Photograph copyright 2009 Brian Powell
There's been enough written and said about the Disney World experience and the Disney brand in general that I won't rehash here. Needless to say, the company may have it's ups and downs, but there are few rivals from a brand strength and emotional resonance standpoint. It's consistently ranked a top global brand and different from its top brands peer-set, has a much farther reaching brand-footprint across theme parks, film, TV, products and more. I've had the privilege of partnering with Disney on several movies in the 90s including "A Bug's Life." And can attest to their reputation of standing firm on brand guidelines and "dos and don't" with their intellectual property/characters. They don't mess around and will walk away from a deal. It's what enables them to be consistent across all they do. I've also had opportunity to attend Disney Institute, a consultancy and leadership practice that lets attendees "experience the business behind the magic of our [Disney's] core business strengths: Leadership Excellence, Quality Service, Brand Loyalty, Inspiring Creativity, and People Management. "
Bottom line, I'm a fan of Disney and when you hold respect for something great, you automatically look for ways to make it better. My family visited Disney World in Orlando recently and while I had my "Dad" Mickey Mouse ears cap on most of the time (no not literally), it was hard not to see through the lens of a brand and cause marketer as well.
If you've ever been to Disney World I think you'll agree: it truly is a magical place that provides pure joy to kids and fond memories to adults – all for a fair price. The experience has been created and meticulously cared for across every sight, sound, and even smell. But there were some key areas where I felt Disney missed an opportunity to enrich the experience with more meaning as they held an audience captive. Don't get me wrong, no one wants to come to Disney World and be beat over the head with social issues messaging. But there could be some things changed or added, gracefully. Things that people may not consciously notice but would help raise awareness and education in a non-intrusive way.
So I offer in no particular order:
1. Relocate Smoking areas
I was shocked to see these at a kid focused park in 2009. And right next to kids rides and sitting-areas for families. It's your right to smoke. But my right not to have it blown in my and my family's face. Disney should enclose these areas away from the 90% who don't choose to smoke (and 100% of their kids). If 70% of states in USA have some sort of smoking ban in public places then certainly Disney could follow suit. Nothing takes the magic of a child's laughter away than the cough of second-hand smoke.
2. Be more eco-friendly
Disney actually does quite a but behind the scenes and in operations to be a more sustainable brand. But much improvement is needed from a forward-facing/consumer participant viewpoint. Recycling cans were few and far between. Only disposable paper cups are sold at all concession vs. offering souvenir re-usable cups. Paper towels in bathrooms, not blowers. Only Animal Kingdom, the newest park, had considerably more environmentally sensitive amenities, consistent with it's earth/animal friendly message. Think of the impact Disney could make by reinforcing or introducing the millions of people that walk the park to the easy ways to have less impact on the environment.
3. Offer balanced food options
We're no health nuts. But offering fresh fruit in addition to candy and popsicles would have been nice. For us, and the kids in our group. Don't restrict people from indulging if they want, but enable those who would like choices to have them. Offer 100% juice in addition to soft drinks and water. Wasn't this place built for kids? Disney received much publicity when it pulled-out of it's lucrative deal with McDonald's and now licenses it's characters for more healthier fare in grocery stores. This is one instance where Disney's normally successful cross platform integration between business lines hasn't happened.
4. Execute non-intrusive cause marketing
Animal Kingdom was the one park that stood apart. As the world's largest wildlife park, there are reminders about the natural order and importance of Mother Earth everywhere. At concession stands cashiers politely ask if you'd like to donate $1 to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and you receive a little pin for your backpack or lanyard. The new Disney movie Earth was promoted at the entrance and a few days after we left Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures announced a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to plant 2.7 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of the planet’s most endangered rainforests. Epcot's "Universe of Energy Pavilion" does explore use of alternative energy. But imagine reinforcing the importance of cultural diversity after riding "It's A Small World" at Magic Kingdom. Or using Tigger to promote the importance of physical activity (like bouncing!). It doesn't need to be transactional cause marketing. And whether it involves 3rd party non-profits such as Disney's many national partnerships like Make-A-Wish, or projects that are more about reinforcing what dear old Mom and Dad try to instill in their children back at home.
I'll say it again, I understand the brand promise of Disney is to "make magic moments." To provide escape from daily troubles. I'm not advocating in-your-face reminders of serious social issues. I'm talking about using the power of these characters and the aura of the place to naturally weave messages and actions that add just a touch more meaning to the magic.