Public relations have always realized the importance of communication with its target audiences. Without it, an organization runs the risk of inconsistent public opinion from both its internal and external publics. Effective external communication is a vital part of an organizations public relations strategy. An organization may have several objectives in mind when it communicates with its external publics. Some of these include:
Providing information to consumers about the organizations products and services
Promoting the organization
Respond to inquires concerning the organizations products and services
Adverting the organization
This paper will examine the effectiveness of the Walt Disney Company’s communications process when promoting its 1995 film, Pocahontas. This paper will also discuss impact of these effective communications to its external publics.
Walt Disney once said, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” In 1928, Walt Disney and his brother Roy created what would eventually become the Walt Disney Company, in a small office in Los Angeles. One would be hard pressed to find an organization that knows it audience more accurately than the Walt Disney Company.
For over 75 years, Disney has been appealing to children and their parents in not only the United States, but also worldwide (Harris, 167). Disney released its very first full-length feature animated film, Snow White, in 1937, to critical acclaim and worldwide success. The 1940’s and 50’s produced films such as Fantasia, Bambi, and Alice in Wonderland. These films became instant classics and the Walt Disney Company found what every company dreams of – a recipe for success.
After the success in the early 1990’s with Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, and especially the record breaking, The Lion King, Disney needed to find a way to keep its momentum going for its next animated feature film, Pocahontas. In order to attract public interest, Disney began promoting the film five months before the film’s scheduled release, in June 1995. A Disney source says the campaign for Pocahontas “is every bit as great as it was for The Lion King. In some aspects, it’s even greater” (qtd in Broeske). Disney went on to fuel the media frenzy with a Pocahontas press presentation in New York’s Central Park on January 31, 1995 (Broeske, 8).
Not only did Disney begin promoting the film early, they also launched a 24-city mall display that offered mall goers a “sneak peek” at the process of creating an animated film. The mall attraction also included a 26-foot replica of John Smith’s ship in which kids could climb and explore (Harris, 168). The mall attraction generated hundreds of thousands of visitors and gathered local publicity in every city reached from February through June 1995 (Harris, 168).
Disney also teamed up with such brands as Nestlé TM, Mattel TM, and Payless Shoe Source TM, in order to reach its target audience. By offering animated candy bars, doll figures of the main characters, Pocahontas and John Smith, and offering Native American-style moccasins, Disney was able to cross into the hands of its key target – children.
In early June, Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner went on to invite all New Yorkers to participate in a free lottery for tickets to preview Pocahontas, once again in Central Park. Over 500,000 people participated in the lottery and 100,000 lucky winners won the opportunity to see the film on four 120-foot screens (Harris, 168).
The impact surrounding the public relations strategies in promoting the Pocahontas film was unprecedented by Disney. In response to the overwhelming success of The Lion King, Disney executives knew they needed to generate a high level of interest in Pocahontas. The story itself, for the first time in Disney history, is based on American History. While there is still a debate between scholars as to whether Pocahontas’ role in history was accurate, this version focuses on the love story between her and Captain John Smith, a British settler (Broeske, 8). While history dictates that most children do not like movies based on history, Pocahontas proved that opinions could be changed, as it brought over $300 million in box office sales before finally being released on VHS and DVD.
The Walt Disney Company name is synonymous with words like wholesome, family values, and moral. Disney’s longstanding popularity with children and adults alike has fueled this media juggernaut into one of the largest corporations in the world. Essential to the success of all of the public relations activities was Disney’s efforts to leave no stone unturned in its attempts to generate unprecedented interest in its new film, Pocahontas (Harris, 169).
Broeske, Pat H. “The Pocamotion.” Entertainment Weekly. 260 (1995): 8
Harris, Thomas L. Value Added Public Relations – The Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing. Chicago: McGraw-Hill, 1998.