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  1. #1

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    Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    There have been a lot of threads raging (justifiably) about NextGen, maintenance, and the general state of affairs in WDW recently. But I thought I would start a thread on a somewhat different topic, which I actually started on another forum a while back, but am eager to see what MiceChatters thought of it. Although maintenance and the actual park experience is very important, of equal importance (IMO) is WDW's public image and its way of presenting itself to the American culture - its marketing.

    Now people have commented multiple times about how WDW marketing has changed over the years – how they’ve adjusted from promoting the more natural and quiet “Vacation Kingdom of the World” aspect, along with the many non-park offerings that the early resort provided, to the more “Four parks, one world”, theme park-heavy focus we’re familiar with today. And that’s all fine and good. People go to WDW mainly for theme parks, I get that.

    But it seems to me that in recent years, the focus has been narrowing even more, to just one theme park in particular. I'm referring, of course, to the Magic Kingdom. I realized this while constantly driving under/past the main entry signage, which is affixed with the vague, bluish, could-be-Cinderella Castle (although some would note that Disneyland marketing uses the exact same castle).




    Nowhere to be found on those same signs are Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, or any form of representation for DHS. Or a certain shipwreck and snowcapped ski-slope...

    Or take some of the hotel rates that exist around property. Views of Cindy’s humble abode are top-sellers at the various resorts around the lagoon. Heck, one could argue that the entire existence of Bay Lake Tower, the upcoming Grand Floridian villas, or the Californian Grill has to do with taking advantage of this very view. Rooms on the castle-facing side of Bay Lake Tower are priced considerably higher than views on the lake-facing side.

    Meanwhile, last year, we booked a one-bedroom at the Boardwalk over Christmas, and because we couldn’t afford a view over the Boardwalk itself, we instead booked a standard view, the cheapest view offered. We were surprised, then, to get to our room and find we had a fantastic view of Disney’s Hollywood Studios – including the fireworks from Fantasmic and the Tower of Terror in all its dramatic glory. I would even say the Tower seemed much larger and closer than the castle did from our Bay Lake Tower room. Why the discrepancy? Why couldn’t these be billed as “Hollywood Studios views” or “Tower of Terror views” in the same way Bay Lake offers its castle views?

    Or take the modern WDW TV commercials:


    Not a non-Magic Kingdom theme park in sight.

    Is it any wonder, then, that guests on property refer to the Magic Kingdom and “Disney World” almost interchangeably? Or why the Magic Kingdom is consistently more packed than the other three parks even on the same day? How many people that haven’t been to WDW are even aware that WDW consists of more than the one theme park? Couldn’t Disney's marketing, y’know, show the first sign that there was something to do at WDW that wasn’t in the Magic Kingdom?

    To me, marketing like this seems counterintuitive to a good business strategy. One would think Disney would showcase its many other offerings to be found at WDW, some of which are quite unique and spectacular in themselves – Illuminations, the Fantasmic dragon, the architectural marvel that is Spaceship Earth, the best safari to be found in the western hemisphere, the grandeur of Wilderness Lodge, World Showcase, the tallest waterslide in the United States. Or maybe even smaller and more personal experiences like the spas, the Fort Wilderness bike trails, the parasailing, the Polynesian luau, four on-property golf courses. But instead Disney always just shows the one thing just about everybody knows you can find at WDW… a castle. And sometimes some Dumbo and teacups for good measure.

    Showing stuff like what I listed might be more inviting to people not necessarily interested in meeting their favorite Disney princess and seeing where she lives. It might just entice the golfers, the bikers, the animal fans, people wishing they could more easily sample some global culture, or the couple looking for a relaxing getaway in a beautiful resort. It might even make more money for all of those activities not found in the Magic Kingdom – people would actually know they exist!

    Don’t get me wrong- I love Cinderella Castle, and all of its ornate, monumental, Herb Ryman-y goodness. But I guess I have an issue of personal pride in this, as well. I also dearly love Epcot, DHS, the water parks, the resorts, and the magnificence and grandeur of the property of a whole. It saddens me to see those parts of WDW sold short, or for my friends to have such a misunderstanding of how great and how diverse that place is that I go to every year.

    Anyway… thoughts?

  2. #2

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    I think it boils down to the DisneyParks(tm) mentality. A castle is the only common element across Disney s worldwide properties. So the castle becomes part of the logo. And by extension, the most prominent symbol in print, web and TV ads.

    It's also worth noting that WDW has gone out of its way to homogenize the parks so they all seem more like extensions of the MK. Character meet and greets/overlays at Epcot, etc.

    I think DisCo is more interested in pushing the DisneyParks brand than marketing or even strengthening the identities of their individual parks. Which is why they default to use of the castle instead of more diverse and informative imagery.

  3. #3

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    I agree with Virtual Toad.

    All the parks are just becoming MK part 2, 3, 4.

    When you really look at it their product differentiators which used to be

    Magic Kingdom: Fantasy
    Epcot: Discovery
    DHS: Showbiz
    DAK: Adventure

    All of those are slowly going away. You look at each attraction that has opened in the last few years at each of the non-MK parks

    Epcot:

    Nemo- You could loosely say that you are discovering nemo... but it really is about the fantasy of being in the world of finding nemo.

    Soarin'- You aren't discovering california, you are just flying above it... no real discovery or mission.

    DHS-

    Star Tours 2- Now that you are no longer on a "hot set" and you are "really for realzies" traveling in the StarWars Universe this is a fantasy based attraction not a "showbiz" attraction.

    Toy Story Mania- you are put into the toystory world so this has nothing to do with Showbiz, minus the shoe horned theme outside where you are in Pixar Studio which makes 0 sense once you walk under Andy's bed.

    Lights Action Motors- I will grant this does fit the bill as Showbiz since they are "filming"

    DAK:

    Finding Nemo the Musical- does not fit a theme of any land it is between (asia and dinoland) and while one could argue it is an adventure it's in ability to find a reason for existing thematically is really the problem

    Expedition Everest- I will say this fits the bill. But even the adventure that you are on is based on a fictional dare I say fantasy creature.

    These are just the headlining attractions. When you begin to look at the meet and greets, food offerings, street entertainment, merchandising, it paints a much bigger picture that these are all just extensions of the Magic Kingdom with no unique identity.
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  4. #4

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    I can say that when it comes to WDW the Magic Kingdom is my LEAST favorite park of all. That is certainly not true in Anaheim or Tokyo, but in Orlando there's just so much more and the park with the castle just doesn't stack up all that well.

    Of course, if Anaheim or Tokyo didn't exist we might not have a measure of excellence to go by, but there ya have it. They do exist, so it begs the comparison.

    I still love Epcot and DAK though...fantastic, wonderful parks and well worth the trip to the swamps of Florida even now!
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  5. #5

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    ORDDU: Oh, Mr. X!!! It's been a while since we've seen you. Hope you're doing better over there in Japan, duckling!

  6. #6

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    I don't think it's that big of an issue. The "castle" park is what started it all and representative of "Disney" as it opens each of the studio's films for the past few decades. It's their brand.

    But that said, more can certainly be done for the other parks to make them a lot more than what they've become. Walt has often said that Florida has the blessing of size and it can fit everything they can imagine. ... well, the sad truth is that Universal has been doing more imagining lately.


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  7. #7

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    I think that Disney is making a risky assumption that everyone knows all about the different parks. My friend, who's been to Disney World at least three times, still can't tell you what park Tower of Terror is in. Disney would definitely be doing itself a favor by saying, "Hey, you with the ears! Come to Disney World where you can come face to face with dinosaurs, ghosts, princesses, a yeti, and some rockstars before traveling the world without leaving Florida!"
    And I would easily think that they were just trying to get me to go to Disneyland if it weren't for the fact that I stick around until the end of the commercial.
    Magic Kingdom isn't even the favorite park. Everyone has things they love, whether it be movies and music (Hollywood Studios), animals (Obvious Kingdom), or simply drinking beer (Epcot).
    This one-park-advertising is a bad move on Disney's part.

  8. #8

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    The problem is that the "post-Frank Wells" Disney Parks Division has decided it will only market to young mothers. That's it. Everything it does is designed to convince women in their 20s and 30s that they absolutely need to take their child to the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland or else they are the worst mother on the planet and do not care about their son or daughter.

    Disney did not always market their parks solely in this fashion. Commercials used to feature such things as adults on horse back, the golf courses, countries in the World Showcase, the NYE celebration at Pleasure Island, etc. Sure, there was plenty of marketing aimed at kids (and their moms) ... but there was also a desire by Disney to be viewed as a place that an adult male might want to go (not be forced to go).

    Rightly, or wrongly, somewhere along the way the marketing department came to the conclusion that women influence the purchasing and vacationing decisions almost unilaterally in a typical American family and, therefore, nobody else needs to be catered to.

    There isn't a single adult male in my family (aside from myself) that wouldn't view a trip to WDW as a chore, rather than a vacation. That's Disney's fault; they did this to themselves intentionally.

  9. #9

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    Re: Walt Disney World: More than just a castle?

    Disney's recent marketing campaigns have also heavily focused on bringing people back to the parks, not trying to reach out to a new audience.
    "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing" -Walt Disney

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