Beware of the 'Disney side'?

February 12, 2014, 12:31 PM · Do you have a "Disney side?"

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.

Robert on the Magic Kingdom parade rourte
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.

Replies (19)

February 12, 2014 at 2:46 PM · I see your point but let's not get too carried away with it here.

If the parks were falling apart, if there was common negligence, if there was maligned junk popping up in place of new quality then I could see a mocking #DisneySide movement on Twitter. I'm thinking of the Washington Nationals fans who jokingly mock their team's attempt at "Natitude" as a catchphrase by Tweeting pictures of people sleeping or reading the newspaper at games with #Natitude after it.

Disney fans are nowhere near this.

Sure, I could joke that if I decide what time I'm going to go to the grocery store, mow the lawn, and take out the garbage 6 months in advance, I'm "showing my Disney side." But that's not exactly funny. And you know what, the mere fact that I would associate a Fastpass with every day life IS showing my "Disney Side" and is kind of what they want anyway.

February 12, 2014 at 2:49 PM · Great post, Robert!

Yes, I admit I have two Pixar sweatshirts (one red, one green), own a pair of big yellow shoes for around the house, and have a WDW Cast Member license plate frame on my car. Everyone I work with knows I love Disney and used to work at EPCOT.

I love Universal Orlando. It's so much fun and very well done.

But it's not Disney. Disney has kind of become part of my identity, no different than my political or religious identity. I love Disney in a different way than Universal and it's not something that can be described very well. It's a feeling. Walking into a Disney park feels magical and makes me happy. Walking into Universal doesn't move me the same way, even if I'm bound to have more "fun".

And I will never wear a "Universal Studios" polo or express my love for Despicable Me or Shrek the same way that I could with Mickey Mouse.

I could write so much more on this, but the article is pretty thought-provoking. Thanks for writing it.

February 12, 2014 at 3:02 PM · I love the Disney parks. But there is no way I would ever wear Mickey ears or a Mickey Mouse shirt. I would turn ten shades of embarrassed red. Different things for different folks.
February 12, 2014 at 3:22 PM · They are not wrong to push "Disney Side" in light that they don't have anything to offer this year in the parks. This is the "off" year. They need to do something. It is the natural evolution of other "personal" campaigns where they used people's photos in the parks or sold novelty items like Beanies, Vinyls, and Pins as collectibles. Disney can do this because people are awfully affectionate about their products. There's nothing wrong with this, but we must keep in mind that this is just a marketing campaign.

Universal's biggest problem is not going this route. They could license many IPs, or bought them outright and display the characters in their parks. Too many times, they swap one character for another. Thus there is no consistent staying power of character building. Disney does this to great effect with their princesses and Mickey Mouse. Universal removed Curious George and will soon remove Shrek despite people who truly enjoy the characters and will like to keep seeing them in the parks. If Universal is smart, they will have a pernament agreement with Dreamworks Animation to allow their characters to always be in an Universal theme park; however, perhaps the ship has sailed. Dreamworks licensed their characters to be in other properties. Madagascar is no longer exclusive to Universal.

February 12, 2014 at 5:31 PM · My Disneyside custom t-shirt reads: "Di$ney NextGen: All about the Benjamin$"
February 13, 2014 at 7:48 AM · The Disney side clouds everything--
February 13, 2014 at 7:49 AM · Don't give in to hats. That leads to the Disney side---
February 13, 2014 at 8:06 AM · As someone who also spent a portion of their youth working at a major theme park - I must say I found this article suprisingly moving. Thank you.
February 13, 2014 at 9:06 AM · Disney does a great job being Disney - no doubt about it. I will admit that I cringed when I heard that Disney now owns Star Wars, and I HATE seeing R2-D2 in Mickey ears - it's just not right. My first exposure to the "Disney Side" campaign was seeing a commercial with a father using a long fluorescent light in a hardware store as a light saber. It ended with a caption saying something like, Show us your Disney side (obviously a nod to the "Dark Side"). I hated it. It was a slap in the face to Star Wars fans. It was their way of saying "we own this now and can do anything we want with it".

I appreciate Disney, enjoy the innovation of their products, but their over Disney-fication of everything is getting to be a bit much.

February 13, 2014 at 10:42 AM · As much as I have been critical about Disney, I love many things they have done. Disney is one reason I moved to Orlando. There is no denying they have a very strong brand (merchandise, toy’s, cable channel, collectables, cartoons, Disney stores, etc ;)

I am an Animation fan and have actually been more impressed with what Disney Animation has done the past 4 years; even more so then Pixar. I do have very different feelings when I visit Disney vs. Universal. (Both are good feelings, just different)

I think Disney is doing some ground breaking things at its other parks. (Car’s Land, Mystic Manor, Poo’s Honey Hut, Ratatouille, Journey to the Center of the Earth) It’s disappointing they seem to lack any vision for Disney World. I’m hoping things will change with Avatar.

I feel Universal is on the right track, but they have missed several opportunities to acquire licensed characters. (DC comics, Scobby Doo, Dreamworks) I really want Universal to create a “haunted attraction” and some type of “Fantasy Land” that both kids and adults can enjoy together. I also am tired of every attraction being tied to a franchise. While I am sure they make more money, I love the story of Expedition Everest. (no Yeti comments---please)

February 13, 2014 at 11:19 AM · Just throwing this out there: Imagine an alternate universe in which Disney has the theme park rights to Harry Potter, and Universal owns Star Wars. Frankly, I think that switch offers better thematic synergy with each company's other properties.

And FWIW, the headline of this post was an attempt to play off "Beware the Dark Side." The more I look at it, the more I think that it just didn't work. Star Wars and Disney are just a tough pair to blend.

February 13, 2014 at 6:13 PM · I think alot of this has to do with Disney's tie to our childhood. Disney in many senses is entrenched in most people's childhood. When I was a little kid in the 70s the only movies I was allowed to go to were Disney movies. Whether it's Davy Crocket, the Princesses, Mickey Mouse, Toy Story. These are the memories of our childhood. And when I enter a Disney park, it brings me back to that place.
Universal on the other hand is much more adult. Universal pictures is famous for their monster movies and their more adult fare (Ted, Breakfast Club, etc). When I enter a Universal park, I don't get those same feelings. When I go to USH with my kids, they want to see the movies that the rides are based on, but half of them are rated PG-13 or R.
February 13, 2014 at 7:34 PM · BTW, I gotta note that this is the first time I've posted the parade-roll-out photo and not elicited a snarky comment about it from TH in return. Let's see if he's reading! ;^)
February 14, 2014 at 8:21 AM · Disney side? I only have a universal side.
February 14, 2014 at 3:43 PM · I used to have a Disney side, but they became so greedy that they've taken it away from me.
February 15, 2014 at 1:16 PM · I think if you have a Disney side sometimes it's very strong. Especially for the people that can go there frequently. The thing is that if you are a super (disney-side) Diz fan. Going to the parks just feeds the obsession. I suffer from this. I do so get exited for the blog too! I want to share it with my world of friends but they just don't care. Disney can pay me for my obsession (laugh out loud). It's fine. If it works for them.
February 15, 2014 at 4:26 PM · While Disney might be the all encompasing corporation ready to smash Universal, Busch, and Six Flags, they do not have unlimited money.

All the things you mentioned: Carsland, Mystic Manor, Ratatouille are all in parks that desperately needed people in the parks stat. It wasn't too long ago TPI deemed DCA a near lost cause and DS in Paris as being the worst Disney park in the world (I actually agree with that one).

I also wouldn't say WDW is being left behind, New Fantasyland and Avatarland seem to be done or in the works.

Also, I really do not find Disney Side at all creepy. Maybe it is my midwestern sesabilities, but I read the promo as a way Disney comes into our everyday life.

Who hasn't started humming the Twilight Zone Theme in an elevator?

Ok, just me?

February 15, 2014 at 5:02 PM · I was chuckling at this article until I realized that I was wearing a Disney sweatshirt last weekend while I was raking the leaves in the yard. And every year my Christmas Wish List has a "Grumpy" ball cap on it (and every year my family members refuse to buy one for me).

I've got to admit it, even though I'm passionate about the Universal Parks in Orlando I still have a "Disney side."

February 17, 2014 at 8:04 PM · I am not ashamed of my Disney side. It's bright, happy, and believes that dreams can come true. To be fair though, I think all of my sides are like that. PS Robert, I love the photo!

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