The Little Mermaid: Lessons From Disney’s Strategic Marketing Approach

Ariel, the beloved little mermaid, is making a splash in the theaters once again. Yes, the much-awaited Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, is all set to hit the big screen this week. The live action version of the Disney classic from 1989, has created a lot of buzz. And this has gotten us wondering how Disney almost always manages to keep the spark alive for decades. 

Promoting a product, an idea, is tough. Imagine promoting a thirty-year-old idea to a generation that is overwhelmed with hundreds of new ideas every day on social media. Doesn’t that sound even more challenging? Then how does Disney manage to create the same excitement for its movies as it did decades ago? 

Answers to all these questions like in the brilliantly optimized marketing approach that Disney has for each of its movie franchises. So, what did Disney do differently for The Little Mermaid? What kind of marketing campaigns have helped build anticipation for the film ahead of its release? 

Get ready to uncover the marketing tactics for the Little Mermaid live action film as Ariel swims back into our world. And who better than this 100-year-old media company can give us productive marketing lessons, after all? 

Disney and The Little Mermaid – how it all started 

Originally, the idea of mermaids and mystic sea people came from The Little Mermaid, a Danish fairy tale that was part of a set of children’s fairy tales from 1837. In the original story, most parts of portraying mermaids involved showing the tragic side of these mystical creatures. This changed when the mermaids got a little Disney magic. 

Disney released an animated feature film titled The Little Mermaid in 1989. This introduced Ariel, the 4th Disney Princess. Ariel was portrayed as a free-spirited little mermaid with a rebellious streak and a strong desire to follow her heart. 

The character was a hit and the Ariel version of the mermaid was featured in music albums, printed merchandise, and so on. Additionally, Ariel’s appearances in several Disney parks have helped keep the character alive over the years. 

That was about the beginning of The Little Mermaid’s journey in the world of Disney. Now that things have changed drastically in the media business and since the entertainment industry is not the same as it was in 1989, what did the team do to adapt to the changed landscape? How did the team create interest in the new film and bring back the old fans of the 1989 classic? Let’s find out. 

Finding the right stage for the announcement 

In marketing, first impressions are everything. Sometimes when you lose that opening frame, there’s nothing much you can do later. Disney knows this really well. Hence it not only chooses the right opportunities for making its big announcements but also creates the right platforms for them. The D23 events are the perfect examples. 

D23: The Official Disney Fan Club is the ultimate fan club for anyone who adores Disney characters. The memberships in this club come with a host of perks including access to special fan events, quarterly publications, weekly newsletters, chances to take part in exclusive sweepstakes, and so on. 

Yes, D23 is the ultimate package of loyalty marketing that helps the brand in building a tightly-knit community. 

Why are we talking about D23 right now? Because the announcements for most of the main Disney movies happen at D23 events. So was the case with the announcement of The Little Mermaid live action movie as well. 

At the D23 event held in September 2022, a range of new movies including Snow White, Inside Out 2, and The Little Mermaid were announced. Attendees got a sneak peek into The Little Mermaid live action movie and were introduced to the actors playing the lead roles. 

While the online fans were introduced to a crisp teaser, the attendees at the D23 event got to witness a spectacular “Part of Your World” performance. 

Releasing the teaser months ahead of the release of the movie is a great way to test the waters. It’s a great way to create anticipation for the movie and also to get the marketing activities rolling. Disney does this with most of its movies and it worked well for The Little Mermaid movie as well. 

On the road toward inclusivity 

Gone are the days when a Disney Princess had to fit a certain standard or be white or be skinny or wait for her knight in shining armor. Disney has been doing a tremendous job of rewriting historical and stereotypical representations of a princess. This has helped the brand emerge as a trendsetter in promoting diversity. 

Disney’s experience with the response to The Little Mermaid is a good example of how this approach of inclusivity has helped Disney. 

As soon as the teaser for The Little Mermaid live action movie was launched, there was a section of the internet audience that expressed their disappointment in casting a Black actress for the role. Some spoke about this casting deviating from the original portrayal of the character. 

These are the very same folks who had no issues when Angelina Jolie played Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart. A white actor playing the role of an Afro-Cuban woman was perfectly fine but a Black actor playing a fairy tale character that was initially portrayed differently is not fine? 

Sadly, that’s the state of social media with the growing number of bot accounts and fake users hiding behind seemingly-real profiles spreading racist comments. Disney has learned to stay aloof to such responses and embrace diversity in its casting. And this is something that a lot of people have appreciated the brand for. 

That’s why a larger section of the audience has continued to stand in support of Disney amidst all the backlash. And The Little Mermaid movie has continued to gain momentum with people sharing their love for the casting on social media. 

What’s the result of Disney’s decision to cast talent beyond the barriers of ethnicity and race? Heartwarming moments like this one: 

Not forgetting the magic of a poster 

We might live in an age where most marketing is digital and most communication happens through electronic devices. But the charm of a good old movie poster is irreplaceable. Disney and other media companies consistently value this trend. Therefore, ahead of every big movie, Disney releases the official poster on social media. 

The below poster was updated just a few weeks after the release of the first teaser for The Little Mermaid. 

The poster shared by Disney gave fans a slice of the magic that Ariel is all set to bring to theaters. 

Kimp Tip: Whether it’s a new movie or a product launch, teasing the idea with the help of a video teaser or a catchy poster never goes out of style. These are content formats that help create a buzz and get people talking about the upcoming launch. So, don’t forget to include these content formats in your marketing strategy. 

Short video teasers or static promotional posters, one Kimp Graphics + Video subscription covers it all! 

Keeping the franchise alive 

Some of the movie franchises in the world of Disney span decades. With a gap of several years between sequels, keeping the franchise alive becomes crucial. Disney manages to do this through its merchandise marketing, social media posts, and experiential campaigns at the Disney theme parks. Let’s look at some of the measures that Disney took to keep The Little Mermaid movie alive. 

Social media posts 

Disney has separate social media channels for various divisions including one for the D23 fan club. And if you have been following any of these Disney pages on social media you know that the brand keeps sharing nostalgic content and engaging videos to keep its audience engaged. 

The above Tweet, for example, connects well with the fans of the 1989 classic. The comment section of the Tweet filled with responses from fans is proof that Disney’s idea works. 

Additionally, Disney also shares Tweets about the character, and the movie on the anniversary of the release of the 1989 movie, The Little Mermaid. 

Posts like these have managed to retain Ariel in the minds of the audience amidst the sea of new animated movies and characters. 

Branded merchandise 

Owning Disney-branded merchandise is one way in which fans feel closest to their favorite characters. And Disney manages to squeeze in enough variety to attract fans of all age groups. Ahead of the release of The Little Mermaid, Disney also announced its merchandise line to celebrate the film. 

From plush dolls to kids’ costumes, accessories to books, branded merchandise in various formats was introduced in the Disney store. Merchandise marketing is undoubtedly a timeless entity in establishing a brand. Because with branded merchandise you are leaving a piece of your brand with your audience. You are giving them something to hold on to and remember your brand in the days to come. 

In this case, Disney also went ahead and personalized Ariel to give it a bit of Halle Bailey twist including her signature locks. The idea worked so well for Disney that the Ariel doll quickly became a bestseller on Amazon

Need help designing your branded merchandise? Get Kimp

Disney theme park attractions 

The truest sense of experiential marketing can be seen in Disney theme park attractions curated on popular movie themes. And the one based on The Little Mermaid movie is “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure”. This dark ride attraction is available in several Disney theme parks. It has helped keep Ariel alive over the past three decades. 

In addition to the above steps in keeping the franchise alive, Disney also executed various other creative campaigns to promote The Little Mermaid live action movie. Let’s talk about a few of them. 

Notable promotional campaigns for The Little Mermaid 2023 movie 

Trailer debut at the Oscars 

We spoke about Disney announcing The Little Mermaid movie at the D23 event. But the audience was a small crowd there and the online audience only got a short preview of the movie teaser. To expand its reach and initiate more conversations, Disney chose the most popular event of the year, the Oscars. 

People around the world tune in to watch the live stream of the Academy Awards ceremony. So, it makes a great stage to introduce your movie to a large audience. Did you know that nearly 18.7 million Americans watched the Oscars stream this year? Disney introduced the trailer of The Little Mermaid at the ceremony. Talk about making an entrance! 

Quickly the video gained a lot of traction on social media in addition to winning the hearts of TV audiences.  

White House’s 2023 Easter Egg Roll

As a part of the promotional activities, Halle Bailey became a guest reader at the Easter Event at the White House. From connecting with little fans to rekindling the magic of the classic tale, the event helped in several ways. 

For many Disney movies like The Little Mermaid, children are a majority of the audience. So, events like this one are quite effective in appealing to family audiences. 

Responding to audience reactions 

Remember we spoke about the support that Disney received from fans for the teaser amidst all the harsh racist comments that some users were spreading? Here’s how Disney responded to the tiny fans who showed their support. 

The children who were excited watching the new trailer of the movie were thrilled to meet Halle Bailey in person. Such live experiences create a lot of social media conversations around the movie and maximize the ROI of the marketing efforts. 

Not forgetting traditional advertising formats 

Most brands focus on digital advertising like web ads and social media ads but neglect TV advertising. But remember that TV advertising still continues to be one of the most trusted formats. In fact, with the growing trends of connected TV, about 67% of brands are planning on increasing their budgets on advanced TV/ connected TV advertising

Keeping this in mind, Disney also plans a hybrid marketing strategy for most of its movie promotions. For The Little Mermaid live action movie promotion, Halle Bailey’s performance of “Part of Your World” from the movie was streamed in the American Idol show on ABC and also on Hulu.  

That’s one way of expanding the reach of the movie. 

A shout-out to the people behind the project 

Disney always ensures that it gives due credit to the cast and crew. It regularly shares snippets from events involving the cast and some fun interviews featuring them. From behind-the-scenes clips highlighting the efforts that the actors put in, to conversations with the actors to understand their perceptions of their roles, fans see a lot on social media. 

Many such videos were also shared featuring the cast and crew of The Little Mermaid live action film. This involved actors talking about their connection with the fairy tale and their favorite characters from the tale and so on. 

Kimp Tip: This idea is very similar to companies sharing corporate culture videos or videos featuring employee experiences. Because you might have the best ideas but without a team to bring them to life, these ideas mean nothing. That’s why corporate culture videos and content featuring your employees are critical in humanizing your brand and connecting with your customers. 

Did The Little Mermaid marketing strategies inspire you? Execute yours now with Kimp designs 

Visually rich experiences are the way forward. Because visually presenting your idea is the best way to build memorability. To establish your brand identity strongly in a competitive space, to differentiate your brand, shape your brand image, and to engage your audience, you need branded visuals that carry your message to your customers. 

Even big brands like Disney heavily rely on visuals in their marketing campaigns. So, what are you waiting for? Inspired by The Little Mermaid live action movie promotions, if you are ready to execute your own creative campaign ideas, get a Kimp subscription and start elevating your visual marketing game. 

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