Toy Story 3 broke records when it took $1 billion in the box office in 2010 – it has nostalgia, comedy, lovable characters, and suspense.  But it also had a team of social media experts behind its launch which helped propel it become the most successful animated film of all time.

Cute characters, romance, comedy, excitement – and social media – the ingredients for a great film, and a great product launch

Toy Story was released in 1995 – since then it has taken $191,796,233.

The sequel, Toy Story 2 (released in 1999), blitzed this, taking $245,852,179.

The latest release, Toy Story 3, reached $1 billion at the worldwide box office in August 2010, making it the most successful animated film of all time.  I love it, my 3-year-old loves it (and tells me every day his name is ‘Buzz Lightyear, not Will’).

So how did Disney Pixar convince mums, dads, kids, students, grannies, grandads and even adults without kids to spend their money on seeing the film and buying the merchandise?

The generation game

In the months leading up to the film’s release, as well as targeting young children and families through print and TV advertising, Disney Pixar also used social media with great effect, engaging with twenty somethings to build interest among this age group before the film’s release.

As covered by Mashable, they offered special screenings to college students via Facebook, released 1980s-style “adverts” for Lots-o-huggin’ Bear on You Tube, and also released this short film of Ken.

Okay so they have a pretty big budget, but there are things small businesses can learn from their success.

1.  Segment your audience

The same message won’t work for different customers.  With Toy Story 3, adults loved the nostalgia of the 1980s Lots-o-huggin’ Bear adverts and Ken’s dreamhouse.  Teenagers loved the adult humour.  Kids loved the colours, the lovable toys and the adventure.

Think about your different customer groups and what messages are relevant to them about your products and your business.

2.  Generate buzz (I mean ‘interest’, not Lightyear)

Before you launch a new product range, get people talking about it – tease them with samples, invite them to share their experiences of using it once it’s launched.  Pantene did this with their recent ‘swish’ campaign, asking customers to upload their own videos of hair swishing after using their shampoo.

Visualise a customer using your product, and think what they might want to tell you about it if they love it.  Does it:

  • save them time
  • make their life easier
  • boost their confidence
  • impress their friends
  • help them in their job
  • give them freedom

Once you understand why your customers use your product, you can think of ways to encourage them to talk about it and share photos of theirs – car companies invite customers to upload their car photos to Facebook, sharing the car’s adventures with other drivers.  What could you do?

3.  Switch channels

To reach all those different audiences, Disney Pixar used tools from across the promotional mix – traditional print advertising, billboards, cinema and television adverts, as well as new media to give an interactive experience.

You might want to make a video demonstrating how to use your product, or write an ebook that relates to your product and publicise it via Twitter and Facebook.

Toy Story toys free with McDonalds

These toys were given away free with McDonalds Happy Meal prior to the launch of the films

4.  Give them stuff

Think of freebies you can use to get your new product name out there in the world.

  • Provide free desktop wallpapers (featuring your brand but in a subtle way)
  • tips sheets on accessorising your product
  • blank gift cards customers can send on
  • branded e-cards
  • free samples

Not only are you trying to get your potential customers interested in your product, this is also a good way of building a customer database.  Use a sign-up form that collates their contact details (name and email address unless you’re posting them something), then when you launch the product, you can send them an email to announce its availability, and maybe even a discount voucher if they refer a friend.

Put your thinking hat on and see what ideas you can come up with for your business – share them in the comments below.

About the author: Lucy Thornton is a copywriter for small businesses – in addition to writing content for their websites, blogs, sales letters and brochures, she also offers social media coaching to bring results from their online activity. Join her mailing list here or download her free eBook here.

PS And if you make an ‘advert’ anywhere near as brilliant as the Ken one, please post a link below as we could all do with something to smile at.