Disney+’s Massive Marketing Campaign Is Just Getting Started

Outreach for Disney's streaming service is "unprecedented"

Disney+ truck and signage
A pop-up Disney+ marketing event in New York on Tuesday was just one way the company is getting in front of possible customers.
Kelsey Sutton for Adweek

It’s no coincidence that Disney+’s premiere date, Nov. 12, came just 10 days before the theatrical release of Frozen 2 (the sequel to the 2013 animated phenomenon), less than three weeks before Black Friday, and less than six weeks before the release of the ninth and final installment in the original Star Wars saga, The Rise of Skywalker.

This holiday season, Disney is going all in on promoting its new streaming service—on which the media and entertainment giant has staked its future—including leveraging its biggest tentpole properties.

When Disney unveiled Disney+ details at its investor day last April, Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for the streaming service, said it would market the OTT service with “a synergy campaign of a magnitude that is unprecedented in the history of the Walt Disney Company,” reaching 95% of the service’s target audience and 100 million homes. That campaign kicked off in August at the company’s annual D23 Expo, where attendees were offered a steeply discounted rate that would lock them in as subscribers for the next three years; the discount, which lowered the $69.99 annual fee to $46.99 per year, was quickly extended to members of Disney’s D23 fan club.

Disney’s full-court press awareness campaign has only ramped up in the months since. Whether via digital and out-of-home ads, promotions on Disney-owned entertainment properties or pop-ups, messages for Disney+ have appeared on kiosks, buses and billboards and in Disney’s theme parks, resorts and retail locations. On the night of the 2019 Emmy Awards, which has become a major event for streaming services, Disney+ secured the first ad spot of the broadcast to reach devoted television fans. This month, Disney+ ads are appearing on Disney’s online store, and special QR codes on Disney employees’ lanyards in more than 300 retail locations are, if scanned by a mobile phone, directing customers to a Disney+ sign-up page.

After saturating its own properties, Disney is now expanding its push beyond its operated channels to reach customers who might not be devoted Disney fans. In a deal with Microsoft, Disney+ will be the exclusive partner of Microsoft’s Give Wonder holiday marketing campaign, which means the Disney+ app and its contents will be featured on Microsoft devices in all of the company’s U.S. and Canadian retail locations during the holiday shopping rush, Disney streaming services president Michael Paull said at a press event last week.

A day-long activation in New York on Tuesday, the day of Disney+’s premiere, offered another glimpse into Disney’s broad awareness play. Staffers wearing branded ear hats and navy sweatshirts posted up in front of the Bank of America tower in midtown Manhattan for a brisk outdoor celebration of the launch of the ambitious streaming service.

Clutching hand warmer packets, they cheerily passed out cards to passers-by that contained information about promotions and special offers from brands like Lyft and UrbanStems, which celebrated the service’s debut with special offers and discounts. Other staffers distributed doughnuts and cookies from a Disney+ branded food truck, complete with navy Disney+ napkins. Inside a small glass-walled van set up by the company, interested passersby were invited to come in and check out the Disney+ app for themselves.

Around lunchtime, five of the six Disney+ tablets were occupied in the glass van, and one man seemed intent on watching the entire first episode of the platform’s new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, before heading on his way. About a half-dozen people lined up in the frigid weather to receive free snacks while the Mickey Mouse-eared employees fielded questions: Is the service available in the U.K.? (Not yet.) Is signing up for Disney+ required for a free doughnut? (No.)

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