Disney Theatrical Group manages and directs the live entertainment productions of Disney properties. Among the large mega-hits like The Lion King, Mary Poppins and the launch of Aladdin, were additional productions like the continental tours, Disney on Ice, Peter and The Starcatcher, The Hunchback of Notre Dame among scores of others around the world. As one of the leaders of the creative marketing department, we oversaw creating new creative mediums, strategy, and copy, but also to direct and guide the various agencies and vendors that helped with the marketing mix which includes everything from Times Square media, to broadcast, to direct mailers and full page print ads. The result was the successful launch of a few shows, the reinvention of a classic and the demand “maintenance” that equated to over a billion dollars in yearly revenue.
After a trial run in Seattle, the decision was made to bring the show to Broadway and to house it in Disney’s very own New Amsterdam Theater. With another try out in Toronto that yielded mixed reviews, how to market the production
The objective was to successfully build up anticipation and demand for the upcoming show, but to also create a brand and marketing materials that could sustain the show indefinitely.
Create key art, tone and messaging that “has legs” can sustain the demand after the initial news worth buzz of the show dissipates.
Focus Groups: to understand the weakness in the appeal of the show, focus groups were conducted comprising of key demographics. The result was an pervasive opinion that Disney did not belong on Broadway and that Aladdin was just another mindless money grab for children and their family. The truth was just the opposite with artists and craftsman giving their all for an unique telling of the tale. We then decided to show never before scenes such as The Sitzprobe and Opening Night Rehearsal to show the public this is truly A Whole New World In A Whole New Way.
Other factors in the marketing strategy were to keep and international mindset; Aladdin is a universal tale and cultural references are fine, but ask if it resonates with a particular audience you’re targeting with the material.
“Keep it the same, but make it different.” The challenge is not messing with a beloved piece of peoples’ lives, but they don’t want to see the same animated story. Market how it’s the same…. but also, more importantly, different.
50+ million YouTube views proved that audiences wanted to see the making of the show beforehand and also to relive it and purchase tickets again, by the comments and views of the cast not in costume.
We created content marketing that can keep the show top of mind and a leader in the Broadway.
The Lion King
The highest earning Broadway production is a stalwart of Broadway and the tourist scene. But the crux of successful marketing was top of mind for not only the tourist but the local. On top of that challenge is to have repeat visitors. The strength of the show helps, but we strived to create dynamic, awe-inspiring.
New Campaign: A new campaign across mediums was devised and planned using green screen and showing the characters of the show in a new dramatic way. This material was used in animations across Times Square, Penn Station, for the New Am marquee and used across the world in the corresponding markets. The materials was also used across digital channels, print, outdoor, and broadcast.
More Access: With social media giving unprecendented stream of access to the show, it no longer was a singluar event, but rather an experience to live with the guest for the rest of their life. Content marketing of lyric videos, back stage photographs, music videos, and adventorials let The Lion King truly “Live With You.”
Inside The Lion King Exhibit
To mark the 15th anniversary of the show, Disney rented a pop-up storefront at Bryant Park on 42nd Street. The exhibit gave close access to the costumes, sets, and influencial pieces that created the show we all know and love. Over 2 million guests visited in just over 2 weeks.
We led the creative development of the key art as it had to be The Lion King but look and feel different than the show’s creative that was around the city and the world. We landed on an original photo of a development Mufasa helmet and yellow title treatment which popped in the photo’s back background.
Part of the constant experimenting that the production side of DTG, a surprise hit was found with a trial run in New Jersey. We brought the production to Broadway with the obstacle of a show that is purposefully dark, drab, with poor boys as characters. We launched with a resounding buzz and explosion of ticket sales, but the demand eventually waned. A marketing strategy was then created with a 3 prong attack that centered on the following:
- Embrace Fansies and create content for them, make the show part of the experience (before and after the show)
- Content Marketing: the great advantage that Newsies had was a fun and charismatic cast and a theater right behind Disney’s Theatrical headquarters. This allowed for easy access to the staff to create content that marketed more of the show and the personalities of the entire staff. Videos, gif trading cards, raffles, photos, and collectibles were created so that the audience engagement never stopped. We even produced a “surprise and delight” postcard we mailed to the first one hundred thousand attendees thanking them for being part of the show and something so very special.
- Pivot Creative & Messaging: What we coined the “Triumph” campaign of our new Jack Kelly, Corey Cott, holding a defiant pose with the review “A Triumph” behind him, was not leading to the bump in sales we were looking for. Focus groups were then conducted of key demographics to test different creative concepts and then to hear what the participants thought after seeing the show. The focus groups netted a strategy to add color, movement, and energy like experiencing the show brought. The result was changing the color of the grey logo to red, adding the blue theatrical lights of the set to the background, and shooting new photography and green screen video to bring movement to the creative.
With a successful six years on Broadway and productions on tour across North America, demand began to wane. The marketing objective became how to refresh the brand and increase demand for half a year and then how to treat the closing of the show with reverence and class. Aladdin was coming into Mary Poppins’ home of the New Amsterdam Theatre so it was deemed marketing’s mission for her to hand over the baton with the elegance only Mary Poppins could achieve.
Thank You | Final Performances: Marketing the end of a production is challenging since we’re communicating that demand is not what it used to be and there’s negative connotations to that. We celebrated Mary Poppins by announcing a special final performance, thanking the fans and patrons of the show, and rejoiced in all of the memories over the years. The result was the classy send off that fitted Mary and all of the wonderful people behind the show. She flew off, not for the final time, but to only return to another home.
More Campaign: When analizing the unique value proposition Mary Poppins offered compared with the slate of competition, one word kept on appearing in brainstorming sessions: “more.” There was more dancing, more singing, more magic than anything on the Great White Way. The More campaign was launched to bring Mary to finish line. It appeared on broadcast, print, and across all digital channels.
As part of Disney Theatrical’s creative marketing department, there’s more solutions to provide besides the big production shows everyone thinks of. There’s still big productions like Feld’s Productions’ Disney shows such as Marvel Live and Disney on Ice. But also small help like helping recruiting with job fair signage. Just some of the additional marketing help includes:
- New Amsterdam Theatre Tours & Catering for Special Events
- Disney Jr programs for Educational Resources
- Merchandise for all shows
- Executive Office requests for appearances and talks
- Publicity media
Both the education department and the sales department would conduct theatrical workshops and theater seminars. We both provided marketing materials for these workshops, but also created the materials for the curriculum. Check out the video for a theater workshop where young adults learned to sing, dance, and act from Disney actors and teachers.
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