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We are used to seeing advertising in our movies. Not only are there advertisements and previews before the movies themselves, there are product placements and logo design placements in the films that serve as advertisement. Disney is taking movie advertising one step further, using their movies to promote toy and other product sales.

We are used to seeing Disney products on the shelves, and those of us with children have bought more than a small amount of Disney Princess Barbie dolls and Lightning McQueen pajamas. However, Disney is taking their product promotion machine to a new level as of June 24. The new Cars 2 movie will feature a six minute short film promoting their Toy Story 3 franchise.

Toy Story merchandise is more popular than the childless might realize. Sales of Toy Story branded products rival those of more classic Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. Sales increase when a Toy Story movie has been newly released either in the theaters or on DVD, but Disney hopes to keep the sales engine humming by showing film ‘shorts’ before unrelated Disney movies. This fills in the long two to three year gap between new installments in the Toy Story film series. Becase Toy Story outsells Cars (by a long shot), this makes good fiscal sense for the film company.

This is not the first time that Disney has used shorter films to promote their blockbuster brands. For example, the company saw an 11 % increase in Cars merchandise sales after running a few related Toons on their children’s channels. Obviously short films, which Disney calls ‘Toons’ are a viable marketing tool.

The question of the day is: how can small businesses apply some of Disney’s most effective marketing and branding strategies to their own companies? While most of us do not have the opportunity to expose millions of movie viewers to our brands and products, there nonetheless are a few ways to get a similar effect on a smaller scale. First, use cross-promotion to encourage existing customers to try new products. This is basically ‘in a nutshell’ what Disney is doing here. While cross-promotion on this level is not possible for the average business, you can implement other strategies, such as suggesting related products to existing customers.

Second, these and other Disney marketing strategies show how important branding can be. Let’s face it: there is a reason so many children are clamoring for Disney movie toys rather than the other products filling toy store shelves. Disney has put a lot of energy into building their formidable brand. In fact, they may be the most recognizable brand in the world when you combine recognition of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Disney Princesses and, yes, the Toy Story characters.

A final takeaway from this marketing strategy is to know your audience. Disney knows that their biggest market is children, and they are marketing their products in a way that will appeal to that consumer group. Branding and marketing should always be consumer-focused.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.