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The Frozen frenzy: Marketing lessons from Disney's unstoppable franchise

By Anton Dominique, COO

February 3, 2015 | 4 min read

Disney’s animated feature Frozen has taken toy retailers by storm, with UK sales of all merchandise approaching £35m. As Disney releases stills from the new short film Frozen Fever, Anton Dominique from the London School of Marketing looks at how retail stores have capitalised on its success.

Last year the marketing executives at Disney underestimated how popular Elsa, Anna and Olaf were going to be, with merchandise selling out in minutes worldwide.

This is hardly surprising considering the film’s success – Frozen is the biggest animated film worldwide and the fifth biggest film of all time, racking up £40m at the UK Box Office alone.

However, the merchandising has been considerably higher in proportion to a relatively modest £800m box office total with more than 200 toys available.

But this isn’t Disney’s first experience of this kind of success in the merchandise industry – the company owns four of the top five toy franchises in the UK and US.

Last Christmas, the retail stores were prepared for the Frozen frenzy. In a rare move, they introduced caps on how much customers could buy in one transaction in certain stores.

At the Disney Store, customers were limited on certain Frozen toys to only buying two per person and retail toy giant Toys R Us imposed similar restrictions for online orders.

While these sales strategies are for stock control, they are also interesting to observe from a marketing perspective.

They demonstrate a new form of psychological promoting. When you don’t get what you want, you want it even more – that’s human nature.

When it comes to delivering the Frozen merchandise, Disney is expertly applying restrictions to further heighten the attention and perceived scarcity for media hype.

On the other hand, while these stores aimed for exclusivity for their customers, it also pushed customers away to look for other alternatives.

Discount stores like Poundworld have seized the Frozen market, introducing hundreds of themed products to flog to customers who can’t get or afford the coveted Disney Store goods.

Pressurised parents have bombarded these shops to find all the Frozen-themed goodies they can – with some stores reporting fights over merchandise.

These Frozen frenzies made national headlines and did Poundworld’s marketing job for it – it is the place to come for mass stock of Frozen products.

And it’s not just retail stores that have used Disney’s highest-grossing film of all time to market themselves.

Anna and Elsa can also be spotted on products that are nothing to do with the film, like on packages of the recent teen girl craze Loom bands and even cans of soup.

Marketing researchers are finding that whilst in the film everything Elsa touches turns to ice, in merchandise terms it turns to gold.

But why is it that over a year on it’s still so popular? It boils down to Disney’s new business strategy that pursues aggressive initiatives to challenge the status quo.

Frozen is universally acceptable as it is driven by sibling love instead of romantic obsessions.

Disney’s marketing executives have put in their fullest effort to display the uniqueness of Frozen from its very beginning.

They successfully portrayed how Frozen is not about how every girl should dream of being a rescued by a prince but yet still starred princess protagonists.

I believe Disney will keep challenging the status quo and revolutionising the direction of animated films – and providing mountains of merchandise along with it.


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