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As Florida Standoff Continues, Disney Ad Chief Rita Ferro Calls On Upfront Buyers In New York To “Lean Into All Aspects Of Diversity”

Rita Ferro, Disney’s ad sales and partnerships chief, urged media buyers at the company’s New York upfront Tuesday to “lean into all aspects of diversity” with their marketing commitments.

“Multicultural is mainstream,” she said. “When people see themselves on the screen, it stays with them. It builds community and fandom. You saw it in the opening sizzle,” a video reel featuring titles like She-Hulk, The Little Mermaid and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. “We have the best storytelllers who understand culture and how we talk to communities in relevant ways.”

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Not surprisingly, Ferro didn’t refer specifically to anything outside Disney, but her remarks came as the company continues to joust with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. While one key battleground has been DisneyWorld and control of the surrounding Reedy Creek Improvement District, the company has also become a convenient target of the governor’s culture-war broadsides. When the company was being led last year by CEO Bob Chapek, its handling of Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” legislation prompted internal backlash and also enabled DeSantis and other conservatives to tag the company as “Woke Disney.”

Ferro acknowledged Disney’s current chief, Bob Iger, who was not in attendance at the upfront, as well as top exec trop Dana Walden, Alan Bergman and Jimmy Pitaro.

Along with the overtures related to diversity and inclusion, Ferro touted Disney’s technology and ability to “be prepared to meet every moment” during recent years of disruption.

The new ad-supported tier of Disney+, she said, will soon offer advertisers the same capabilities as Hulu, which has steadily scaled its ad-supported streaming operation over more than 15 years. Streaming, as Iger articulated on the company’s quarterly earnings call last week, is a linchpin in the company’s effort to leverage its relationships with advertisers. In a sign of that strategic focus, Ferro earned a mention by name during Iger’s remarks on the call.

“No other company in media or technology is driving change like we are,” Ferro declared. “We own our own tech and our own audience graph.” That graph, she explained, harnesses the power of digital data to enable ad buyers to “target more precisely.” It offers buyers 250 million identifying characteristics across 112 million households and hundreds of thousands of audience attributes.

More than one-third of Disney’s ad transactions are handled programmatically, Ferro explained, meaning computer tools help make a match between what a marketer is selling and a viewer’s interests. “Every single upfront deal this year will have programmatic at its core,” she said.

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