Disney Gets Harsh Reminder that It Needs Advertising

There are those who believe that some businesses are so well known that they don’t have to advertise. The notion of “too big to fail” may only apply to banks, because The Walt Disney Company was reminded in calendar Q3 2019 that even the Mouse needs advertising to reach the public.

The Power of Disney Branding

Audiences are certainly familiar with names such as “Avengers: Endgame”, , Star Wars, The Disney Channel, ESPN, Disneyland, and “Toy Story 4”. That familiarity is the result of long-term effective marketing. Jingles, vivid images, emotional storytelling, positive customer experiences, and merchandise investments all make for the largest entertainment company on Earth. They generated US$20.25 billion in the second calendar quarter of 2019 alone.

It may seem natural that a behemoth could skimp on some marketing here and there. When you combine such beloved brands as Disneyland (the most famous theme park in the world) and Star Wars (arguably the most famous science fiction franchise in the world), advertising was considered optional – something that could be skipped because the public was already addicted. This is what Disney tried to do with the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyland. Tried – and failed.

Despite Disney’s colossal box office success in generating US$8 billion so far this year and the new Star Wars-themed areas in Disneyland and Disney World in Florida, the company’s fiscal Q3 (Apr-Jun 2019) earnings were far below analysts’ expectations and theme park attendance was off 3%.

“Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger had said he didn’t even need to advertise the new attraction, since anticipation among Star Wars fans was so high. But the company has since stepped up promotions of Galaxy’s Edge on billboards and social media.”

Christopher Palmeri of Bloomberg

Marketing is Mandated

So what happened? How did two iconic brands miss the mark? How did the most expensive upgrade in Disneyland history not put feet in lines?

As CEO Iger said, they thought the people knew and cared enough. They failed to account for the negative effects that higher ticket costs, long lines, and boosted food prices would have on affordability. There was also a significant over-correction for enthusiasm. Iger believed interest would be so high that they needed to persuade potential visitors not to come. Competition also stepped up their attacks by spending more on marketing and offering discounted ticket prices.

Assumptions are risky and Disney’s blew up in their face. The public didn’t materialize as expected and posts abounded on social media of the nearly empty new Star Wars land. Not great for a billion-dollar product launch.

Every brand must advertise. The public not only deserves to know about your product, but they also must be comfortable choosing to use your product. This is where Disney failed. People were concerned about affordability and experience. Mickey and his friends didn’t effectively communicate with their audience because they believed they didn’t need to. Thankfully this has changed.

Digital and Traditional Media Save the Day

Disney is now advertising the new land in digital and traditional media. Even the marketing titan of Disney with their billions of dollars and millions of media tools understand the value of a media mix. It could be assumed that Disney would only need to go digital. Everyone is sharing experiences on social media, using the official Disneyland app, and searching for tickets online. But billboards, television, and radio remain prominent and trusted parts of daily life for hundreds of millions of Americans.

So don’t repeat Disney’s mistakes. If the Avengers, the Sith, Hakuna Matata, and Buzz Lightyear require multimedia marketing to get the job done, so do you.

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