How Disney Maintains a Strong Relationship With Its Millennial Audience

It produces relevant, authentic content with Hasbro

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Disney's brand doesn't want to be a tale as old as time. Thanks to creative thinking, adapting to new technology, and acting from an authentic point-of-view, Disney has been able to keep up with every age group of its fans.

"As the audience evolves, we're making sure to lean in and being relevant to where they are," said Andrew Sugerman, evp of content and media with Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media.

At the core of Disney's content creation team is what Sugerman calls "digitologists."

"We needed a name for the folks who sit in the intersection of the Disney brand's placement in the cultural zeitgeist with the digital expertise of today," he said. "They create what's authentic to those original platforms and look at what's currently trending to put it through a relevant lens for Disney fans."

That's the trick for legacy brands, it seems like, these days. How do you figure out how to stay relevant to a younger audience, like the oft-courted millennials, without seeming totally fake or pandering?

For Disney, there's Babble, which is a news and entertainment site aimed at young parents. If you're in the 13- to 34-year-old crowd, then Oh My Disney is for you with quizzes and movie news. Disney LOL is geared around producing content for kids.

But that's just the beginning.

"We produce over 6,000 pieces of content per month across all of our channels," explained Sugerman. Disney lovers can find Disney content on multiple Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat accounts, in addition to messaging platforms and the websites themselves.

"When you think about the 80-year legacy of these characters and stories, it's fun to think about how to connect the relevancy of those stories to an audience today," he said.

The next step, as with other digital publishers, is how to introduce brands into that editorial mix. In 2015, DCPI launched its Co/Op team to do just that.

"Brands were reaching out to us to see what, in addition to linear offerings, other complimentary projects that Disney could be an anchor for," said Rita Ferro, the evp of Disney Media sales and marketing.

According to Ferro, the size of the Disney audience is around 1.7 billion total followers across all platforms which provide 125 million monthly engagements. Video is at the heart of Disney content, but it's not always so simple as serving up an ad.

"Today, it's less about video ads," said Ferro, "but about video as a content piece. It's not an 'ad' or a commercial anymore, but a way to tell the story of the brand."

One of these video projects is a series called Boxed, which Disney partnered with Hasbro to create.

Boxed takes the typical way of showcasing a new toy or product and flips the script. Instead of following suit with the videos on YouTube which show someone "unboxing" something to show their audience, Boxed follows the process of actually creating the toy.

Think Good Eats meets Toys R Us.

"Hasbro has always had a big role in the 'unboxing' phenomenon," said Ginny McCormick, vp of digital marketing with Hasbro. "By partnering with Disney, we could turn it on its head."

The latest installment in the series focuses on how Hasbro made masks and shield toys for the Captain America: Civil War movie.

According to McCormick, Hasbro always tries to put the "consumer in the center of storytelling."

"People see about 8,000 marketing messages a day," she said. "Custom content should become entertainment and not just clutter."

"When people engage with these stories, they're tapping into the first time they felt an emotional response to it," said Sugerman. "We're not always a marketing function of the company. We're here to tell stories that are authentic to Disney."

The Boxed series is just one of many ways the Disney team is making sure it stays on top of trends in addition to driving video storytelling as well. The "As Told By Emoji" series plays with the gamification concept of emoji and was even spun off into an app.

For Oh My Disney, the team created a "Disney IRL" video that highlighted what Dug, the talkative dog from "UP," would be like if dogs could actually talk in real life.

And how does a brand that's been around for almost a century walk the line of authenticity and a straight up pandering gimmick? Paying attention. Sugerman said the environment is a "continual learning organization." 

"By putting out content quickly, we can see and learn and watch and adapt," he said. "A lot works, but some things don't always deliver what you hope. Every day we learn more and become more effective."

"We're disciplined in staying true to our voice," Sugerman said. "We want to have an ongoing, constant relationship built around our stories that extends beyond the movie theater."

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.