Picture 4You should’ve seen her repulse when the site came up. It was as if she had just taken a big bite out of Sleeping Beauty’s poisonous green apple.

This all happened in Fort Worth, Texas. I was there last week running a social media workshop for the wonderful folks at the Tarrant Regional Water District, and the cities of Plano, Frisco and Denton.

We were online sharing websites that have been doing a good job of telling compelling stories about conservation and sustainable living. One of the attendees was excited to show us one of her favorite sites: IdealBite.com, “Advice from an eco-mom.” She gushed about how well written it was, and how she looked forward to receiving their down-to-earth and irreverent emails and blogs on all things green. Then it happened.

I typed in the URL and we were redirected to Disney.

Disney! Really?

She couldn’t believe her eyes that Eco-mom had sold out to DisneyFamily.com. Can you blame co-founder Jen Boulden? Think of the distribution. But at what cost? If you haven’t been a subscriber to their blog, here’s how they describe it’s appeal on LinkedIn:

“Far from eco-perfect themselves, the editors candidly share their humorous trials and tribulations in the blog. The secret sauce is a spoonful of “incremental environmentalism” with a keeping-it-real attitude… a perfect mix that empowers subscribers to align their values with everyday decisions.”

Will the vary voice that created the Eco-mom hit be recast to telling it the Disney way? Probably. And what becomes of her fans? Will they all feel as jilted as  the lady that was sitting to my left? If my focus group of one is any indication of the reaction to come from the rest of Eco-mom’s loyalists, Disney will have a difficult time maintaining the purity of this brand.

It seems an odd marriage, like Mary Poppins throws in with the pirate Jack Sparrow.

Eco-mom and Disney would be wise to follow the lead of an obscure drugstore in Manhattan called, “Kiehl’s Since 1851.” The curious store features a special kind of skin cream and lots of oddities. These include a Ducati motorcycle and a tiny stunt airplane hanging above hundred-year old rough-hewn floors. The well-trained staff, not what you’d expect in a drugstore, are the extension of product labels on items that are “lovingly displayed,” according to Seth Godin in his book, “All Marketers Tell Stories.” Godin writes, “The message was loud and clear: This is the work of a person, a unique individual, not a corporation.”

Kiehl’s Since 1851 is a cult brand that is doing millions of dollars in sales through service-oriented shops around the world. The real shocker comes when you learn that this quixotic brand is owned by industry giant L’Oréal. They purchased it several years ago, and they were smart to capitalize on the brand by NOT messing with the idiosyncratic character that created its mystique in the first place.

Disney bought IdealBite.com for $20 million, then ceased its publication and folded it into the “Go Green” section on its site. Hence the redirect.

Can a green brand built on an authentic individual remain sustainable in the Magic Kingdom?

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