Skip to main content

Disney's Upfront Pitch Says Reaching Kids Is in Its DNA

At kids' upfront presentations this week at Disneyland, and next month in Disney World, Disney Media Sales will be pitching data science along with marketing magic.

The theme of Disney’s kids' upfront presentation is Disney DNA, and it’s designed to showcase three main traits: the storytelling of both new content and updated Disney franchises; proprietary research about kids' viewing and buying habits and integrated marketing, the Disney magic that connects marketers to clients across platforms.

Rita Ferro, who was in charge of ad sales for the Disney Media kids business until being promoted to head a consolidated group at Disney-ABC Television including ABC and Freeform earlier this month, is expecting a strong upfront.

“Movie studios are definitely robust, and there’s a lot of movies on the slate for next year,” Ferro said. “And I think the kids’ marketplace from a toys perspective is strong and those are two big categories. So because of that I’m excited about what the marketplace will look like.”

It was too early to make a prediction about pricing and volume, she said.

Viacom’s Nickelodeon will be making its kids upfront pitch in New York Thursday.

At the Disney upfront, the presentation will be led by Ferro, Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, and Jane Gould, senior VP of consumer insights.

A lot of Disney’s new programming is designed to take advantage of stories and characters that millennial moms already know and might want to share with their kids. Launching soon is Tangled: The Series, which is based on the movie, a new DuckTales, updated Muppet Babies, and an untitled spin-off of Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven, which ran from 2003-2007.

Ferro expects that some clients will look to take advantage of Disney-ABC’s new sales structure.

“I think there’s going to be people who absolutely take advantage of it this year. And we will absolutely be wanting and willing to do it that way,” she said. “And I think there will be others who will still do it separately this year because that’s what makes sense for them, and that will be fine too.”

Though the sales organization has been consolidated, Disney will still run separate upfront events for the Disney kids business, Freeform and ABC (ESPN’s ad sales remain separate).

“But as we think about the organization, it’s really one organization around strategic solutions, integrated marketing, consolidated deal management, quality at scale across digital and the evolving data solutions across the portfolio,” she said.

Disney Now

At the upfront, Disney Media will be introducing marketers to the new Disney Now app, which will consolidate Disney’s content into “one deep rich video experience,” Ferro said.

Disney created the new app because kids want easier access to content. For advertisers, the app will serve as a laboratory where new ad formats and approaches can be tried.

“You’re going to have video pre-rolls, because that’s something clients continue to ask for,” she said. “We will be bringing our partners new content activities and looking at how do we think about interactive ads, how do we think about different formats, how do we think about sponsorship of collections and just the overall engagement of our partner as part of that experience, knowing that that’s the way kids want to consume. It’s going to be an important strategy for us going forward.”

Disney does not sell traditional commercials on Disney Channel (it does on Disney XD and its digital properties), but it does sell sponsorships, and those include integrated marketing programs that use multiple media platforms.

One example is a campaign for Nintendo’s new Switch, which allows kids to play console games on mobile devices.

The campaign included talent from Disney programming including Joey Bragg of Liv and Maddie, who has worked with Nintendo before, plus Jenna Ortega of Stuck in the Middle and Kamil McFadden and Veronica Dunne of K.C. Undercover.

The talent and campaign will support a multi-city tour introducing Switch. The young influencers will also host takeovers of Disney social media accounts to support Nintendo.

“When you think about influencers, sometimes that’s a scary thing for brands. How do I make sure I have a talent that’s trustworthy and connects to the audience,” she said. Working with Disney talent takes away some of those worries.

“The other piece of it is making sure you’re creating content that resonates on the platform that it’s on and making sure it fits. That’s where you get the real engagement,” Ferro said. “Because if you’re using the same 30-second commercial, and that’s what you’re putting on everywhere, it’s not going to work. Because Disney media custom creates everything for partners, it’s full service, we understand those platforms and how to engage on them.”

Best Western Sponsors Descendants 2

Ferro said that for the 10th straight year, Best Western’s summer vacation campaign will be integrated with Disney. Best Western will sponsor this summer’s original movie Descendants 2. The campaign includes a sweepstakes with prizes, including a chance to meet stars Sofia Carson and Cameron Boyce. Media will stretch across Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, digital video Disney apps and custom content for social media.

Best Western will also sponsor an episode of As Told By Emoji with a Descendants theme.

Another multi-media marketing platform is the Radio Disney Music Awards, now in its fifth year. Sponsors this year will include American Girl, Aquabeads, Chrysler, Comcast Xfinity, Flavor Blasted Goldfish and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Sponsorships encompass TV, digital, mobile and social media with in-show integrations, exclusive artist interviews and behind-the-scenes video, plus red carpet arrival activity.

The Radio Disney Music Awards take place April 29 in Los Angeles.

Programmers and marketers are up against it with counting kids.

“Kids have moved quickly to other devices much more so than on other age groups. They’re the first ones to understand that appointment television is not for me. So they are looking for the content everywhere and they want ease of access all the time,” Ferro said. “And advertisers understand they can no longer be just on linear. So most of our advertisers who were on our traditional television business are on our apps because they are an extension of our traditional television business in the full sense of the word.”

And if getting accurate ratings for adults is difficult, it’s even harder to count kids. “It’s really challenging in the adult space, magnify that in kids, where there are such challenges around being able to measure in all of these digital extensions with the protections to make sure kids are taken care of,” she said.

Ferro says clients are very interested in what Disney is doing in terms of “how we think about measurement and understanding kids' behaviors and our first party data around brands and franchises and all that and how we bring that to market.”

Disney’s data shows that getting kids’ attention these days is also difficult.

Disney’s 2016 LMX Family study found that as much as 43% of kids are using a second screen to play games while watching TV, 40% are playing with toys, 38% are watching online videos. Other activities distracting kids who are watching TV are going online to do schoolwork, searching for information online and using cell phones.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.