Let's talk about Disney make-overs and the psychology of splurging

December 4, 2017, 3:48 PM · Disney for years has been selling parents (and grandparents, and wealthy aunts and uncles) the opportunity to get their little girls dressed up as princesses at its Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques. Later, when the company recognized that it was leaving money on the table by not offering a dress-up product for boys, it started offering packages to transform them into knights, too.

Now, Disney is expanding the inventory again. On its Star Wars Day at Sea on the Disney Cruise Line's Disney Fantasy this spring, the company will offer make-overs into selected Star Wars characters in its on-board Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Kids ages 3-12 can be transformed into Rey, Kylo Ren, Princess Leia, or a Rebel X-wing pilot.

My kids are long past the target age for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. As my daughter spent more Halloweens dressed as Buzz Lightyear than Disney princesses, we probably would have been a lot more open to splurging on that experience had it included other characters back then.

But it's not simply a matter of stocking more costumes and training cast members to apply different hairstyles. Part of what makes the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique so enticing to many families is that you're buying an experience in addition to the make-over. The brilliant title of the boutique references the song in 1950's Cinderella when the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella from a lowly chambermaid into a debutante worthy of becoming a princess. It is that moment that grandma is paying to recreate for her granddaughter at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Disney understands that the context of the make-over is important, which is why it created a separate Pirates League location for pirate and mermaid-themed transformations at the Walt Disney World Resort. On a cruise ship, with its limited space, Disney couldn't easily create a new space for its Star Wars transformations. So the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique gets its temporary meta make-over.

Who knows, though? Perhaps the success of these Star Wars make-overs might entice Disney to develop a permanent, Star Wars-themed character make-over experience in its theme parks. Or to create similar experiences based on other themes.

Imagine it: "Transform your Grandpa into Carl from "Up," in Disneyland's new Pixar Parlor!" Okay, maybe that's reaching too far.

But maybe not. Given how much people adore some of these characters, and how much parks are willing to invest to create more immersive, interactive experiences, it follows logically that parks ought to be developing Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique-style experiences for all of their associated franchises that offer a transformative moment in the canon that could be adapted as a make-over experience for fans. Heck, rival Universal is leaving a ton of money on the table by not offering a house-sorting, robe-fitting, wand-selecting tour of Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. How much would you pay for that?

Look, if all you want is a princess dress and an up-do, you can get that at home. But a run to Party City and mom's hair-styling don't give you a moment in the castle with costumed attendants transforming you into a princess. That's the value of something like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. And that's the future of theme park merchandise.

It's not just about selling you stuff. It's about selling you experiences — moments that you cannot purchase anywhere else — along with the stuff that reminds you, and others, about that moment. And adding an experience to the merchandise allows retailers to slap on quite an up-charge — extra money that fans are often very willing to pay. It's all about the psychology of splurging, and what parks can do to encourage you to be willing to spend.

What character transformation experience would you pay for a loved one to have in a theme park?

Replies (6)

December 5, 2017 at 7:10 AM · I get it, people 've been to WDW a gazillion times and are bored out of their head with the amazing rides, theming, shows and parades. So what else can you do than to buy of you guild due to neglecting your child the whole year to pay for the trip so you give it a make-over. Synthetic cloth, makeup and glitter gel all applied by a low paid cast member who is forced to treat your offspring as royalty and spent quality time with them. It sure is worth the time and money. Especially when all other cast members have to go out of their way to acknowledge the investment and give even more attention.
Guess what, I'm a bit cynical about it. But there is a market for it and it's a great way for kids from less fortunate parents to notice that even at Disney no one is equal and are treated with the same respect.
December 5, 2017 at 10:52 AM · Interesting. Will they realize they are leaving money on the table by not allowing costumes in the park for adults? Perhaps Disney sanctioned makeovers for adults will be acceptable. You can dress the part of a pirate and do some play acting. Getting into your role as a Star Wars rebel will surely be the right thing to do.
December 5, 2017 at 5:21 PM · I'll admit it: we succumbed, and granted our daughter's wish to be made up into a princess at the Bibbiti Bobbiti. But lord, what a mistake. The slathered my 5yo daughter's face in cheap make-up and gave her a Tonya Harding hairdo (that hurt, she said) and sprayed her down with five pounds of cheap hairspray. I don't know what we were thinking--we would have NEVER allowed those sort of tawdry chemicals anywhere hear her in real life.

And within two hours the hot sun had melted away the make-up, and her hair looked like Bride of Frankenstein for the rest of the day. A colossal waste of money, at the very least.

Sufficed to say, we convinced our younger daughter (with her big sister's help) that the experience was beneath her. AVOID.

December 6, 2017 at 8:43 AM · They've had the option to turn your daughter into a pirate at Disney World. I've seen a few girls choose that option. When I was a little girl I much rather dress as a pirate than a princess.
December 6, 2017 at 1:22 PM · I used to work on the cruise ships and it seemed like it holds up better there, where you’re inside in the air conditioning. If I were at the parks, I wouldn’t want to waste valuable time on a makeover. But when you have a whole day where you’re stuck at sea, it’s a fun time killer, and a great way to get the kids ready for formal or pirate nights.
December 10, 2017 at 3:39 PM · Great lesson Disney is teaching, "Hey kids, if you lack the discipline to distinguish yourself by hard work and dedication, don't worry, your parents can pull out the credit card and buy you instant street cred. What? Your parents said no? Why not? Don't they love you?"

Bravo, Disney, bravo.

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