Special: 100 Years of Marketing Magic

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff
1901 Walter Elias Disney is born Dec. 5 in Chicago.
1923 The Disney Brothers Studio is founded by Walt and his brother, Roy, in October.
1928 In November, Mickey and Minnie Mouse debut in Steamboat Willie, Disney’s first animated film with sound effects and dialogue.
1929 Mickey Mouse merchandising launches when a man approaches Walt in New York City and offers $300 to use the character on the cover of a writing tablet. Other offers soon follow, and Walt Disney Enterprises is later set up to handle licensing. Elsewhere, as a way to promote the company’s cartoons, the Mickey Mouse Club is created at the Fox Dome Theater in Ocean Park, CA, providing additional activities for children who attend the weekly screenings. During the club’s first year, 150 theaters open chapters and nearly 200,000 kids participate.
1930 A woman in Burbank, CA, creates a Mickey Mouse doll. Walt is so impressed that he sets her up in business to manufacture a variety of dolls.
1932 Promotion expert Kay Kamen establishes a formal merchandising program for the company.
1933 The first Mickey Mouse watch is sold by Ingersoll.
1934 The release of a wildly successful Mickey/Minnie Mouse railroad handcar helps save the Lionel Co. from bankruptcy.
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney’s first feature-length animated film, premieres in December — along with the company’s first comprehensive merchandising campaign, which launches the same day the movie opens.
1946 With wartime manufacturing restrictions ended, the licensed merchandise program rapidly expands. Ingersoll revives the Mickey Mouse watch, which instantly becomes a hot seller: the five-millionth unit will be sold in 1949.
1949 After Kamen is killed in a plane crash, Disney’s licensing and merchandising program moves in-house.
1950 Looking for ways to break into TV, Disney aligns with Coca-Cola for an hour-long afternoon Christmas special. Hosted by Walt, the program is used to promote the upcoming release of Alice in Wonderland. The show is seen by an estimated 20 million viewers — although there are only 10.5 million TV sets in use nationwide.
1951 Soon after Walt turns 50, the second Walt Disney Christmas Show airs on Christmas Day. This time, Walt takes the opportunity to plug Peter Pan.
1954 Disneyland, a one-hour weekly series, debuts on ABC in October. The series is hosted by Walt and features “progress reports” on the construction of the Disneyland theme park. Serial adventure Davy Crockett — Indian Fighter becomes a merchandising blockbuster, as licensees ultimately sell more than $300 million in coonskin caps and other products.
1955 July: Disneyland opens its gates in Anaheim, CA, and the Mouseketeers make their first TV appearance on an ABC broadcast covering the grand opening.
October: The Mickey Mouse Club premieres on ABC.
1961 The anthology series is renamed Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and moves from ABC to NBC when the latter agrees to broadcast the show in color. The series spikes sales of color TV sets. (RCA Victor, NBC’s owner and a leading TV manufacturer, is one of the show’s sponsors.)
1964 Disney, in conjunction with Pepsi-Cola and UNICEF, unveils the It’s a Small World attraction at the New York World’s Fair. The now world-famous attraction later gets permanent homes in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Other attractions at Disney parks will later gain sponsorships from such companies as AT&T, Kodak, and Federal Express.
1966 Walt dies 10 days after his 65th birthday at a hospital across the street from his Burbank studio.
1968 The U.S. Postal Service introduces the first Disney-themed stamp, in honor of Walt. Numerous character-based stamps will follow.
1971 The Magic Kingdom opens as Walt Disney World’s first attraction in October in Orlando, FL.
1972 Sotheby’s hosts the first auction of “Disneyana” memorabilia. The demand for classic Disney merchandise has already become a hobby for thousands of people, and ultimately will include promotional products.
1979 The McDonald’s Happy Meal is born, and with it an extremely profitable marketing venue for Disney films and properties.
1980 Disney enters the home video market, releasing popular cartoon compilations and a selection of live-action films through a newly established Buena Vista Home Video unit.
1983 The Disney Channel begins broadcasting in April. The cable network launches with programming 18 hours a day, but expands to 24 hours several years later.
1987 March: Disney Consumer Products opens the first Disney Store at the Glendale Galleria in California. Hundreds of locations around the world will follow.
December: Disney celebrates the 50th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a series of special events that includes a theatrical re-release, a parade at Disneyland, and a Hollywood Walk of Fame star dedication.
1990 Disney sponsors the first-annual American Teacher Awards.
1991 Disney Press publishes its first book in May: Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians: A Counting Book.
1992 Walt Disney World hosts its first official Disneyana Convention.
1994 April: Disney’s first stage property, Beauty and the Beast: A New Musical, opens on Broadway and breaks box-office records.
May: The Return of Jafar, a direct-to-video sequel to Aladdin, is released and sells more than 10 million copies in the U.S. Marketing support includes an offer from first-time partner Pillsbury for a $5 mail-in rebate with proofs of purchase from desserts.
June: Walt Disney Pictures releases The Lion King, the company’s most profitable film to date. Frequent marketing partner Burger King distributes 30 million of its tie-in toys (made by official toy licensee Mattel) within weeks of the movie’s opening. The chain will reprise the promotion when Disney re-releases the film in the fall, ultimately moving 50 million units.
Mattel drops toy coupons in Burger King Kids Meals and supplies the prizes for sweepstakes run by the chain and Disney Stores. It also sets up Toys “R” Us as Lion King toy headquarters and provides toys to Nestlé for an on-pack premium offer.
Elsewhere, Payless ShoeSource runs a self-liquidating offer in its first movie tie-in. For $2.99 with a $9.99 shoe purchase, consumers receive Cub Kits featuring a book, figurine, poster, and coupons from Nestlé, Burger King, Western Publishing, Laffy Taffy, Parker Bros., and Payless. More than a third of the kits are sold in the first week.
And Eastman Kodak Co. marks its first partnership with Disney by offering movie tickets with six proofs of purchase (or a $2 rebate with one proof and a movie ticket stub).
October: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves breaks the home video records set by Aladdin the previous year.
1995 March: The Lion King breaks Snow White’s record by selling more than 30 million copies.
July: The Walt Disney Co. announces plans to buy Capital Cities/ABC in a cash and stock deal worth $19 billion.
1996 February: Disney Online launches Disney.com.
April: Disney and Mattel announce an agreement to expand the toy maker’s licensing deal.
May: After a lengthy battle with rival Burger King, McDonald’s signs a landmark 10-year, $2 billion marketing alliance giving it exclusive tie-in rights in more than 93 countries, sponsorship of Disney’s Animal Kingdom (which opens at Walt Disney World in 1998), and opportunities with both theatrical and home video releases.
September: Disney launches its largest-ever home video campaign with a $145 million effort for the release of box-office (and critical) smash Toy Story that seeks to boost sales of other Disney videos: Shoppers who purchase partnering products and another Disney title earn enough $5 rebates to receive Toy Story free. Kodak, General Mills, Energizer, and Oral-B are among the partners.
Elsewhere, Ocean Spray runs a mail-in SLO for character cups and Burger King conducts an eight-week premium giveaway in its last tie-in before the McD deal takes effect. (BK had moved 60 million figurines, puppets, and trading cards while tying into the film’s theatrical release.)
November: The McDonald’s alliance begins with a tie-in to the live-action 101 Dalmatians. The chain’s five-week campaign offers 101 different premiums. In timing that accentuates the reasons behind the exclusive alliance, the effort hits restaurants immediately after McD completes a promotion tying into Warner Bros.’ Space Jam, 101 Dalmatians‘ main rival at the holiday box office. Also, Disney bids farewell to the Main Street Electrical Parade (which debuted at Disneyland in 1972 and later ran at Walt Disney World, too) by selling display boxes, lightbulbs, and other related merchandise. The parade will return in 2001 when the company opens the California Adventure park in Anaheim.
1997 January: Radio Disney, an ABC Radio Network initiative, hits the airwaves with 24-hour programming for kids two to 11.
May: Thirty-five years after its theatrical release, Mary Poppins gets a likely partner for its home video debut: Totes, Inc., which offers a $5 coupon for umbrella purchases on packaging.
June: The studio announces that it will release Toy Story 2 direct-to-video, but will later wisely change its mind and score another major theatrical hit. More than four years later, marketing partners such as General Mills and Campbell Soup will still be using Toy Story characters in promotions.
November: The Lion King: The Broadway Musical opens in New York City’s refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre.
1998 April: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s fourth “gate,” opens on Earth Day backed by two sweepstakes, an on-pack game at McDonald’s, and a Win and Be Wild effort at Sears. Elsewhere, the Disney Channel celebrates its 15th anniversary by launching a second network, Toon Disney, to broadcast animated shows.
July: Disney Magic, the first ship in the company’s new cruise line, takes its maiden voyage. Disney Wonder will be christened the following year.
1999 October: Walt Disney World kicks off a 15-month Millennium Celebration to boost attendance, while the parent company joins with McDonald’s for Millennium Dreamers, a $10 million global campaign inviting adults to nominate kids who have done good deeds. McD taps 3,000 franchisees in the U.S. and approximately 16,000 worldwide to solicit nominations via counter cards and posters. Two thousand nominees win trips to Walt Disney World for a summit hosted by United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
November: The Walt Disney Co.’s Internet and direct marketing businesses merge with recent acquisition Infoseek to create go.com, which begins trading on the NYSE the following day. (The operation would undergo a major downsizing in winter 2001 after suffering financial difficulties.) Elsewhere, Toy Story 2 scores the biggest Thanksgiving opening in history, earning $80.1 million over five days.
2000 January: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? joins the ABC Network’s regular primetime lineup, becoming an unprecedented ratings success and a hugely popular tie-in property.
February: Disney’s California Adventure opens in Anaheim. The location includes Burger Invasion, a burger-shaped restaurant that marks the first full-service McDonald’s in a Disney park (the chain operates a French fry stand in Walt Disney World). Burger Invasion opened with a Happy Meal promotion that used Mickey Mouse as a premium for the first time in the character’s history.
September: Disney and Hasbro, Inc. strike a multi-year licensing deal for toys and products based on film and TV properties. Hasbro also becomes the official toy and game company for theme parks and resorts.
2001 May: After 18 months spent uniting and analyzing the databases of five divisions covering 31 million customers, Disney launches its first major CRM effort to promote the Disney Club; more than 300,000 people agree to pay a $39.95 annual fee to receive special merchandise offers and discounts.
September: Kellogg Co. announces a multi-year deal giving it exclusive rights to market breakfast foods based on Disney properties old and new, including Mickey, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, The Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, and Toy Story. The alliance also makes Kellogg the “official sponsor of breakfast” at Disney theme parks and includes a pact to co-develop promotions for film, TV, and theme park activity.
October: The candles are lit on 100 Years of Magic, a 15-month, $500 million party commemorating Walt’s birth.
Sources: Walt Disney Co.; Disney: The First 100 Years, by Smith and Clark (Disney Editions, 1999); PROMO


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