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Disney wants to help brands reach its Black and brown audience more effectively

A new partnership with Translation aims to meet brands’ urgency to connect with culture—and more diverse consumers.

Disney wants to help brands reach its Black and brown audience more effectively
[Photo: NASA; Stephen Monterroso/Unsplash]
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Back in April, ESPN CreativeWorks worked with agency Translation to create the most memorable ad around the insanely popular Michael Jordan doc The Last Dance. The impeccably timed creative manipulation of ’90s-era Sports Center footage was a slam dunk for State Farm.

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Now, ESPN parent Disney today announced a multiyear partnership with Translation to work with brand marketers across all the company’s media properties like ABC, Hulu, and National Geographic.

President of Disney Advertising Sales Rita Ferro says that they had been working on new and more effective ways to engage with more diverse audiences for years. They have a dedicated team focusing on Spanish-language advertising work, but major marketers often would talk about the importance of the African American consumer or the Latino consumer as part of their overall strategy, asking for a solution that would justify the investment in those audiences.

“Ultimately, we were in a place where we knew creative storytelling mattered, but we also wanted to be able to scale it across audiences, and scale the expertise with people who had experience with brands on how to make culturally relevant creative stand out in the media business,” says Ferro. “Disney has scale and brands that matter. We wanted to take that as a foundational platform, and use the best brand partnerships—like we did with Steve and Translation on State Farm, and what we did with CreativeWorks with Ford—to create moments that stand out and drive brands’ business.”

Ferro began talking to Translation CEO Steve Stoute last year, then worked with his agency on the State Farm ad. Stoute has long said that Black culture is pop culture, and the brands that understand this will create work that resonates. With this new partnership, the agency founder says that the cultural shift around the Black Lives Matter movement has forced more brands to reckon with their approach, and moved effective communication with diverse audiences from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have.

“As an African-American leader of a mainstream agency for the last 15 years, this was a watershed moment for me, as I’ve been fighting the headwinds of trying to get a seat at the table, to make work for major companies and not be segmented to just the African American audience,” says Stoute. “Now, they’re leaning in, understanding that ethnic insights are the insights of popular culture. Diversity is a way to connect to youth.”

The timing of this deal comes at a time when major brands are working on a scale of rapid to scrambling in order to address their communication with Black and Latinx audiences. Ferro and Stoute began talking about this last year, but the mood among clients has shifted significantly over the past few months. Ferro says that many brands have done a good job in connecting with a diverse audience, but there is a renewed commitment to make that more consistent.

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“I think it’s about intention, focus, and priority,” she says. “The buying power of Black and brown audiences is well known, and yet the media dollars that should be dedicated to them hasn’t always been there, because brands plan their media to reach as many people as possible. I think there was a less-than intentional strategy in place to make sure the messaging was correct, that the representation of diverse audiences in the storytelling is correct, and that brands are investing against audiences who are some of their best customers. And the ones who do it best will see the best results.”

Stoute says there are a lot of marketers with good intentions, but too often agencies don’t have the diverse talent to understand those diverse audiences. “That’s an ingredient necessary to achieve great outcomes with authentic culture,” he says. “But there are well-intended CMOs and media buyers who are looking for a solution, and we believe we can help them with that.”

Ferro is betting the new partnership will help Disney better serve its media marketing clients and its own audience.

“When we think about the work we’ve done as CreativeWorks,” she says, “the partnership with Steve takes us to another level and assures (clients) we’ll be able to continue to do that authentically with Black and brown audiences while moving the needle on their business.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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