On lots of threads regarding change at Disneyland, there is often a cadre of folks who believe that very often, Disneyland makes changes that seem to stray from the original vision Walt had of consistent theming and storytelling.We talk about such things as Starbucks perhaps not being a very good fit on Main Street, or princesses pouring into the Hub, or the less-than-enchanting retooling of the Swiss family treehouse or the incongruity of fictional Edwardian British nannies running 1890s American bakeries.
On the other hand, we have a vocal majority who vociferously support every decision, relying on old saws such as “Disneyland is not a museum,” and suggesting, often sardonically, that the only reason the former people don’t support changes is because of a malady called “nostalgia.”
Now, in addition to saying Disneyland would never be completed, Walt also came forward as a believer in nostalgia, stating “I have always loved the nostalgic, myself. I hope we never lose some of the things of the past.” But today we also see the argument (apparently unrecognized in Walt’s day), that attractions must be “relevant.”
Which brings us to “New Coke.” For the younger amongst us, “New Coke” was a product introduced in the mid-1980s to great fanfare as a sweeter drink meant to compete with Pepsi (i.e., it was thought to be “more relevant”). The original Coke formula that had been used with minor variations since the late 1800s was done away with.
However, it soon became apparent that New Coke was destined to be a marketing failure—one of the biggest the business world had seen. People couldn’t swallow (pun intended) the idea that a cherished national, cultural and historic institution such as Coca-cola could be allowed to change. Coke’s president at the time stated, "The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people" (guess those folks were just being nostalgic). Over time, they switched back to the old formula.
To bring this full circle, I find it difficult to understand how the public was so against change with Coke, and yet is so forgiving of any changes made to what is probably an even greater national, cultural and historic institution such as Disneyland. Where is the "deep and abiding emotional attachment" to Disneyland?
A final thought: It had been suggested that any changes in Coke’s flavor or sweetness be made gradually and incrementally, but Coke’s executives at the time thought that would never work. Later, a food scientist studied the issue, and concluded that indeed, gradually changing the beverage would not have been noticed by the public.
With the incremental changes happening in the Park—or declines by degrees, depending on how you see it—it appears the same thing can be said about people’s perception of the very character of Disneyland.