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Disney Goes to the Movies to Buoy Upfront Ad Sales

The Incredibles – that popular Pixar family of super heroes – have long sought to keep villainy at bay and justice on the rise. Now they are adding to their duties by helping the Walt Disney Company attract new flows of ad dollars.

Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and the rest of their clan figures prominently into a sweepstakes that launches this week with Clorox, and will be announced via promotional spots appearing on such Disney properties as “Good Morning America” and on cable’s Disney Channels and Freeform. The ads will surface on linear, digital, and social outlets.

Walt Disney has long worked out deals that attach advertisers to its popular films, but the company is attempting to boost the experience, according to Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales for ABC-Disney TV Group and Ed Erhardt, president of global sales and marketing at ESPN.

“We are starting to evolve how we expand engagement around premieres of these movies on our platforms,” says Ferro, in an interview. Disney is putting a finer point on its movie connections as part of the annual “upfront,” when TV companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season.

The attempt to harness the power of movies comes as Disney’s film pipeline has become one of the most powerful assets in the media business. Thanks to its acquisitions of the Marvel and Lucasfilm operations and its accelerating production of live-action version of several of its animated classics, Disney is pumping out multiple blockbusters each year. Its 2018 slate has already included “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” A Star Wars “Solo” prequel is due in theaters within days, with Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” slated for June and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” expected this summer.

Other media companies have expanded their use of their own movie productions to lure advertisers to the fold. NBCUniversal in 2016 launched a campaign for Chrysler’s Pacifica automobile that doubled as a promotional effort for the release of the animated film “The Secret Life of Pets” from its Universal Pictures unit. The initiative made use of everything from late-night host Seth Meyers to efforts by Vox Media and BuzzFeed, two digital-media outlets in which NBCUniversal invested $200 million each in 2015.

Clorox says its association with “Incredibles 2” will spark “meaningful connections with consumers” says Ellen Liu, a senior director of media at the company, and expects “to drive reach and drive engagement with a diverse audience.”

Disney involved Lexus with the launch of “Black Panther,” allowing the character to appear in the automaker’s Super Bowl commercial and working with the Toyota-owned brand in promotions that aired during ABC’s Oscars broadcast. The movie got a nod with a trailer that aired during an NCAA halftime show on ESPN and during ABC’s Thursday-night program as well as its sitcom, “black-ish.”

“The ability to use event programming across all platforms to showcase ‘Black Panther in unique ways, not only helped create awareness, but stimulated conversation that created additional earned impressions” says Anthy Price, executive vice president of media, integrated marketing and synergy at The Walt Disney Studios.

Disney is banking on the movies to spur marketers to tap into a broader array of its assets. The company has for the past several years encouraged advertisers to use both Disney/ABC and ESPN, though one tilts toward a female consumer and the other leans male. In the past, the company even proposed a suite of morning-time properties including the former ESPN “Mike & Mike” radio show and ABC’s “GMA” as a potential hook for advertising.  Now, it sees the movies as a new kind of catch-all.

“We’re able to bring all of our brands together to create reach and relevance for clients they can’t find anywhere else,” says Erhardt. “We’ve had great success in the last year and, working with Rita and her team, we’re building on that for the future.”

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