I was a junior in high school when the first High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel in 2006 … and I was OBSESSED. Of course dreamy Zac Efron, with his piercing blue eyes and subtly highlighted hair was what initially drew me in. The catchy songs and extravagant dance numbers were what made me, and 225 million other viewers around the globe, glued to the TV screen when Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) twirled and sang on stage for their grand finale to “Breaking Free.”
Like with every successful franchise, Disney began plastering ‘High School Musical’ all over household items, just in case there are some people in the world that haven’t heard about the movie yet. I am still proudly using my pink Gabriella laundry basket. Furthermore, the film’s DVD sold 1.2 million copies in the first 6 days, making it the fastest-selling film in history. This phenomenon also spawned two more sequels, a book series, and an international concert tour where the lead actors performed their hit songs on stage in major cities around the United States, Canada and Latin America.
Along with the original songs from the film, the leading actresses got their own record deals from Disney-owned label, Hollywood Records, and got a chance to sing their songs on the tour too. See the master marketing plan there? Use the popularity of the film to promote up-and-coming projects. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale would agree, since both their debut albums became certified Platinum and Gold, respectively.
Not to be outdone, the film’s other stars just their chance to be Disney promoters too. Lucas Grabeel played small supporting role in Disney Channel’s movie Halloweentown High back in 2004, but was not as well known as he was until after HSM. Then in late 2006, Disney came out with the sequel, Return to Halloweentown, and all of a sudden, Grabeel went from zero to hero! The sound bite to the trailer went something like this:
“Introducing Disney Channel’s newest original movie Return to Halloweentown … blah blah blah … staring High School Musical’s Lucas Grabeel … blah blah blah … coming soon.”
Corbin Bleu probably had the biggest opportunity when he was given his own original movie to star in, Jump In! The same concept that made HSM so popular was applied: a teenager forced by a parent to partake in an extracurricular activity that he hates, until he finds the courage and strength within himself to break away and join an activity he actually loves. In HSM, it was a star basketball player’s love for musicals; for Jump In!, it was a star boxing champion’s love for Double Dutch jump rope. To a trained adult eye, it clearly looks like a marketing tactic. For Disney’s children and teen demographic, which is the only one that matters, it is getting to see their favorite stars over and over again.
Well played, Disney.
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