The Walt Disney Company achieved much of its popularity due to its powerful marketing strategies. It has won the preference of many generations through its films, characters, television programs and theme parks.
In recent years, one of Disney’s main strategies has been the production of live-action remakes of its classic films. These movies were part of the childhood of many generations and Disney is now remaking the stories we all know and love in a live-action format. The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Aladdin… all recently re-launched with real-life characters.
The Little Mermaid was not left out. Disney recently announced its plans to relaunch the iconic film, with production set to begin in early 2020. An unsurprising move considering recent remakes. However, its casting choice for the lead character has raised some questions from devoted fans. Millennials and older generations remember Ariel as a fair-skinned, red-headed mermaid — very different from the actress and singer Halle Bailey.
The casting choice caused a stir on social media, dividing users into those who applauded Disney’s casting bid and those who criticized it. The surprising move, however, goes far beyond Bailey’s undeniable talent: she has starred in popular sitcoms, opened shows for Beyoncé and is part of the Chloe x Halle duo.
The breakthrough casting perfectly exemplifies our ever-evolving social climate. At an increasing rate, Hollywood productions are straying from traditional —and often classicist and misogynistic— casting tendencies to a more inclusive and diverse pool, finally paving the long-awaited way for historically underrepresented groups to excel in the entertainment industry. Disney seems to be focusing on supporting inclusion and diversity and portraying it throughout its newest projects. Disney’s modus operandi heavily relies on creating marketing strategies that connect with its audiences on an emotional level, raising the question: is its latest casting bid a glimpse into its new strategy for connecting with the younger generation?
Disney’s know-how is based on nostalgia and love branding, which is constantly adapting to suit newer generations’ tastes and preferences. To paraphrase marketing and digital media expert, Leoncio Cruz, they are wagering their efforts on reviving classic characters by adapting them to newer generations, technologies, and ways of life. Their characters continue to drive generational love branding.
On the flip side, nostalgia marketing is based on reliving moments from the past, hence the backlash of the new Little Mermaid casting choice. This time, Disney has wagered on reaching new, younger audiences by giving visibility to underrepresented groups in its productions.
Production companies are aware that casting actors who fall outside the stereotypes to which we are used to has a huge positive impact on society. Promoting social change requires milestone-making decisions and bringing about changes in content. Disney knows, and works, around this, evidenced not only by The Little Mermaid, but also by its Frozen, Brave, and The Princess and the Frog productions.
Last but not least, Disney is also making commercially driven strides with this marketing strategy, sparking high anticipation for the film. The Little Mermaid is on everyone’s minds, creating expectations, and slowly building up to its market potential even in its pre-production stages. Although we still don’t know how this live-action remake will be publicly received, we do know Disney is successfully reaching its new target audience.