There are two difficulties with a roundup like this – Disney is massive and it’s often hard to disentangle product and marketing.
The company creates such strong stories/brands that all of its media can appear to work seamlessly.
Nevertheless, I’ve picked out some examples of what could be termed marketing expertise by the film juggernaut.
1. ‘Healthily Ever After’
Disney has so many great stories, but it’s not averse to running campaigns with a message.
‘Healthily Ever After’ uses Disney characters to inspire families and children to eat healthily and exercise more regularly.
For a decade, Disney has been using nutritional guidelines when choosing which partners to work with. It’s an effort that fits seamlessly into Disney’s marketing strategy, one that necessitates engagement with parents as much as it does children.
Hooking mums and dads into films and franchises, either through clever use of content or broader brand values, is the aim.
Check out the video below.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – content seeding
There are a number of blogs that have analysed the content marketing ahead of Disney’s first Star Wars release last year.
Of course, the associated activity for a movie set to gross billions is massive, but here are just a few of the highlights.
Content marketing from Disney is hard to define but these seemingly off-the-cuff examples are likely expertly stage-managed.
A user-generated R2-D2
The first photo to be released from the set of the new film was a masterpiece in understanding the franchise’s audience (view it here).
Though it’s not the most exciting photo to you or I, Star Wars nuts were ecstactic to see that R2-D2 had returned, and got even more glassy-eyed when they saw this droid was built by two fans.
Here’s a tweet from the director, JJ Abrams. In case you aren’t up on your spaceships, that handwritten note is sitting on the Millennium Falcon’s snazzy, light-up chessboard.
Again, this was catnip for fans.
— Bad Robot (@bad_robot) June 4, 2014
“Chewie, we’re home”
The second teaser trailer for The Force Awakens was when the marketing campaign went into overdrive.
Though the first trailer hadn’t included clips of the old franchise stars, they featured heavily here. Harrison Ford’s closing line was so perfectly pitched, it became a meme.
Ahrefs points out that $2bn was added to Disney’s value by the success of this trailer alone. Type ‘Chewie, we’re home’ into Google, and you’ll see 661,000 results (at time of writing).
A powerhouse of cross-promotion
ESPN and ABC (Disney companies) went to town in referencing the new movie. And when it came to commercials, the amount of co-branding that went on was staggering (see this AdWeek article).
3. The Jungle Book reboot
We’ll get on to some marketing nitty gritty soon, but I wanted to mention another movie in the context of Disney’s ability to perfectly pitch its films.
The Jungle Book reboot has a trailer that notably includes no songs, little Baloo, and yet does feature plenty of moody, scary moments.
Adding to this, stills and videos were created emphasising the actors that voiced the characters.
Targeting older audiences and parents in this way created a wide-ranging appeal that ensured three weeks at the top of the box office (before Captain America came along).
A Super Bowl ad placement and a 3D preview in auditoria before the Star Wars movie helped, too.
4. Oh My Disney
Oh My Disney is Disney’s BuzzFeed imitator. It was set up back in 2013 and publishes plenty of content about TV shows, movies, theme parks, as well as the obligatory trivia, quizzes and behind-the-scenes stuff.
It’s all designed for maximum sharing, of course, with a positive outlook and a dose of nostalgia.
Even a brand like Disney needs to keep creating opportunities to engage with fans and, although running a site like this doesn’t come cheap, it’s a drop in the ocean of Disney’s marketing budget.
Oh My Disney is doing fairly well on social with around 700,000 Facebook fans to date, but does face stiff competition from many other outlets (such as BuzzFeed itself), which understand the draw of Disney-themed content.
5. Annie Leibovitz ads
Disney Dream Portraits, to give them their proper name, were produced by Annie Leibovitz from 2007 to 2014.
These photographs of Hollywood stars in character as iconic Disney princesses, villains (etc) featured as print advertising, again appealing to parents and older fans.
They speak for themselves and add A-lister gloss to the brand, perhaps making dad rethink his decision about Disney World this year.
View the portraits.
In 2013, Disney made a leap forward in its parks, introducing MyMagic+, which includes MagicBands.
The system allows users to book slots for rides, restaurants and meeting characters, as well as open their hotel room door. This can be planned by website or app, and the MagicBand can store payment and ID information.
Disney can collect more accurate data about visits, purchases and customer satisfaction, adding this data to digital and social profiles.
In turn, the flexibility of MyMagic+ helps to improve the visitor experience.
Disney has 5.2m followers on Instagram.
The account is notable for the variety of imagery on display, invoking family, nostalgia, fun and, of course, merchandise.
Frozen is the biggest animated movie of all time. What’s interesting is the way the film’s revenue grew throughout 2014, despite a 2013 release.
Some say Disney was caught on the hop by the film’s success, hence being late to the party with much of the merchandise and many of the tie-ups.
Indeed, many retailers put restrictions on merchandise, allowing customers to buy only one or two of certain toys, and therefore keeping demand sky high.
I’m including the film because of Disney’s genius is producing new products to fit a franchise. For Frozen this included a re-release of the movie, with subtitles for a singalong experience.
There’s also a karaoke app, a Broadway show no less, plenty of YouTube and ABC content, and the familiar toys, clothing etc. Frozen drove a 7% increase in merchandise revenue in 2014 (a year after the film released).
The franchise is now one of Disney’s top five most valuable and its tale of sisterhood and princesses without princes has shown how Disney can update the playbook and reap big returns.
9. Marvel tie-ups
I’ve mixed things up here and included an example of brands using Disney as a distribution tool. Marvel, owned by Disney since 2009, allows partners to make use of its comic book characters.
The example below shows a Kiehl’s and Captain America custom edition that was distributed to Wall Street Journal subscribers. There’s an ad inside and as you can see, the characters on the cover seem to be bursting out of a Kiehl’s store.
Somehow, the Marvel brand, being all-American, is perfectly suited to advertising tie-ups like this.
10. Disney Parks blog
Another publishing effort from Disney, and another that caters for superfans. Each post has a handful of comments, showing just how engaged regular park visitors are.
Again, this kind of activity is about making sure that Disney’s most valuable customers feel central to the action and keep coming back.
The website serves a variety of needs, promoting current releases, careers at Disney Parks, new attractions and important minutiae, such as food at the parks.