Disney: ‘People are not walking around thinking about brands all the time’

Disney’s head of audience strategy Richard Ellwood says brands must focus on making their brands relevant to people’s lives and ensure they are not overwhelming them with choice if they want to drive interest and sales.

Speaking at Marketing Week Live today (28 April), Ellwood said: “Marketers have to put their brand in context. People are not walking around thinking about [new Disney film] Captain America: Civil War or about brands the whole time. They are actually thinking about their lives.”

Most consumers are also overwhelmed by choice, he said, and part of a brand’s job is to declutter to make the process of making a purchase easier. He cited the example of a young family Disney tracked (with their permission) while shopping in Toys ‘R’ Us.

They went in with the specific task of buying their two-year-old daughter, a massive fan of Peppa Pig, a birthday present. Yet despite knowing who they were buying for, what they were buying and there being a huge range of products they ended up buying nothing on that trip.

“This is about choice guidance and how good we at Disney and across the industry in terms of really delivering on that choice guidance. Making sure that if people are looking for something quite specific, we are able to reduce that clutter and really deliver them towards where they want to get to,” he explained.

Read more: Disney’s licensing boss on Star Wars, Frozen and the ‘Disney machine’

Ellwood cited an experiment undertaken by psychologists in America to understand choice. They looked at how choice drove consumer behaviour using jams in a delicatessen in a range of configurations.

What they found was that when they put 24 jams on display, 60% of people visiting the store looking at the jam but only 3% converted. When they put six jams on display, the percentage of people that looked at the display dropped to 40% but conversion increased by 10 times to 30%.

“This says a lot about consumers’ capacity for choice. When you think about how things have changed in terms of content, product proliferation, how much choice we have actually got and how on one hand we are all looking for much greater personal relevance and much greater choice but actually we’re all very overwhelmed by choice,” he said.

To help with that, Disney looked at all its activity – from theme parks to films to publishing to its apps – to work out how it could deliver the right things to the right audiences. It identified nine audience segments based not on age or sex but stages of development and then how it could make each franchise relevant.

“We start by working together as a business to work out what we know about each audience in terms of their emotional need states, media consumption and lifestyle. How do we bring something that is particularly relevant from our priority franchises for that particular audience.

“We start with the audience first to make sure we are clear on who they are, what they need and how we can deliver on it. And then summarise that and look to reflect it in our franchises.”

Richard Ellwood, head of audience strategy, Disney

He used the example of Frozen, explaining that its success came from an understanding of its audience and “reflecting parts of their lives back to them”.

“We at Disney are making sure we truly understand our audiences and making sure we tie in the relevance of what we can deliver. Whether its an experience, product or content making sure we deliver the right things to the right people,” Ellwood concluded.

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