Analysis: Will cutting FB ad dollars hamper Disney+ global awareness?

Disney has caused quite a stir over the weekend with its reported move to cut ad spend on Facebook. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which cited its sources, Disney has slashed advertising of its streaming video service Disney+, as it is concerned about the way Facebook is handling objectionable content. Disney has declined to comment on Marketing's queries.

Although Disney joins a slew of brands who are joining the "Facebook ad boycott", what may be surprising is that it paused advertising on one of its newly-launched streaming programme. First released in the US in November 2019, Disney+ also said it has plans to further expand into Singapore. Given its freshness in the market, one may wonder how else can Disney push advertising of its streaming platform to boost awareness during this early stage of growth.

Industry players Marketing spoke to seem to be unfazed that Disney is moving away from the social media giant. An industry professional said with such a move, one has to assume that the Disney would have employed a multi-prong reach strategy or plan to drive awareness of Disney+. These strategies will probably leverage on Disney's multiple-owned and paid partner channels and ecosystems with a high reach and active base of subscribers of the audience that it intends to reach.

The industry professional also foresees Disney tapping onto its owned global cable and digital channels and platforms, which includes but is not limited to its Disney Channels, ESPN, and Fox Networks. Moreover, the brand can also use existing digital and social ecosystems such as Google (YouTube in particular), Hotstar in India, and NTT Docomo in Japan. Emerging platforms such as  TikTok, as well as esports platforms such as Fortnite, can also be effective platforms to advertise Disney+, he added. Notably, Disney's former chairman of direct-to-consumer & International Kevin Mayer being appointed as TikTok's CEO, and as such a partnership might be in works, the industry professional said.

"While not being able to leverage Facebook (probably for the time being) does impact its reach, Disney+ does have a captive audience on other platforms that it can still effectively target," he said. In its recent financial report, Disney reported 33.5 million paid subscribers for Disney+, 7.9 million paid subscribers for ESPN+, and 32.1 million paid subscribers for Hulu in March.

Sebastien Lepez, founder and CEO of Jolt Digital agreed that there are plenty of channels that can deliver reach and engagement for not only Disney+, but for all the other brands that have chosen to cut their ad spend on Facebook. Brands can look to programmatic buying, or even engaging adtech companies that will help them come up with an integrated plan that delivers better performance when advertising.

Maybe it is a good thing that some brands are stopping using Facebook since it will bring back to the consideration some non-duopoly solutions.

On the other hand, Ramakrishnan CN, partner at Entropia Group and head of EXR (Entropia Xtended Reality), is of the view that cutting its reach and engagement with Facebook users is not the biggest problem Disney is facing. Although he acknowledges that removing Facebook from a brand's advertising mix will hurt purchase motivations, Ramakrishnan feel that it may not significantly impact the roll-out of Disney+. 

According to Ramakrishnan, people are now actively looking out for streaming content, and all streaming services are seeing an uptake over this COVID-19 lockdown. "People are in a scouring mode, and with the armory of titles that Disney has, it should be reasonably easy for them to find the traction they need with or without Facebook advertising," he said, adding that Disney can also use more of local publishers, outdoors, and more contextual touchpoints to advertise its streaming platform.

A bigger problem Disney might face when rolling out Disney+ is the possible condition of "subscription fatigue", Ramakrishnan said. "With Netflix and Prime doubling down on their effort in this region and tons of regional and language-specific services, it is a torrent of choices for the average consumer," he added. Besides having to compete with all the other streaming platforms, Disney+ will also need to compete with other entertainment avenues out there when social restrictions are eased and they get back into business. Furthermore, consumers will have increased urge to be out of home once social restrictions are eased, which may make it more difficult for Disney+ to remain top of mind.

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