For a while there, I completely forgot about Limited Time Magic. This was mostly due to Disney not offering much at Disney World in recent weeks. Not to mention that the program was never particularly impressive even at its best. My curiosity was piqued, however, by the Vinylmation Easter egg hunt, which began on March 18. The idea had merit — had this limp promotion finally turned a corner?
A good chunk of my interest probably derived from the fact that this Limited Time Magic event was not merely a relabeling of something they already do. Many events in recent weeks have been called Limited Time Magic, but are really things they do every year, such as highlight the Super Bowl MVP. It felt particularly disingenuous and even crass to me every time they labeled something Limited Time Magic when they do it anyway. I was half surprised that they did not attempt to call Flower & Garden part of Limited Time Magic.
As an aside, they probably should have called some attention to Flower and Garden in national marketing, even if it took form as part of Limited Time Magic. This year’s festival really does have new stuff in the form of those food booths. Without national marketing, those booths haven’t been drawing the kinds of crowds as Food and Wine, and I suspect the executives have been underwhelmed by the performance. But what did they expect? Without marketing, no one would know there are new booths to sample. Lines have stayed a lot smaller than Food and Wine from what I can see. I would venture to guess that they did not want to call these booths Limited Time Magic because they last many weeks, and their method until now has been to restrict Limited Time Magic offerings to a single week. Such single-minded adherence to a fixed belief has probably cost them a lot of money.
The other type of Limited Time Magic event that we have seen so far is a brief return of something nostalgic, such as the long-lost characters. There isn’t much of a downside to such events, except maybe that they point out how much has been lost in today’s park experience. Some of those events had the feeling of “stuff we should be doing anyway.”
There hasn’t been an awful lot of the third category of Limited Time Magic events: stuff that is literally brand-new. I suppose you could put the Dapper Dans in this category when they sang boy band songs, but that was very much a gimmick rather than an actual event, and it only appealed to a narrow band of visitors. The Vinylmation Easter egg hunt, however, looked to be a true entry in the third category of new stuff. Because it was spread out over the entire World Showcase, this event was big enough and could satisfy enough visitors. It also sounded like the sort of thing that might appeal to frequent visitors and less frequent tourists at the same time. It even seemed to be potentially interesting for adults as well as children, at least on paper.
Alas, it was not meant to be. As always, the execution is what matters, and the execution this time was substandard. To begin with, they underestimated demand. Perhaps they didn’t recognize that the population would be hungry for this event, which is arguably the first truly Limited Time Magic event. The large demand translated to a shortage of the maps used for the game, and they ran out apparently by Saturday. Think about that for a second. The game began on Monday and was scheduled to run until Sunday for a period of seven days. It’s a separate question of stupid choices why this program did not run until Easter. Basically, they wanted to stick with the one week schedule and call the Easter week full of limited time events such as meeting the Easter Bunny and seeing afloat before the parade — back to stuff they do every year.
But we were talking about the remarkable sellout of maps. Most of the maps were sold before the weekend, implying they were purchased by people other than the locals, who tend to come out and heavier numbers on the weekends. This begs the question of who the target audience is. Over the past few months, it has seemed pretty obvious that regular visitors are meant to be the primary audience of Limited Time Magic. The events are too small and too esoteric to be aimed at the visiting hordes of tourists. And they are not marketed nationally (or even announced until just before they occur).
So when they ran out of Vinylmation Easter egg maps, it seems clear that this event had crossover appeal. They should have seen that coming, and ordered enough maps. After all, the maps brought in money. They were sold for five dollars each, and even though there was a prize for finishing, it was still a net profit for Disney. The prize of two Vinylmation keychains could be found by direct sale at the character warehouse outlet store for four dollars, so the event at Epcot involved a profit no matter what.
On top of all of that, there was a certain lameness to the way the Easter eggs were deployed and hidden in all the pavilions. Put simply, the hunt was too easy. Fully 100% of the eggs could be seen from the main path — you never had to enter the pavilions. They chose a level of difficulty calibrated for very young children, which was unfortunate and wholly unnecessary. They may also have been targeting out-of-town visitors by making it so easy, which again suggests that this time locals were not the audience.
If locals are not the audience and they are not marketing nationally to out-of-town visitors, then the only explanation left is that they are imagining something designed for tourists that surprises them once they arrive. I can kind of get behind that idea as expressed here, because it sounds right to want to deliver an experience that exceeds expectations. But boy band songs and quarterbacks don’t really fit that pattern and display a lack of imagination. If the point of the promotion is to roll out delightful surprises each week, there are a million better ways to do it. The small museum of artifacts at the Odyssey restaurant in Epcot created for the ticket conversion process is way more awesome than any of the Limited Time Magic offerings so far.
The promotion has mostly been limp and lifeless, and they were caught by surprise when this week’s event finally struck a chord. The quality has been uneven, and I’m not entirely convinced they have internally decided who the target audience is.
I usually prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt, and even to seek out the “flip side” argument to suss out why they might be acting in a way that seems counter-intuitive. Usually there’s a good reason for it; we just need to hunt until we find it. This time, though, I’m less certain there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It could really be they are making this up as they go.
Did you do the Easter Egg hunt at Epcot? Did you find the event “Magic” or “Limited”?