A Salute to Disney Channel: Marketing: Not your parents’ Disney

Unlike many of the other divisions of The Walt Disney Company, Disney Channel, for years, suffered from a bad image. Or perhaps it was a lack of an image....
April 1, 1998

Unlike many of the other divisions of The Walt Disney Company, Disney Channel, for years, suffered from a bad image. Or perhaps it was a lack of an image.

Disney theme parks, movies and other aspects of the Disney brand bring to mind images of action, innovation and fun. Disney Channel has often seemed, well, just there.

Over the last two years, the channel has done much to undo the idea that it had become stodgy and only for little kids by recasting itself as a brand that is connected to the daily lives of kids and families.

‘What we’re trying to do with the image is present our channel in the most active and contemporary way that we can,’ says Eleo Hensleigh, senior vice president of marketing at Disney Channel.

Bridging the heritage and equity of the Disney brand name to a modern-day feel poses the challenge of how to be contemporary while staying within the ‘trust boundaries’ that the Disney brand established long ago. ‘When we started to talk about being more contemporary, people immediately thought we meant we were going to be edgy,’ says Hensleigh. ‘Contemporary has a lot of different meanings to it. You can still have sense of humor, a personality and take risks if you understand safety and trust issues that are a core component of the Disney brand.’

Making Disney Channel relevant to kids and families has manifested itself in an overall cohesive and coherent look, feel and attitude that begins with programming and extends into all of the areas where viewers experience the channel, be it in advertising, on-line, on-air, at a public event or on a piece of licensed product.

The new image campaign was launched last March, when Disney scrapped its old logo in place of one that reinforced the heritage of the Disney brand while presenting the channel as a fun and exciting destination for kids and families. On-air, it began to showcase more children during interstitial segments. ‘That started us building a relationship [with viewers] that kids like [them] are on Disney,’ says Hensleigh.

Disney Channel marketing campaigns are designed to drive tune-in, but also to connect viewers with the channel. ‘We want to create a dynamic that extends beyond television and not just see this as a passive and finite television experience,’ she says.

One such program is the channel’s ‘PremEARS in the Park’ initiative. Last summer, Disney partnered with local cable channels from 10 cities in the U.S. to bring the Disney Channel experience to kids and families by inviting them to attend a free four-night mini-movie festival. ‘All they had to do was show up. They didn’t have to spend a dime. An awful lot of goodwill came from that,’ she says. A second tour will be held this summer.

The channel has also begun broadcasting ‘Family Service Announcements,’ or FSAs, which celebrate family. In each segment, stars such as Celine Dion and Michael J. Fox talk from the heart about their experiences growing up in their family, or becoming parents and starting their own family. The intention of the announcements, which debuted in February, is for viewers to see that the issues that families face are universal.

Competing for time in households where the options are plentiful presents a challenge to any maker of television programming. The surge in Disney ratings over the last year indicates that Disney Channel has shaken the cobwebs from its image and has become more responsive to creating an environment that makes the channel part of kids’ lifestyles. EK

In this report:
- Programming: Back to basics
- Disney Channel time line
- Marketing: Not your parents’ Disney
- Q&A with Anne Sweeney
- Drawing up Toon Disney
- International: Vive le Mickey

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