by C.B. Adams

We loved the "Dancing Raisins." We loved the Levi's® 501 "Blues." And, of course, we all love Mickey Mouse.

But do you know why? Well, Dexter Fedor will tell us. As senior vice president, Global Brand Development for Disney Consumer Products, Fedor is immersed in the new "Why do we love the Mouse?" campaign. This is his latest creation as he develops and executes a new worldwide brand model and advertising program for Disney Consumer Products—the licensing, publishing, retail, and interactive entertainment division of the Walt Disney Company, located in Burbank, California.

Don't Mess with Mickey

The Disney Company, arguably one of the world's most recognized names in entertainment, takes maintaining its worldwide reputation and image very seriously. This focus is easily maintained internally, but the Disney Company forms many corporate alliances and partnerships with other companies that use the Disney characters or brands. That's when Fedor and his staff of approximately 75 step in.

"I am one of the stewards of the Walt Disney brand as it relates to advertising and consumer products," Fedor says. "My office makes sure that the Disney equities are protected and are represented in a way that we feel is appropriate. At no time do we want our characters to shill or sell products because our characters live in their own worlds, have their own mythologies, and they are separate from the world of commerce."

Mickey Mouse has a mythology?

Fedor admits it is a little strange to talk about the Disney characters in this way, but the company's brand—its characters—is its most precious asset. As a result, the company has always carefully guarded the words, symbols, and how the characters are represented.

"Disney is more than just a super-brand. It's also a highly evocative brand. People have emotional feelings attached to Disney. When I go to film screenings, like for Dinosaur, I see firsthand how children and the audience react—how the fantasy and magic come to life for 90 minutes," Fedor says. "That's a defining moment, because at the heart of Disney really are only two things: storytelling and unforgettable characters. When I see them come to life in an animated movie, it makes everything about working at Disney make sense."

Mr. Icon

Fedor has been with Disney since 1998. In a way, his job is to act as a manager for Goofy, Cinderella, Minnie, and all the other characters. These characters and Disney's name recognition have become American icons, and Fedor is uniquely qualified to handle the challenge. You might even say, he specializes in icons. Before going to Disney, Fedor worked in advertising from the agency side of the business. The list of products he has worked with is a virtual who's who of iconic brands: Nestlé, Sprint PCS, Maybelline®, Neutrogena®, Levi's®, and Bank of America, among others.

"In my experience, if you are going to stay in advertising for any length of time, you are probably going to learn how to dance to a lot of different kinds of music. I have always tried to avoid getting niched into one area. It has always been more exciting to me to work with different clients on all kinds of products because they all have different markets and challenges," Fedor says.



Turning Grapes into Stars

One product that accelerated Fedor's rise to the top of the advertising field was the first he helped turn into a new type of icon: the ubiquitous raisin. He was working for the Foote, Cone & Belding agency in San Francisco. One of the firm's clients was the California Raisin Board, which wanted to raise awareness for raisins.

"This was an assignment to use sheer creativity in order to get people to look at a TV commercial and have a good feeling about shriveled fruit—raisins. We could have told people ways to eat raisins and incorporate them into recipes, but that was not very compelling or interesting," Fedor says.

His solution: a little bit of the Motown sound—"I Heard It Through the Grapevine"—combined with the then-new Claymation type of animation. The result: the California Dancing Raisins. The overwhelming success of the national campaign was enough to swell the raisins back into grapes. The campaign earned Fedor three Clio Awards (the advertising equivalent of the Oscar) for Best Commercial of the Year, two first place Andy Winner Awards in the same category, and the Silver Lion at the Cannes Film Festival.

"Being called to the stage at the Lincoln Center to receive three Clios was exciting, but having my idea—that creativity has a place in the marketplace—validated was even more exciting," Fedor says.

To date, Fedor has earned six Clios, as well as more than 200 other awards, merits, and certificates acknowledging his contribution to advertising, working for various clients at various agencies.

Singin' the Praises of the Blues Jeans

Just like Picasso, Fedor also had a "blue period." In his case, it was working on a national television campaign for Levi Strauss & Co.'s 501 jeans. The ads were to begin airing during that year's Olympics. As the art director, Fedor faced the challenge of enhancing the image of an American iconic brand with a status equivalent to baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Once again, he turned to music and this time worked on the classic Levi's® 501 "Blues" campaign.

"We made the jeans seem more natural and more real as a way to position Levi's® as this remarkable American brand that was comfortable and would end up fitting you like nothing else—all set to American blues music," Fedor says.

A Little Bit of Mickey in Their Lives

Fedor is hoping to work his magic again for the Walt Disney Company. The new corporate television campaign "Why do we love the Mouse?" features a variety of sports and entertainment celebrities giving humorously irreverent testimonials about why they love the world's most famous mouse. The first spots began during the 2000 Super Bowl, and they will continue throughout the year.

Regardless of how the campaign turns out, Fedor—who also oversees the production of style guides for Disney's film and television properties—is already focusing his energy and talents on the future. And while many would be content to have risen to Fedor's current position, he still wants more.

"I have so far to go," he says. "I'm appreciative of where I'm at, but I've got a ways to go here. I have very, very big dreams."

How big?

Well, as this article closed, Fedor has accepted a senior vice president position reporting directly to the chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. Looks as if he might be headed to the movies.

C.B. Adams is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.

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"Being called to the stage at the Lincoln Center to receive three Clios was exciting, but having my idea—that creativity has a place in the marketplace— validated was even more exciting," Fedor says.