Daring Disney

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Hats off to the Walt Disney Co. It's not timid about putting cross-platform synergy to the test on a massive scale in its promotional strategy for this year's Buena Vista Pictures feature film release, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire."

Before "Atlantis" opens, Disney and its promotional partners will distribute 13 million free CD copies of a fully featured computer game--not a preview or teaser, but a complete game that will take users through a "prequel" tale of the events that lead up to the story told in the "Atlantis" movie. Fans primed by the game can then go see the movie-and then continue the story by purchasing a second game from Disney Interactive that will go on sale for $29.99 (less with coupons).

Notions of marketing synergy have always seemed particularly well grounded in the entertainment business, where books (even comic books) spur movies, and movies spur soundtrack sales (and sometimes more books). And on and on. Today's "storybook" is the computer game, and some movies have already spawned successful game spinoffs. But Disney is taking the feature film/computer game link to new levels of ambition and investment with its massive free distribution program.

Content is still king, of course. No matter how big its marketing plan is, Disney still needs to deliver a good computer game and a good feature film. The synergy idea makes great sense, but a dud of a game or movie still equals a dud in the end. If Disney can get it right, however, and get real entertainment into the pieces of its strategy, it can be setting a standard that others in Hollywood will be trying to match.

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