A Musical For Tweens Captures Its Audience - New York Times
Ben Sisario, February 8, 2006
Ben Sisario examines the marketing strategy that went into Disney’s High School Musical and how it was able to engage its target audience with not-yet-standard techniques. The movie premiered on the Disney Channel on January 20th, and by February 8th it was already making news for its popularity. The soundtrack released with the movie reached top 10 of the Billboard charts, made 45 percent of its sales online through iTunes and had no radio airtime outside of Radio Disney’s station, and that was only in the first two weeks.
Sisario quotes Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide, as explaining the value of the story in its themes such as “express yourself, believe in yourself, celebrate your family, follow your dreams,” but it wasn’t just the optimism that made this movie and all of the other media associated with it into such a success. Because Disney’s presence exists across multiple forms of entertainment, it was able to use cross-platform advertising to build excitement about the movie before it was first aired. The show’s characters appeared on a New Years Eve show, the Disney channel played music videos from the movie’s songs “in heavy rotation,” and Disney even offered a free download of the song “Breaking Free” around the time of the premiere. After the movie aired for the first time, Disney directed viewers to a sing-along version online where they could download the lyrics. According to Sisario, the lyrics were downloaded 500,000 times in the first 24 hours. That’s successful cross-marketing.
Disney capitalized on its integration of web content into the TV market, something that they’ve gotten very good at of late. They also benefited from the fact that the movie and soundtrack were released in the winter, specifically because of the holiday sales of iPods and iTunes gift certificates.
Sisario sees this movie as the beginning of “a new musical phase,” referring to the previous cultivation of pop stars Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the members of ’N Sync. They are creating a new generation of pop icons following the success of Hillary Duff, which began with her TV show “Lizzy McGuire.” The most interesting element of the movie and album’s success is the fact that it did not rely on traditional radio or MTV for its publicity. They know that their audience, because of their age, is very comfortable with the internet and digital music, so they were able to make use of their own website and their relationship with Apple’s iTunes to set the movie up for success.