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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Disney appeals to China's youth
A bus in Shanghai advertising Disney children's clothing
Brand awareness means getting to know more than just Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney has enlisted the help of China's 70 million-strong Communist Youth League as it prepares to enter one of its last major untapped markets.

The US entertainment giant is planning to tour Chinese youth centres in a bid to build awareness of the Disney brand.

The publicity drive comes ahead of the opening next year of the firm's $1.8bn (1bn) Disney theme park in Hong Kong.

The youth sessions will include storytelling, interactive games and lessons in how to draw Mickey Mouse.

Disney said it would be working in partnership with the country's Communist Youth League.

Brand building

Disney expects that about one-third of the visitors to its Hong Kong park - the firm's second in Asia after Tokyo - will come from mainland China.

Disney store
China's emerging middle-class has money to spend on Disney products

"It's one part of an overall brand building process," said Jay Rasulo, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

"We've had to be innovative. If you look at Europe and Tokyo, the brand was far better understood."

Disney's attempts to woo China's youth began in July, when a Disney team, including Mickey Mouse, visited 500 children at two youth centres in Guangzhou, in southern China.

Chinese consumers

The move into China represents "a huge commercial opportunity for Disney", according to Andy Milligan, of branding consultancy Interbrand.

"America and Western Europe is pretty much taken care of, but Asia is a big and growing market," he told the BBC's World Service.

"There is an increasingly affluent middle-class in China, so they have money to spend and money to travel."

Such is Disney's faith that China's communist youth will embrace the likes of Mickey Mouse and Sleeping Beauty, the company is doing little to dampen speculation that another theme park will eventually be built in Shanghai.

"There's very little doubt in my mind that there will be a market further north in China for a second Disneyland," said Mr Rasulo.

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