Disney aims for roaring trade

Marketing: the huge UK Lion King video launch is part of a bid to sell entertainment products like cornflakes
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The Independent Online
WHEN Disney launched The Lion King on video in the US this year, 4.5 million copies were sold on the first day. With total US sales now exceeding 30 million, it has become the fastest-selling entertainment product of all time, the company claims. Now Disney is preparing to match this success in Britain.

Last week saw the start of the largest-ever autumn marketing push by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the UK distributor for Disney and Touchstone Pictures. Point-of-sale materials appeared in a range of shops, from entertainment stores to grocery multiples. Promotional partners, including Burger King, Coca-Cola, Hayes & Jarvis, Nestle, Penguin Biscuits and Walker's crisps, begin their promotions next week.

A national poster campaign begins in 10 days, part of a pounds 5m campaign thought up by Banks Hoggins O'Shea. An additional three sites have been specially designed to break a week later, featuring an empty cage with door ajar, beneath the words: "The King Is Out". Television ads will run a week before and four weeks after the video's launch on 19 September. The Disney classic has already grossed $747m (pounds 485m) in cinemas worldwide.

"This autumn will be our biggest yet," says Phil Jackson, the vice-president of BVHE UK. The company has created a package of products designed to appeal to the family in the run-up to Christmas, including the video release of an animated feature, The Fox and the Hound, Pulp Fiction, and Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. And that's not to mention the UK release of Disney's latest film, Pocahontas, for which BVHE will release a sing- along video, Colours of the Wind.

The UK video retail market is now pounds 760m a year, more than paperback sales (pounds 738m) and butter and margarine (pounds 568m). Disney expects UK sales in the first week to exceed the combined average weekly sales of Persil, Nescafe and Kellogg's - around pounds l0.2m, according to Nielsen's Checkout Survey.

But it is no longer just about video cassettes, Mr Jackson adds: "Anywhere the consumer drags us, we intend to be there." It is a move driven by the growing range and popularity of Disney products, he claims. The key is to position Disney products as an everyday purchase and not just a Christmas or birthday present. "At the end of the day it's all about packaged goods sales." Generating revenue for Disney is a priority. But as important is enlarging the retail market, says Mr Jackson. When BVHE was launched in Britain in 1988, its business was based on video sales, chiefly in specialist shops. Today, all the big grocery multiples stock videos. Sales in supermarkets were around pounds 500m last year - 15 per cent of video sales, according to the British Video Association. This year has seen BVHE diversify beyond its core video base into tapes and CDs, interactive games and CD- Rom, all developed and marketed in-house.

"It's a question of identifying the type of product retailers want to sell. The best are those with the widest appeal - and Lion King has just that, which is why we are putting so much effort behind the video's launch," Mr Jackson says. The company works closely with retailers to ensure the right product is supplied to each outlet, and offers marketing support with promotions.

Keeping them informed about future releases is essential he says. So is maximising the leverage of each product, which is why Disney has started direct-to-video releases - such as Return of Jafar, an Aladdin sequel. BVHE launches its Pocahontas sing-along video within weeks of the film's launch in Britain for the same reason. "It's the way it should have been done long ago, and will certainly be the approach we adopt in the future," he explains. The first single from the soundtrack is released next week.

This integrated approach is being replicated across Europe. Typifying the "think global, act local" philosophy, Disney has set up seven identical BVHE operations across Europe as well as divisions in Latin America, the Far East and Australia. "The local factor cannot be overlooked," Mr Jackson says. "Each film has to be dubbed into a local language, and advertising must be tailored to experience in individual markets."

It will undoubtedly provide a blueprint for future multimedia exercises - both for Disney products and those the company will soon own when its pounds 12bn acquisition of the US network ABC is completed.