Those advertisers, thanks to Walt Disney Co., managed more mass reach than any others all summer, with 17.1 million eager viewers tuned in to the Disney Channel for the premiere of "High School Musical 2." It was the largest audience in cable history, screaming past 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.
Yet Disney was 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 partners each used the full assets at their disposal to tie their brands as closely as possible to the hit show.
Honda held a sweepstakes for its Odyssey vehicle aimed at 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 grass-roots events around the movie across the country. The sponsors got additional mileage out of their partnerships through Disney properties such as Toon Disney, ABC's Saturday-morning lineup and Radio Disney, as well as Disney's many websites: Disney.com; DisneyChannel.com; and FamilyFun.com.
Nine of top 10
"We've been saying all along that this channel is a great opportunity to reach kids and parents in the household," Ms. Wilber said. "Now we've been able to illustrate that in a really big way."
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"'s made Disney exceptionally dominant in the ratings all week (see chart). In fact, of the 10 top-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 all-Disney Channel top 10 -- four of which were airing of "High School Musical" and its sequel.
"Musical" wasn't completely without ads. 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. Wilber said such spots have traditionally aired on the network during breaks for other shows such as "Hannah Montana" and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."
According to Greg Warren, managing director-retail group at WPP Group's MediaVest, 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 that 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, whether it was through the in-store TV network, displays for "HSM2"-branded merchandise or even special "HSM2" cupcakes in the Wal-Mart bakery.
But for brand marketers and media agencies, in this case MediaVest, 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."
*All rating estimates include same-day DVR playback.
Source: Nielsen Media Research