Beware of the 'Disney side'?
Published: February 12, 2014 at 12:31 PM
That's the question Disney's asking with its latest social media campaign, which uses blog posts, videos, and sponsored events to encourage people to show their affinity for all things Disney. It's a brilliant way to get fans to become more active, by showing off their love for the company. And, of course, it doesn't hurt merchandise sales when people show their "Disney side" with buying more hats, shirts, and other apparel and becoming walking billboards for Disney.
Yours truly, showing his 'Disney side' — when he worked there.
Yet while some fans and business analysts might see the brilliance in the "Disney side" campaign, the efforts might strike others as a bit, well, creepy. Think about the campaign's name for a moment. Are we really so willing to devote a "side" of our personality, a portion of our very existence, to a company like this? It's one thing to be a fan. It's something else to assign a company, a team, or an artist, with part of our identity. Yet that's what the "Disney side" campaign calls us to do.
But, let's face it, people do this stuff all the time. (Just go wander around the parking lot tailgate parties before a big football game if you doubt it.) If Disney wants to exploit that enthusiasm, they're a business and have the right to give it a go. Yet, the "Disney side" campaign is worth considering here because it illustrates something important for theme park fans, in particular, to remember.
Disney might be the world's market-share leader in theme parks. But this campaign shows that Disney doesn't really see itself as being in the theme park business. The "Disney side" campaign illustrates the company's belief that its product is not theme parks. Nor movies. Nor TV shows. Disney's product is "Disney" — a brand unto itself, reflective and inclusive of all the company's products.
That is why Disney as a company, ultimately, doesn't care what Universal does with Harry Potter. It doesn't care how much other companies are spending on new attractions, hotels, or anything else. Because those other theme parks, those other companies, are not and never can be "Disney" — the product that Disney ultimately sells. You see fans echoing this belief in persistent online dismissals of Universal and other theme parks for lacking "magic." That's just code for "not Disney."
It's the leader's prerogative to focus on its own performance and worry not at all by those competitors behind it. But theme park fans might hope that Disney not forget what pushed the company to that leading position in entertainment. The "Disney side" campaign might help activate existing enthusiasm for the company, but it doesn't create much new passion for Disney. It's new movies, new TV shows, and, yes, new theme park attractions which do that.
It's great for Disney — and its fans — that the company has managed to cultivate this powerful brand identity. But the power of this brand can become a threat as well as an asset for Disney. The brand, developed to this level, can by itself deliver value to the company. But to remain at that level, eventually the company must invest new value in that brand.
Frozen is a great new investment in that Disney brand, one of the more powerful the company's made in years. Cars Land and Buena Vista Street were great investments for Disney at Disneyland. Mystic Manor invigorated Hong Kong Disneyland. Ratatouille: The Ride promises to do the same for the very needy Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. For globe-hopping theme park fans, the company's never done better at protecting and extending its brand.
But you might notice that I didn't mention Florida. Disney World fans get more animated these days when complaining about what they see wrong with the resort than when lauding what they see going right there. Sure, many fans will mount a defense of what remains the world's most popular theme park destination, but you simply don't see the same passion in their comments online these days as you do when the verbal knives come out over long Fastpass+ return queues, the lack of new attractions in Epcot, and delays in developing Star Wars Land.
Disney wants you to show your "Disney side" — so long as that involves wearing Mickey ears, putting together character-inspired "Disney-bound" outfits, and posting your WDW vacation videos online. But if "showing your Disney side" becomes an act of complaining about what's missing or now frustrating at the Walt Disney World Resort, well, that's not a side of its fans that Disney should be proud to see.