'HSM2' Doesn't Integrate Marketers ... but Still Gives Them a Boost

Wal-Mart, Others Get Innovative to Leverage Partnerships With Disney Channel Hit

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NEW YORK -- Marketers couldn't integrate their brands into the hottest media franchise out there right now, but four marketers who cozied up as close as they could to "High School Musical 2" got a lot of bang for their buck.

The Disney sensation left competition in the dust.

On Aug. 17, Walt Disney Co.—and with it Wal-Mart, Hasbro, Dannon and Honda—accomplished more mass reach than any other TV network has managed all summer. The 17.1 million viewers who tuned in to the premiere of "HSM 2"—the highest audience in cable history—blew away any competition in broadcast or cable, including the 11 million who watched HBO's "Sopranos" finale.

By comparison, the second season of Disney's other summer juggernaut—"Hannah Montana"—premiered to 7.38 million in June.

'Nothing different'
Yet Disney is surprisingly low-key about the home run it hit with 8-year-olds and their parents alike. "It's certainly been a great year, and obviously this is a high point. But [from a marketing perspective], it's nothing different than what we've done in the past," said Tricia Wilber, exec VP-Disney media advertising sales and marketing group.

Since marketers weren't able to appear in the show, or in ads around it (the Disney Channel is commercial-free), the partners each utilized the full assets at their disposal to tie their brands as closely as possible to the hit show.

Honda held an "HSM"-themed sweepstakes for its Odyssey vehicle aimed exclusively at adults over 18 (ratings show that parents watch Disney programs just as much as their children); Dannon had an instant-win game on its yogurt packaging; and Wal-Mart held in-store grassroots events around the movie across the country. The sponsors also got additional mileage out of their partnership through other Disney properties such as Toon Disney, ABC's Saturday-morning lineup, and Radio Disney in addition to Disney.com, DisneyChannel.com and FamilyFun.com.

"We've been saying all along that this channel is a great opportunity to reach kids and parents in the household," Ms. Wilbur said. "Now we've been able to illustrate that in a really big way."

Dannon had an instant-win game on its yogurt packaging.

Disney has long been a neck-and-neck competitor with its ad-supported rival Nickelodeon, but the programming leading up to the debut of "HSM2" made Disney exceptionally dominant in the ratings all week. In fact, of the top-10-rated shows on cable for the week ending Aug. 19 tracked by Nielsen Media Research, nine aired on the Mouse network. TNT's "The Closer" was the only ad-backed cable show that broke into the Disney Channel-dominated top 10—four of the shows on that list were some airing of "High School Musical" and its sequel.

'Pro-social' spots
Not that "Musical" was completely without ads, either. Those who tuned in to any of the premiere weekend's three initial airings might have caught 15-second "pro-social" spots from each of the sponsors, a rare opportunity for marketers to get some airtime on a network that has restricted traditional advertising since its inception. Ms. Wilbur said such spots have traditionally aired on the network during breaks for other shows like "Hannah Montana" and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."

According to Greg Warren, managing director-retail group at WPP Group's MediaVest, which worked with Wal-Mart to develop the retailer's "HSM" strategy, the extent to which the on-air and retail relationship can be executed across both platforms gives that much more power to agencies and marketers who align their brands with hit TV shows. Partnering with the nation's top retailer, Wal-Mart, for example, meant Disney had more access points at its disposal for promotional opportunities. Disney utilized the retailer's in-store TV network, set up displays for "HSM2"-branded merchandise and even had special "HSM2" cupcakes in Wal-Mart bakeries.

But for brand marketers and media agencies the success of "HSM2" means that old "too much of a good thing" adage is irrelevant when it comes to Disney and Wal-Mart. "We're able to say, 'More people visit Wal-Mart in a week than they watch your channel in a month, so what are you bringing to me?'" Mr. Warren said. "It's exciting because you can start to really put a value against how you can build an even greater brand within Wal-Mart."
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