Universal steps up promotion of a unifying brand for its theme parks

February 21, 2017, 10:17 PM · Universal's theme parks dropped a new ad campaign today. Okay, that normally would not be terribly significant news, except that the new campaign brands "Universal Parks & Resorts" in Hollywood & Orlando, rather than the separate "Universal Orlando Resort" and "Universal Studios Hollywood," as the company has publicized consistently in the past. The campaign includes the launch of a new UniversalParks.com website.

This marks Universal's most public attempt to date to create a unifying brand for its theme park business. Of course, Universal's relatively new to the game of actually owning the theme parks that carry its brand. Before 2011, Universal jointly owned its Orlando resort with Blackstone Group, and Universal owner Comcast bought majority control of USJ Co. — the owner of Universal Studios Japan — in 2015. Prior to those moves, Universal actually had full ownership only of its original, Hollywood property, which was the fourth most-visited of the Universal-branded theme parks, following Universal Studios Japan and the two Universal Orlando parks.

The fifth Universal-branded theme park, Universal Studios Singapore, is owned and operated by Resorts World Sentosa, under license from NBCUniversal. Its attendance lags the other Universal theme parks, drawing 4.2 million visitors in 2015, compared with the 13.9 to 7.1 million annual visitors at Universal's other parks, according to the most recent TEA/AECOM Theme Index attendance report.

Here's the new commercial, by the way:

Notice the heavy shade thrown toward Disney's princess franchise toward the end there. While Universal might just now be working to establish a unifying brand for its theme parks, it's long honed a specific, unifying identity for them, and this commercial reinforces that message — that Universal is the place for people who looking for something a little more thrilling, a little more challenging, and well, a little less earnest than Disney's shiny, happy, princess lands.

(Now, whether Universal consistently delivers that kind of experience, and whether Disney's parks really are that simplistic, both are subjects for other debates that will keep all of us eagerly engaged in a never-ending Disney vs. Universal flame war. But that's the message that Universal is going for here, IMHO.)

The Walt Disney Company's theme parks years ago adopted a common "Disney Parks" branding for its properties, going so far as to scrap park- or even resort-specific branding on paper cups, plates, and plastic souvenir bags in favor of the "Disney Parks" brand. Many fans hated that move and continue to long for more park- and resort-specific branding, so we'll see if Universal begins to emulate Disney on its in-park branding as well as its national ad campaigns.

Replies (10)

February 21, 2017 at 10:34 PM · At the same time as Disney has "Disney Parks" paperware and bags, they have distinct resort merchandise (pins, shirts, etc.) and to wear insignia of one Disney park to another is what one might do to indicate that one is a worldly, travelled fan, and not just a local. Whereas it is frankly pretty difficult to get nice apparel or accessories that indicate USH or UO. I don't need to buy souvenirs in Hollywood that I could get in Orlando, or vice versa, whereas I wouldn't hesitate to get the same thing with each logo. They're leaving some of my money on the table, for sure. Paper plates, who cares. Soft goods makes money, or not.
February 21, 2017 at 11:16 PM · This kind of campaign might encourage more tourists (as opposed to California locals) to try USH. The problem is that USH is a one-day park, whereas you can easily spend 3-4 days (or more) at Universal Orlando. And with Volcano Bay opening soon, the gulf between the two will widen even more. The company risks disappointing people who've been to Orlando and then go to USH, expecting it to rival the East Coast resort.
February 22, 2017 at 3:48 AM · They try to explain the brand in the US to US customers.What those parks offers is different then what Disney offers and that is great because Disney has their target public and are doing a decent job serving them. Universal offers more of an edge. They are not hesitant to make an experience more intense. Due to their current success it shows there is a growing market for that. It gives future guests a taste of what they are about and that you shouldn't expect Disney but something else.
February 22, 2017 at 9:14 AM · The Universal Parks brand is uneven. There is a lot of difference between Hollywood and Orlando. One is an actual studio, the other is a theme park resort. The studios portion is misleading since the theme park showcases other studios' movies as attractions. Universal certainly tries to attract an older audience, but the commercial did it so generically that its heart got lost. Not a good commercial.
February 22, 2017 at 9:15 AM · It's great they are finally making it clear there are 2 parks, Hollywood and Orlando. I'm not sure how many people on the west coast know there is another park in Florida.

However, I still think they desperately need to rename the Florida Studios park. I think calling Orlando "Universal Studios" is a real discredit to Islands of Adventure. As a native west coaster I had no desire to fly 3000 miles just to see a Hollywood clone. Before Wizarding World, I had no clue there was something else to see in Orlando (except for a different Kong and Jaws).

Even the Wizarding World commercials were confusing. After months of Harry Potter commercials (for Diagon Alley), there were suddenly more Harry Potter commercials (for west coast Potter) with very little to distinguish the 2 except for some small text in the logo.

Is there any reason to still call Orlando a Studios park? I think it would be better to call it Universal Hollywood Studios and Universal Orlando.

February 22, 2017 at 12:08 PM · The problem combining their advertising is that it means they can't include the Marvel attractions, since they are only in Orlando and if they tried to insinuate they were elsewhere, other than Japan for only about 10 more years, they would violate the contract. The problem with that is that not advertising Marvel for Orlando violates the contract too. They have to do two sets of advertising until they give up the rights. But they could always reach a deal with Disney and who knows maybe Universal could get the world wide rights to Spiderman in exchange for giving up the Marvel name and allowing everything Marvel else in WDW. This would be a good deal for everyone.
February 22, 2017 at 1:32 PM · This actually makes a lot of sense as there really isn't that much difference between the Hollywood and Orlando parks anymore, at least in terms of attractions. Yes, Hollywood is still adjacent to a movie studio and you see some of that on the studio tour, but a majority of the tour is now staged events similar to stand-alone attractions in Florida. Everything else at USH has an identical or equivalent attraction in Florida as well, so other than the setting and theming of some areas there isn't a whole lot of difference between them. In fact, I'd estimate there are proportionately more unique attractions between the two Disney resorts than between the Universal parks.
February 22, 2017 at 2:34 PM · This is what in the ad world is called a manifesto or an "anthem" spot. It expresses the overall theme of what's being promoted.

As for the single branding, the real reason for a spot like this is to use national cable vs. local buys. There will still be ads for individual parks and attractions/lands in local markets. But now you have a really easy and more cost efficient way--national cable (and even broadcast TV)--to run an ad for all of your properties in one buy. The intended audience will decide whether and which to visit, based upon distance and other factors. Also note that the end of the spot says, "Universal Parks & Resorts" not "Studios."

The message makes a lot of sense--Universal parks have a bit more edge, that you have to be "ready" for it. What is different is the kids are a bit younger than many of the past, non-HP, Universal ads--clearly tweens, not teens.

February 24, 2017 at 10:00 AM · I caught this spot unaware on TV. Until they showed Hogwarts, I thought it was a Disney commercial. Theming was remarkable similar. Dreams come true and all that...
February 25, 2017 at 5:44 AM · @ I can't imagine Disney would consider giving up the worldwide rights to Spider-Man to be equitable. He's the Marvel equivalent of Mickey Mouse. There's a reason he was doing Meet & Greets before Disney even got the Spider-Man movies into the MCU.

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