'I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse,' Walt Disney famously said just before he died.
But as Disney geared up to celebrate 75 years of Mickey Mouse last November, the entertainment giant appeared worried that it had lost sight of exactly that. Although the character has appeared in recent films, his cartoons are rarely shown on TV.
With a 3D movie starring the mouse lined up for release later this year, Disney decided to use Mickey's anniversary to raise the profile of its oldest star as a cultural icon and childhood friend, rather than just a corporate logo. Cow Communications was drafted in to handle the brief.
To support Disney franchises in the UK by generating excitement around Mickey and Minnie Mouse's birthday. To draw upon Mickey's heritage and portray the mouse as 'retro cool' while bringing his profile up to date. To highlight Mickey's position as a cartoon character and cultural style icon.
Strategy and Plan
Aware that the period of the anniversary was a prime season for Christmas shopping stories, Cow's PR team approached Selfridges with a view to having two Mickey and Minnie windows in its flagship Oxford Street store. Selfridges' windows are at a premium over the pre-Christmas period but the team's pitch was timely as the store was in the middle of promoting its range of retro Mickey Mouse T-shirts.
The PR team successfully sold the concept to the retailer with the hook that several top fashion designers would create a series of original anniversary items to be exhibited in one of the windows. The items would then be auctioned to benefit Selfridges' chosen charities Barnardo's and Children in Need, an event taking place during the anniversary. The other window would have a cultural atmosphere, featuring Mickey memorabilia donated by Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood.
Cow then approached 12 fashion designers and asked them to design an item that showed what Mickey and Minnie meant to them. LuLu Guinness produced a special handbag, Bella Freud a cake and Julien MacDonald a dress. All designers contributed their items for free.
Meanwhile, the in-house team approached celebrities such as Phil Collins and Busted to endorse the anniversary, and developed a press kit. Disney also pulled together a press release about anniversary product launches, colourful facts about Mickey and Minnie Mouse through the ages, and a cleaned-up archive film. Design agency FrontPage created a teaser of a Mickey countdown clock that was sent to over 500 media outlets.
Cow promoted the campaign to regional and national radio stations by sending them free products for competitions. The team also asked celebrity Mickey Mouse fan Jonathan Ross to comment on the anniversary, and persuaded him to do a Film 2003 comment piece on Mickey films through the ages.
On the day of the anniversary, Cow set up a running schedule of TV and radio interviews with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and representatives from Disney in one of the London Eye pods.
Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign achieved coverage in 20 national newspapers, including The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the Daily Mirror and the Financial Times, plus 22 regional newspapers, including the Evening Standard, Metro and The Scotsman. Among the broadcast media, Richard and Judy, Channel 4 News, ITN, Working Lunch, Sky News and the BBC all covered the anniversary, along with 70 radio stations, 45 of which ran competitions. Independent evaluation by media agency Carat revealed that 206 million opportunities to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse were generated.
The majority of the press that covered the story mentioned that Mickey Mouse was a cultural icon and a retro fashion emblem. Furthermore, the designer items raised more than £10,000 for charities at auction.
'The team was very organised and helpful,' says Film 2003 researcher Rocio Cano. 'We were sent a good selection of footage that allowed us to see how Mickey had changed. We received everything we needed, which is actually quite unusual.'
Working Lunch consumer affairs correspondent Virginia Eastman agrees the campaign was well run. 'We were very pleased to get the archive footage as it made it possible for us to cover the story in a creative way. We were given the tools to put together a comprehensive package on Mickey as an iconic image.'