Disney: When You Wish Upon a Stock

"There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before it became a major force in Hollywood, and the owner of 11 theme parks and several television networks, including ABC and ESPN, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS  ) was simply Walter Elias Disney, a humble cartoonist looking to make people smile.

Since 1923, ages before Pixar was even a twinkle in anyone's eye, the Disney Company was built on Walt's growing use of animation to bring his cartoon creations to life. Armed with technology and fueled by his restless imagination, Walt conceived a variety of timeless characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and brought to life the stories of unforgettable classics such as Bambi, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Pinocchio.

Where dreams come true
Walt could not contain his dreams to the two-dimensional world of animation; his stable of characters demanded further realization. Walt and his company would go on to build the most visited and famous theme parks in the world, finally bringing his dreams into reality. The public could now see, touch, and experience the characters that had enchanted them in film.

The year 2006 saw Disney's theme parks welcome their 2 billionth guest. With an estimated 6.7 billion people on the planet, Disney has, within 53 years, hosted the equivalent of 30% of the world's current population. Over the past 36 years, since the opening of Walt Disney World, the stock has returned more than 3,499% – turning a $1,000 investment into approximately $35,989 today.

Knowingly or unknowingly, Walt had created a "memories" company. He understood that once he captured a person's imagination, he had earned a portion of their memory, for life.

Beauty and the beasts
It's amazing to think that one brand could house so many memories and mean so much to people, young and old. Disney's feat appears unparalleled. I decided to see how the company's name fared among Interbrand's 2007 ranking of global brands:

Top Global Brands (2007)

Industry

2007 Brand Value*

Market Capitalization

1. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  )

Beverages

$65B

$128B

2. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  )

Computer Software

$59B

$257B

3. IBM

Computer Software

$57B

$175B

4. GE

Diversified

$51B

$295B

5. Nokia (NYSE: NOK  )

Consumer Electronics

$34B

$100B

6. Toyota (NYSE: TM  )

Automotive

$32B

$142B

7. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  )

Computer Hardware

$31B

$136B

8. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  )

Restaurants

$29B

$74B

9. Disney

Media

$29B

$60B

10. Mercedes

Automotive

$24B

$61B

Source: Interbrand data. Market cap data from Yahoo! Finance.

It was quite understandable that Coca-Cola topped the list. Established in 1886, this beverage juggernaut owns four of the world's top five carbonated brands. Regardless of one's soft drink preference, the company has undeniably sold the world a Coke, delivering 1.5 billion moments of refreshment daily.

However, when Interbrand determined that Microsoft and IBM won the second and third spots, I took exception. Beyond its shareholders and employees, I doubt anyone would shed a tear if the Microsoft monopoly were unseated by cloud computing. As for IBM, does anyone really look back longingly on the days of punch cards?

Amazingly, I could only find a handful of companies on the global brands list with the chops to both invoke childhood memories and maintain lifelong relevance with their customers. However recognizable these monster brands may be, few possess the beauty of an emotional moat.

The circle of life
Imagine how long a Disney memory lasts, and the subsequent lifetime value of a delighted customer. With life expectancies hovering around 78 years, a person may have 70 years or more to be enchanted by Disney; first as an awestruck child, then as a parent seeking to relive the experience, and finally as a grandparent, looking to simply spoil their grandchildren rotten.

And you don't have to enter the theme parks to have experienced the world of Disney. Visit the home of most young parents, and you'll find Nemo perpetually situated in the DVD player, or perhaps you'll trip over a stuffed Simba on your way to the bathroom. Whether you're watching Monday Night Football on ESPN with friends, High School Musical with the teenagers, or taking the wife out to see Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, you've just been touched by the magic of Disney.

So don't just wish upon your stocks. Make sure you take into account the company's emotional moat, and whether its products will continue to elicit fond memories 70 years from now. Because when you invest in unforgettable stocks, your financial dreams really do come true.

Always let further Foolishness be your guide:

Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Andy Louis-Charles is a value investor who visited Walt Disney World this summer for the fifth time in his life. He owns stock in and is short call options in GE. If you have feedback or a burning interest in seeing his exclusive photos with Pluto, feel free to email him at alc@landistcapital.com. The Fool's disclosure policy wonders where Donald's pants went.


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