MediaMedia Buying’Toy Story 3’ Perfects Audience Targeting With Social Campaign

’Toy Story 3’ Perfects Audience Targeting With Social Campaign

One campaign is targeting children and adults alike, with viral campaigns that appeal to both demographics.

And so begins the 2010 blockbuster film season. The weeks surrounding Memorial Day always portend a slew of new major movie releases, and this year’s offerings include one that kids are sure to enjoy.

Why then is it being marketed to childless adults?

In fact, Disney-Pixar’s strategy for promoting “Toy Story 3” online leaves no toy box unopened in its effort to engage a mixed potential audience. The company’s labors have produced an interesting and dynamic digital campaign, but also something else: a fine example of how a marketing team can successfully engage a secondary audience of viewers.

In addition to parents who will tote their tots to see the film – and of course, the children themselves – the marketers tasked with generating awareness and excitement about the upcoming film are targeting teens and 20-something consumers who likely saw the first movie in the series 15 years ago. These consumers may have a nostalgic connection to the franchise. What they’re certain to have is a predisposition to act as valuable brand ambassadors.

To be sure, the movie franchise already has many fans within this demographic, but the filmmakers were also likely facing a dilemma: while this audience segment may have enjoyed the first film in the series, its tastes and preference have since changed. This generation is generally far more interested in watching thrillers and spending time on social sites than paying to see a perceived kid’s movie about toys.

The following three strategies demonstrate how “Toy Story 3” managed to circumvent this issue to connect with and engage a challenging consumer category – one that’s just as appealing to countless other marketers with less whimsical products to sell.

Creating Light-Years of Buzz

Media buyers of every ilk have long found inspiration in the entertainment industry’s online endeavors and the trails that they have blazed. Campaigns for films like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and “2012” blurred fiction and reality, and one offshoot of the “Toy Story 3” campaign does the same. To promote one of the many new characters in the film, Disney-Pixar launched a retro TV spot dated 1983 that featured Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear – a fictional toy created for the purposes of the movie. It even went so far as to have the ad uploaded to a YouTube channel that also features real ’80s commercials – a channel some say was created by the movie’s director.


The ad, which has been generating online buzz, is an undemanding execution whose brilliance lies in its relevance. The “vintage” spot harkens back to the days of the target audience’s childhood, and conjures fond memories of the toys that defined those simpler times. The placement of the unfamiliar bear toy among its popular true-to-life counterparts provokes viewers to research it; a quick search is all it takes to reveal the connection to the film.

Takeaway: when targeting a secondary audience for your product or service, don’t just look at purchasing habits or current behavior. Consider the user as an emotional being and identify meaningful cultural cues that can be incorporated into ad messaging for added relevance.

Netting Social Consumers

Every media buyer knows to target consumers where they’re already spending their time. To this end, Disney-Pixar looked to Facebook to help engage college students. First, the company placed flyers promoting the need for drivers at “Pizza Planet” – a fictional location from the films – around select college campuses. The flyers pointed to a Facebook page with further information about the screening and a link to the actual Facebook event where users could sign up or share with their friends.


This strategy ensures consumers will spread the word about the product and related event – leveraging the social networking aspect of the site. But it also resonates because it respects the medium by working within the parameters of the site and its well-known existing tools.

Takeaway: mirror your target customers’ actions and activities for the purposes of promoting your product to increase your brand’s social bearing on their lives.

Identifying Interests and Themes

You can easily find a trailer for “Toy Story 3” online. Most likely it will be the official version that caters primarily to kids; entertaining, but predictable. Look a little harder and you’ll find additional versions made expressly for the next generation; or, if you happen to belong to it, the trailers will come to you.

Disney-Pixar’s supplementary trailers for the film – dubbed viral trailers – pay homage to the lifestyle and cultural interests of the teen and college-age demographic groups. The first features the two main characters instant messaging with each other while techno music plays in the background, while the second mimics the hand-held camera filmmaking trend À la “Paranormal Activity.” Naturally, both trailers are available to view on the aforementioned Facebook page.

Takeaway: reconfigure your messaging to reflect your audience’s unique interests without diminishing your brand. Users will recognize the degree to which you understand them, and respect your efforts to speak to them in their own language.

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