and China red. When it comes to heavily Muslim countries, we have to avoid certain characters such as Piglet and Pluto [because of sensitivities about pigs and dogs], and even princesses are a lot more covered up. So we need to adapt and be flexible.
Disney recently worked with design school SCAD in Hong Kong. What motivated that programme?
At Disney we try to inspire as many people as possible – it’s one of our company’s key values. So I feel like I have this responsibility to inspire new talents to join us. At SCAD we created a little design programme with about 30 students to create Mickey products. We want to capture people when they are young and hopefully one day they can come work for us.
Any clues to what’s in store for Disney films going forward?
We are definitely going to continue to take the classics and make them a lot more modern. The first animated film I ever watched was The Jungle Book, which my father took me to see decades ago. That was a special moment for me, and it came back into my life when I saw the live-action version in 2016. Tears kept pouring out as I watched it in the cinema. That is what we are good at: taking something that was at the back of your mind, and bringing it out again. I hope we can extend the story from generation to generation.
AT DISNEY WE TRY TO INSPIRE AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE – IT’S ONE OF OUR KEY VALUES