The Disney Channel television program Hannah Montana (2009-2011) functioned as an advertisement convincing viewers to buy products related to the program and its star, Miley Cyrus. The popular series became a billion dollar enterprise for a couple of reasons. First, the duality of the program’s plot (an ordinary girl lives a secret double life as a pop star and the actress who portrayed this role is a real life pop star) tapped into the duality of tween girl viewers’ real lives and fantasies. Second, Disney Channel created purchasing opportunities for audiences that paralleled the purchasing behavior of characters on the program, thereby prompting viewers to mimic what they saw on screen.
As evidence of Disney Channel’s successful marketing strategies, on media outlets such as YouTube, Hannah Montana “unbaggings” grew in popularity. In these videos, users recorded themselves unpacking and displaying the many bags of Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus merchandise they just bought. After receiving requests from friends and subscribers to view her collection of merchandise, YouTube user Aly Walker created a four-part video series where she shows off her “Hannah Montana Stuff”. At first I was amazed that 36,000+ viewers would watch the crudely shot footage in which only Walker’s hands are shown displaying her Hannah Montana ice packs, sandwich bags, and deodorant. Halfway into the video, however, I found myself in the position of jealous voyeur as Walker pulled out signed copies of Cyrus’s autobiography which she had received from the pop star herself.
Seeing the autograph as her communion with fame and recognizing my sudden desire to consume, I began to understand not only what these products mean to her, but why she and others desire the items. Disney created these products as an extension of the fantasy world portrayed on the series and are constant reminders of fame, money, happiness, recognition, popularity, and acceptance; aspects of life many—especially tweens—desire.
The accompanying video clip contains a scene from the pilot episode of Hannah Montana and an excerpt from Walker’s videos and demonstrates an eerie parallel about material excess that is a daunting reminder of Disney Channel’s pervasive marketing to and capturing of the youth demo.