The Disney Marketing Machine Strikes Again

By applying its synergy marketing strategy to this forever franchise, Disney gets about as close as you can to a sure bet.
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Actors Diego Luna and Felicity Jones pose as they arrive at the world premiere of the film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" in Hollywood, California, U.S., December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Actors Diego Luna and Felicity Jones pose as they arrive at the world premiere of the film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" in Hollywood, California, U.S., December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The stars are twinkling once again for Disney. The Star Wars franchise Disney acquired from Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 Billion continues to pay dividends as Rogue One scores the second biggest December opening on record behind last year's Star Wars release - The Force Awakens. It generated $155 million in box office during its North American weekend debut despite some "not so great" reviews.

Star Wars is a forever franchise

Since the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, box office revenues have totaled roughly $6.84 billion. Even more exciting, total franchise revenue (including merchandise and licensing) is estimated to be $30.54 billion. Since Disney acquired the franchise, it plans to bring out a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as people will buy tickets. In most minds, this means forever. By applying its synergy marketing strategy to this forever franchise, Disney gets about as close as you can to a sure bet.

Disney Synergy

Perhaps no company is better than Disney at taking a character, TV Show, or movie and turning into a money making franchise. In addition to creating a series of movies, episodic TV shows, and online serials, Disney takes the characters and licenses them for toys, games, apparel, and a wide variety other merchandise. There is even a Mickey Mouse watch face app for the Apple Watch. In the case of Star Wars, Disney is embarking on a 14-acre expansion of its theme parks that will have Star-Wars themed, lands, rides, attractions, food, and characters walking around the parks. If there is a way to monetize a property, Disney will figure it out, and create numerous channels through which to distribute it.

What makes this machine possible?

Of course, at the heart of its ability to make money, is Disney's ownership of content that uses its proprietary cast of characters. Starting with Mickey Mouse, Disney created (or acquired in the case of Marvel and Star Wars) a world of characters and animated actors that are unique to Disney. If you want a product associated with any of these creations, money flows into Disney's pockets. Once created, Disney has the ability to use these characters in television shows, movies, theme parks, and just about anywhere and everywhere. They can also license them to others and make money from license fees.

Mickey Mouse Club

Dating back to the Mickey Mouse Club of the 1950's, Disney created a series of brand extensions. The kid actors on the TV Show were called Mouseketeers. The shows targeted young baby boomers that loved to watch them and couldn't wait for the next one. New characters, such as "Davy Crockett" were created with additional opportunities for merchandise that kids wanted to buy. The Mickey Mouse Club evolved with new young talent including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.

Successive generations

After three successful runs of the Mickey Mouse Club, the Disney synergy machine created new characters, such as Lizzie McGuire, played by Hillary Duff, and Hannah Montana played by Miley Cyrus. In addition to the TV show, Miley portrayed Hannah on record albums, Disney Radio, and the Disney channel, and in "sold out" concert performances. Disney even launched a Hannah Montana clothing line in 2007.

ABC network

The Disney-owned ABC network creates a TV and radio platform to promote everything Disney. While the network has not always fared well compared with its major rivals, it gives Disney the potential to spread the synergy to the small screen and radio.

Acquisitions give Disney more opportunities

With the acquisition of Marvel in 2007 and Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney has many more franchising opportunities to leverage the branded characters that already have relationships with many in their target audience. The parents that have a relationship with these characters can pass on, and share their experiences with, their kids. From the success of the movies, books, comics, and related merchandise, this acquisition appears to be a windfall for Disney and its shareholders.

Cross-branded product placement deals

Disney's Marvel studios has struck a lot of cross-branding product placement deals with Dr. Pepper, Audi, Samsung, Kia, Acura, and Southwest Airlines to name a few. Disney's Star Wars has cross-promotions with the Nissan, Duracell, General Mills, Gillette, Verizon, and others. In addition to the brand building potential of these deals, the revenue possibilities for both parties is also exciting.

Social media

According to Variety, 'Rogue One' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy 2' are dominating social media with Rogue One generating over 2.4 million cumulative conversations followed by Guardians of the Galaxy 2 coming in second with 296,293 from November 28th through December 4th.

What businesses can learn from Disney's Marketing Machine

If you achieve uniqueness and desirability in your brand and products, you can augment your revenue model in many synergistic ways. You can...
  1. Merchandise. Create additional products that promote your brand such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, mascots, and other promotional items you can sell or give away.
  2. Partnerships. Strike licensing, cross-promotion, and product placement deals with business partners that will promote and distribute your products via their channels.
  3. E-commerce. Make electronic versions and themed apps of your products available on your Web site and via other online distributors.

What gives you control and enables you to expand your revenue model is the uniqueness and desirability of your brand and your various products. Uniqueness that provides clear benefits to your target audience is a wonderful thing to have because at some point in the purchase process somebody in the distribution channel has to pay you.

Star Wars and Marvel characters provided a whole cast of unique brands, and Disney's marketing machine is able to find more and more value in these brands from their movies, TV shows, radio stations, toys, theme parks, and licensing. Moreover, they can distribute them through a variety of lucrative channels including their Web sites and Disney stores. It's amazing that this all started with one little animated mouse.

Hopefully the Disney marketing machine will give you some ideas as to how you can extend and better monetize your brand. Best of luck.

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