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Is Mickey going to botch "Ratatouille" 's marketing? Don't Betty on it

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Is Mickey going to botch "Ratatouille" 's marketing? Don't Betty on it

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This week's "Toon Tuesday" column (I.E. "How will 'Ratatouille' fare in Hollywood's Summer 2007 rat race ?") generated an awful lot of controversy. I got phone calls from Burbank, e-mails from Emeryville. With all sorts of folks who are intimately involved with this production chiming in, wishing to dispute various aspects of that story.

Mind you, I still stand by what I wrote. But I thought that -- in the spirit of fairness -- that it might also be appropriate to share another perspective on this story with JHM readers.

Now I can't tell you who actually gave me this info. All I can safely say is that this individual & I spoke at length on the phone yesterday. And given the number of years that he's worked for the company, I felt that this gentleman's point of view was well worth considering. And speaking of views ... This guy really enjoys the view from his office in the Team Disney Burbank building.

There? Is that vague / specific enough for you?

Anyway ... Here's a few highlights from yesterday's phone call:

Are we facing some challenges with the marketing of "Ratatouille" ? Absolutely.

But you have to understand that we face marketing challenges with each & every movie that this studio produces, every TV show that we put on the air, even the individual attractions that we open at the theme parks. Which is why we tailor all of our marketing campaigns accordingly, always taking into consideration the specific PR needs of each individual project.

Copyright 2007 American Broadcasting Company

Take -- for example -- what we're doing right now with "Ugly Betty." This is a new comedy that's been doing extremely well for us, making ABC competitive again from 8 to 9 p.m. on Thursday nights. Which is a time slot that we've traditionally lost to CBS's "Survivor" series.

But "Betty" has actually begun beating "Survivor." And it's proving to be a great lead-in for "Grey's Anatomy." And I like to think that a lot of this success is due to the careful individualistic approach that we've taken to the promotion of this quirky new comedy.

Copyright 2007 American Broadcasting Company

I mean, everyone these days sets a website that can then be used as a promotional vehicle for their network's new shows. So ABC of course did that for "Ugly Betty."

But -- because we felt that potential viewers really had to get to know America Ferrera's character before they could then embrace the show -- the network then set up a second website, bettysuarez.com. Which is basically a showcase for the Betty character, to show how good & kind & smart she is. Which is why web-savvy viewers would then want to see this character succeed after she'd been dropped into the cut-throat corporate environment of "Mode" magazine.

Copyright 2007 American Broadcasting Company

We've also begun using the other arms of the Walt Disney Company to help get the word out about "Ugly Betty." Take -- for example -- this past Sunday, when we had dozens of Betty Suarez lookalikes wandering around inside of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park on New Years Eve.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

To increase this show's overall exposure, we also staged an "Ugly Betty" mini-marathon on ABC this past Saturday night. With the three most recent episodes of that program airing back-to-back in the 8 - 11 block. This was followed by a full blown "Ugly Betty" marathon on ABC Family on Sunday. With all 10 of the episodes that we've produced to date airing in chronological order. Then -- on New Years Day -- these same 10 episodes aired on SOAPnet as part of that channel's annual "Serial Bowl" event.

Copyright 2007 SOAPnet LLC

And every one of these "Ugly Betty" marathons repeatedly hyped the fact that ABC would be airing a brand-new episode on Thursday, January 5th. So hopefully a brand-new bunch of viewers who have just been exposed to "Ugly Betty" this past weekend will now be tuning in to catch this new episode. Which should then help improve the show's ratings.

Plus we're beginning another huge promotional push for this new ABC comedy through our "Be Ugly in 2007" campaign. This features a website that talks up the pro-social message of the prpgram. How "Ugly Betty" teaches young girls to disregard society's unrealistic standards for physical beauty and just be themselves.

And that site has downloadable wallpaper, stickers, even a daily affirmation card. Which not only reinforces the message of that show but also reminds potential viewers to watch "Ugly Betty" on ABC every Thursday night from 8 to 9 p.m.

Copyright 2007 American Broadcasting Company

Plus we're teaming up with Girls, Inc. & CosmoGIRL magazine this coming weekend to hold an event in NYC where America will be making an appearance. And while this event is basically a kick-off for a fund-raiser for Girls, Inc., it will still raise awareness of the "Be Ugly in 2007" campaign. Which -- in turn -- helps promote the "Ugly Betty" television show.

Mind you, only the Walt Disney Company -- because of our theme parks & our television networks & our pre-existing relationships with all of our promotional partners -- can orchestrate a marketing campaign of this size, scale and complexity. Which puts us in a really unique position when it comes to making the public aware of our upcoming movies & TV shows.

Copyright 2007 Disney Pixar

And what we're doing now for "Ugly Betty," we also plan on doing for "Ratatouille." Using every available platform -- the Disney Channel, "Disney Adventures" magazine, VMK, ad inserts in our upcoming DVD releases -- to make sure that people are aware that a new Pixar movie is on the way. That they know that this new Brad Bird film is special and funny and -- in order to get the full experience -- they really have to see it in a theater on a big screen.

Copyright 2001 Disney Pixar

And as for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ... Do you remember what happened the last time a Pixar movie went head-to-head with a "Harry Potter" movie?

That was back in November of 2001, when "Monsters, Inc." was released on the 2nd of that month while "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" came out on November 16th. And even though these two films were supposedly competing for the very same audience, they still both went on to rack up really impressive grosses. With "Potter" earning $315 million during its initial domestic release while "Monsters" pulled in $255 million.

Copyright 2001 Disney Pixar

So -- yeah -- we're heading into a really competive summer. As is every other studio out there. But I'm sure that -- thanks to Pixar's reputation as well as Disney's marketing might -- "Ratatouille" will do just fine.

Of course, what would really be great is if we could persuade John Lasseter to have Pixar produce another one of those trailers like the one that they did for "Monsters, Inc." that actually acknowledged "Harry Potter." Maybe even do one that makes fun of "Transfomers." But I don't know if that's going to happen. Those guys kind of have their hands full right now.

Look, I know that a lot of people both inside & outside of the company are concerned with how "Ratatouille" is going to perform. That they're worried this Brad Bird film may not do as well as "Cars." And if this picture under-performs, that will then be turned into a referendum on whether or not Disney paid too much for Pixar.

All I can tell you is that Brad has put together an incredibly entertaining movie that's going to play well to all ages. And that we're going to back that picture up with one of our most comprehensive & innovative promotional campaigns ever.

And instead of always talking about the $7.4 billion that Disney paid for Pixar, I'd suggest that it's time that you begin focusing on the tens of billions of dollars that the Walt Disney Company is going to make over the next few decades because we now own the Pixar characters outright.

So there you have it, folks. The view from the other side of the fence. Where a particularly confident executive talks about the Walt Disney Company's unique ability to reach consumers and the impact that the Mouse's marketing might will supposedly have on "Ugly Betty" and "Ratatouille."

So what do you folks think? Was this exec that I spoke with yesterday over-selling Disney's ability to market its movies & TV shows? Or does Walt Disney Studios really have an advantage as it heads into the sure-to-be-competitive Summer of 2007?

Your thoughts?

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  • Really nice to know this side of the story. I trully believe that only Disney can pull off such an impressive marketing campaign, and if they promoted Ratatouille the same way they promoted "Ugly Betty" than it will be a smass. But I also think that comparing Betty with Remi is a little weard. The stories are different, the backgrounds are different. Saying to children to "be smart, intelligent, blabla" to promote the show is smart, but you can't do that with Ratatouille. "Be a rat"?! Promoting a rat with an expensive taste of food is going to be much harder than a loving girl who's smart and honest and everything sweet.

  • I agree with the article, as long as they market it right. If they botch it up, then it's going to end up like Flushed Away or Wallace and Gromit, or even Over the Hedge. None of those had an ad campaign that compelled people to see them.

    I thin k that Happily N'eveer After is missing the mark, too since they just keep hyping that it's from the producer of Shrek. Well so was Valiant, need I say more.

    Ratatouille is off to a good start. They trailer that is out introduces us to the character, and allows the masses to start to know the Rat. Cars missed that in its initial push out of the gate. But, it still made lots of mney and even more in DVD (plus I know my son has every single gad-blamed Hot Wheel style car from the movie...he just had to have them all).

    However, I do agree with your last article, that Box office will have to be a little better, because it's harder to sell stuffed Rats. How about a little kitchen set with Rats stuck in the drawers and cabinets? But then again, sell a Rat wearing Mickey ears at the Disney Store and theme parks, and it will sell like crazy (but then again at thos places, you van put Mickey ears on a piece of burned toast and it will sell).

  • Let's see... I seem to recall that Eisner's dictates to his Marketing crew back in 1986 was to change the title of "Basil of Baker Street" to the far more obvious title, "The Great Mouse Detective", thereby not confusing potentially illiterate audiences with an obscure reference to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Maybe today's Disney Marketing needs to take a similar approach to "Ratatouille" which is obviously far too French and unpronouncable a title for the average American viewer. Following this proven formula they've established for ABC-TV, they can just rename it "Ugly Ratty" and give him goofy glasses and braces for good measure. Then they can concentrate on driving home the message how "Ugly Ratty" teaches young people to disregard society's unrealistic standards for physical hygiene and just be themselves.

  • Amazing - there is still someone left in the Co who will defend it. They actually stood up and said that Disney Co will make plenty from owning the characters outright - a point that is continually glossed over.

    I realize I am as far from the target demographic for Ugly Betty as you can possibly get, but for that show to be a success is a minor marketing miracle. If telling girls to act immature and stupid is an improvement from focusing on looks, well ok, but it makes the Raven productions look like Shakespere. Maybe Survivor being on the air for the past 36 years left the door open.

    All the secret websites, specialized trailers, and cute marketing are great, but for mass awareness you still need million$ in network TV ads the two weeks before release. Disney Co never wants to just pay for the ads - they want corporate participants to mention the film in the sponsor's ad, in addition to straight trailer ads paid for by Disney Co. It's just getting harder and harder to find suckers - er - corporations that will do that. If Disney Co would just buy the ads, they would save money in the long run not having to pay the salesmen to push the sponsorships, the lawyers to write the contracts, the payoffs and parties to impress the sponsors, and the lawyers again when the sponsor realizes it wasn't a great deal. Just make a good film and advertise it - that's one main reason they bought ABC.

  • While I'm no Executive Marketing Genius, if a nice sized chunk of this film's marketing budget isn't spent pumping ads out on Food Network, then every single person on that marketing team deserves to be fired.

  • Thanks Jim for today's article. I don't think that Disney really has anything to worry about with Ratatouille. I've seen the current previews and I think this will be  a smash! Keep in mind I'm also one of the many Disney fans who needs to "lighten up" LOL One thing that Disney knows is marketing. Sure they are challenged by it but if the Mouse can convince the public that the original Fantasia was much beloved by Walt etc. then they should have no problem convincing the publice to see this film. What impressed me with the Ratatouille preview was that kids in the theatre were actually laughing at the preview!!! How many times does that happen?

  • "Saying to children to "be smart, intelligent, blabla" to promote the show is smart, but you can't do that with Ratatouille. "Be a rat"?! "

    I'm not sure if the point got through to all JHM's readers.  The point is to use the vast resources that are available to the Disney empire, and allow the creative types to be creative.  That's what the article was about, and hearing it from inside is reassuring.  

    The key to marketing the film isn't taking all the Ugly Betty ads and plopping a Rat in its place (although that would certainly be an interesting form of satire - on second thought, go ahead and do it - that nice pink website with a rat instead of a girl could be interesting!).  

  • I just keep wondering if Ratty will ever share the stage with Mickey? Could prove interesting.

  • <<I just keep wondering if Ratty will ever share the stage with Mickey? Could prove interesting.>>

    Well how often does Mickey share the stage with Woody, or Flick or Sully or any other Pixar character?  Whatever your answer is, it'll also apply to Ratty.

    Though I get what you really mean...the whole species thing...

  • <<"Saying to children to "be smart, intelligent, blabla" to promote the show is smart, but you can't do that with Ratatouille. "Be a rat"?! "

    I'm not sure if the point got through to all JHM's readers. The point is to use the vast resources that are available to the Disney empire, and allow the creative types to be creative.  That's what the article was about, and hearing it from inside is reassuring.>>

    Oh, we get it all right. I just happen to find Marketing types to be rather laughable. A friend of mine that I used to work with in the WDW art department used to lament the day that it fell under the jurisdiction of the Marketing Dept. (It used to fall under WED Art and Design) He always maintained that the Marketing Dept. was all smoke and mirrors and that the Disney parks pretty much marketed themselves based on the substance and quality of the experience they had historically offered. Unfortunately, in the cost-cutting years of Eisner, the Marketing crew were constantly being commanded to find new and inspiring ways to market the same old same old that had very little new to offer the paying public. It was not unlike The Emperor's New Clothes.

    I feel the same way about the films. If you've got a film that is genuinely entertaining, all you need to do is let the public know about it through honest TV spots and other available venues of advertising. All of these silly, gimmicky tricks the Merry Marketeers pull out of their hats won't save a film that the public perceives as a stinker. And if they do work, then the public are a gullible lot who deserve what they pay for. Back in the good old days, all it took was a TV spot at the end of "The Wonderful World of Disney" to excite me enough to want to rush out to see the latest Disney feature, especially the animated films. Those films of my youth during the mid 60s through 70s basically sold themselves - no smoke and mirrors was necessary.

  • I think it's very amusing (tres amusant?) that several people here are concerned that Disney might have trouble selling "Rataouille"!

    First, it's not just about a "Rat" with a connection to food. It's about a character going to ANY length, against ALL odds to fulfill their....everybody say it with me.....DREAM! And this is the year of....A Million DREAMS. Perhaps Remy's dream could be one of them (I hope the ad execs are listening!)? Disney has been selling the idea of wish/dream fufillment for how long? I think they can make this work. If all of Mickey and Minnie's dreams come true, all of Jaq & Gus' dreams, I don't think Remy has all that much to worry about.

    Secondly, I'm tried of hearing people fuss over the title of the film. The same youngsters that have been laughing at the previews (and laughing, alot, during the test screenings, I might add) are the same little buggers who can recite, ad infinitum, the names of all of the characters in those afternoon Japanese anime cartoons shown on Cartoon Network, and other places. If they can pronounce those names & titles (and correct each other when an error is made) I'm sure this will not be a challenge. Additionally, take a look at some of the names of characters in the Harry Potter books and films - and the kids, by the millions, eat these names up and spit them out perfectly enunciated.

    If Disney gives this film it's first-class promo treatment, the name will be heard and repeated so many times by the time of release that everyone, in almost every nation on Earth, will have no trouble saying this name.


  • Nitemuze2, I hope you're not referring to my post regarding the title, "Ratatouille". I had hoped it was obvious to all that in writing that comment, my tongue was so firmly planted in my cheek that it almost took root.

    In all seriousness, I love the title "Ratatouille" for its sophistication. My sarcastic comment previously was meant to illustrate the sheer nonsense of when Eisner forced the title change of what had been the inspired "Basil of Baker Street" to the mundane "The Great Mouse Detective". In short, stomping out the alliterative to appeal to the illiterate.

  • So, yes , it's a good bet that "Ratatouille" won't be renamed "The Great Rat Chef" , thank goodness.

  • I'd be cheesed off if I were Mickey Mouse. But, Rats! I really find this an appelaing film. Voice cast does not seem to be announced yet. I think a rat should step in

    and tell Mickey other rodents, other specimens and other kinds, are allowed at Disney/Pixar.

    Mickey's trapped.

  • <"I realize I am as far from the target demographic for Ugly Betty as you can possibly get, but for that show to be a success is a minor marketing miracle. If telling girls to act immature and stupid is an improvement from focusing on looks, well ok, but it makes the Raven productions look like Shakespere. Maybe Survivor being on the air for the past 36 years left the door open.">

    whoa, whoa, whoa...have you even seen Ugly Betty?  It is one of the most fun, well written scripted shows on tv today. It is lightyears beyond the hordes of poorly made reality tv shows that have dominated the airwaves for who knows how long now.  

    Betty Suarez is NOT an immature and stupid girl whatsoever.  Yes, she doesn't have physical beauty going for her (and we all know how screwed up this country is when it comes to physical appearance and expectations) and she is a bit clumsy, but Betty is truly a beautiful character. She has the inner beauty and strength and intelligence that puts her FAR beyond her counterparts.  She is practically the one that is keeping Mode magazine afloat- you would know that if you actually watched the show.  Have you even seen the show?  

    oh, and it already is a success. It is the number one show of the new season.

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