Disney Hit Proves YouTube Isn't Only Way to Target Teens

Net Turns to Libraries, Little League to Push 'HSM2'

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Facebook? Forget it.

MySpace? YouTube? Um, like, nuh-uh! Or as Sharpay Evans would say, "Toodles!"

Kids may spend most every waking hour online, but when it came to marketing the sequel to "High School Musical," Disney Channel had little choice but to go decidedly old-school.
'High School Musical' has generated $1 billion in profits and $26 billion in retail sales. The sequel makes its debut Aug. 17.
'High School Musical' has generated $1 billion in profits and $26 billion in retail sales. The sequel makes its debut Aug. 17. Credit: Fred Hayes

"We need to be careful about where this shows up," said Richard Loomis, senior VP-marketing and creative for Disney Channel, and the man entrusted with marketing Zac Efron's wholesome grin and post-pubescent baritone to an audience that's largely between the ages of 9 and 14.

"There's the piracy issue, but there's also responsibility -- we have to make sure our content is showing up in safe and appropriate places."

Maintaining trust
Gary Marsh, president-entertainment at Disney Channel, puts it even more starkly: "Nothing is more important than the trust parents have in the Disney brand."

In other words, any official "High School Musical 2" material can't risk being seen within a thousand clicks of, say, a Brazilian supermodel having sex on a public beach. (The widely disseminated clip of Daniela Cicarelli cavorting on YouTube landed Google in a South American court last June.) No, too much is at stake to risk the ultimate fast-spreading infection: outraged parents.

Analysts estimate that the squeaky-clean "High School Musical" has generated $1 billion in operating profits to Disney in the past two financial years -- and at far lower cost and risk than CGI extravaganzas such as "Pirates of the Caribbean." In June, Disney trumpeted that overall licensing revenue would increase 13% for the fiscal year that ends next month, thanks in part to some 2,000 productions of actual high-school productions of "High School Musical" being licensed.

Analysts, such as Bank of America's Jonathan Jacoby, expect big things from the Mouse House's tiniest division, Disney Consumer Products: Disney will experience record-breaking retail sales of $26 billion worldwide in fiscal 2007, thanks in no small part to "High School Musical"-branded gear.

And so, with viral marketing a nonstarter,"HSM2" makes its debut on Disney Channel on Aug. 17, having relied on far more traditional means to reach tweens.
Gary Marsh, president-entertainment at Disney Channel
Gary Marsh, president-entertainment at Disney Channel Credit: Bob D'Amico

Mr. Loomis, who arrived at Disney Channel after a six-year run at Comedy Central's marketing and brand-strategy department, said: "Lesson No. 1 was making sure we knew where our audience was."

He promptly set about creating far-reaching "High School Musical" outreach programs at popular bricks-and-mortar venues such as YMCA's and local libraries, where kids might be mouse-less, but not Mouse House-less: This summer, there will be some 1,500 pool parties at YMCA's across the nation, where tweens will watch "High School Musical 2" while drip-drying. Even burying your nose in a book will be no excuse not to see the sequel. Some 3,000 libraries across the country are slipping "HSM2" bookmarks into every children's book.

(The one initiative for "HSM2" that is distinctly techie was already in place, part of a larger, long-arranged Disney deal with Sprint to provide video-on-demand promotions of coming Disney films and shows.)

Handing out tchotckes
Mindful of the fact that Disney Channel's audience is 60% female, and eager to play up the baseball-jocks-vs.-theater-queens storyline of the franchise, Mr. Loomis also set partnerships with Major League Baseball. At Major League ballparks last weekend a musical number from "HSM2" called "I Don't Dance," aired on Jumbotrons. Meanwhile, at Little League tournaments across America, Disney is handing out tchotchkes and other "HSM2" gear.

Parents are also being targeted: "Got Milk?" campaigns feature the cast in print ads, and Wal-Mart and Macy's are getting exclusive access to certain "HSM2" consumer products.

Mr. Marsh is upbeat about his sequel, which used DisneyChannel.com to solicit suggestions about what kids wanted to see in the sequel. About 47 million kids responded.

"I'm foolishly optimistic that we've got a hit."
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