By Jonathan Gregalis
Since November, you've likely heard a friend, coworker or family member mention the Oscar Award-winning animated Disney film, Frozen, in conversation. If that’s not the case, then you’ve certainly heard the film’s supreme ballad Let It Go on the radio or television or seen the in-store promotions at your local supermarket and retail store. Frozen isn’t just any ordinary Disney creation: it has become a cultural phenomenon.
It should come as no surprise to those who have seen Frozen that the film is the second-highest grossing film of 2013, raking in more than $1 billion worldwide, placing it just behind Toy Story 3 as one of the most financially successful animated films of all-time. These accolades don’t even begin to encompass the success of the DVD pre-sales, soundtrack and song downloads or merchandise sales. In summation: Disney hit a home run.
As Frozen prepares to hit stores this week, led by record-breaking Amazon.com DVD pre-sale orders, I look at the five reasons why Frozen became more than just a tale of two loving sisters, but a timely and surprising success story that marketers and communicators alike can learn from.
1. Adele Dazeem is born. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the animated film, you’ve heard about John Travolta’s gaffe at the Oscars on Twitter, from a friend or even on the pages of The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, or Entertainment Weekly. The incidental slip of star Idina Menzel’s name catapulted Frozen back into daily conversation nearly four months since the film’s debut and helped Menzel become a household name outside of the Broadway theater community. In fact, Menzel’s latest Broadway project, If/Then, seized the opportunity and reprinted promotional materials with her name cast as “Adele Dazeem.” Travolta’s blunder became Menzel, Disney and If/Then’s greatest marketing tool.
2. For The First Time in Forever: A modern princess tale. The film’s unlikely ending and twist to the archetypal Disney princess story model became fodder for feminist, movie and mommy bloggers alike. Jennifer Lee’s screenplay was the perfect story for a generation of women that have grown independent of the 1950’s housewife mantra and Frozen is the perfect embodiment of all the progress made on behalf of women in the United States. The success of Frozen allows Disney to remove the quintessential monkey off their back for perpetuating hegemonic and patriarchal stereotypes of young women needing a prince charming to save them.
3. The infusion of Broadway stars. While the cast of Frozen excited Broadway enthusiasts, many of the voices of Frozen were new for the average movie goer. Idina Menzel (Wicked), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars; Adventures of Tom Sawyer), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening; Glee) and Santino Fontana (Cinderella) represent some of the theater community’s brightest and most lauded performers. Paired with the incredible song writing talents of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner Robert Lopez (Avenue Q; The Book of Mormon), Disney has noted the added bonus of recruiting some of Broadway’s best. This infusion of Broadway stars to the silver screen will likely continue and become a model for casting agents as they recruit talent for film musicals. Sorry, Meryl and Pierce Brosnan, American audiences have a refined taste and are expecting more than B-level vocal performances.
4. A cultural phenomenon. Following the early blistering success of the film, Disney crafted its magic and watched as the world became seemingly obsessed with the story of Elsa and Anna. The studio released music videos, if you will, of the film’s popular musical numbers on YouTube, fueling engagement and shares on social media and hundreds of covers in the weeks that followed. Paired with the Facebook communities that sprung up for enthusiasts of costumes inspired by the film, Twitter handles inspired by Adele Dazeem and glossy magazine spreads dedicated to the success of the film, it was difficult not to encounter the Frozen brand on a daily basis.
In a show of the movie’s lasting success, Disney re-released the film as a sing-a-long in late January and Good Morning America dedicated a whole segment in March to a worldwide Let It Go sing-a-long staring Idina Menzel, Frozen fans and those who produced a cover of the award-winning song. There was no need for marketing dollars or a flashy campaign, Frozen generated organic conversations in-person and on social media that helped sustain success for the film long after its November release
5. A story for any age: Frozen is not the archetypal Disney fairytale. Screenwriter Jennifer Lee incorporates lessons that are uncomplicated enough for the young viewer to grasp, but leaves more complex moral suggestions for young adults and parents as well, making the movie the exemplary family film. This strategy proved successful as both young viewers, young adults and parents flocked to theaters to see the movie—in some cases more than once. I admit to being one of those young adults who saw the film multiple times, learning something new each time. Marketers take note: the brevity of the film—an hour and a half—proves that a fantastic film (or campaign) doesn’t need to be drawn out or lengthy: it needs to be impactful.
The abundant success of the film should serve as a benchmark for success for all of us filmmakers, communicators, marketers and artists alike. Crafting a winning message, discovering the right talent to help bring a story to life and investing the necessary funds to make the project a success are just a few of the lessons marketers and public relations practitioners can take from the Frozen model. Although it’s unlikely for most marketing or PR campaigns to have an award-winning ballad championing the cause, engineering a campaign that can enlighten, inspire and inject some fun will certainly help a campaign last longer than originally expected. Paired with a timely release—can you say “polar vortex”—Frozen was the perfect film at a time when animated films have become subject to recycled plots, sequels and uninspiring narratives. Disney, bravo on a film that we can all—age six or 56—enjoy, celebrate and praise as one of our favorites.
By: Jonathan Gregalis, senior public relations major at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and student of PAN Communications’ President and Founder, Phillip A. Nardone, Jr.