By Barry Robertson –
It all started with a mouse
This past summer, Disneyland, Anaheim, went all out for its Diamond Celebration, with special events and spectaculars to commemorate its opening sixty years ago in July, 1955.
As Walt Disney famously said, it all started with a mouse. In this case, Mickey Mouse cast as Steamboat Willie in the very first cartoon with synchronized sound.
In today’s world of awesome CGIs and incredible special effects, it’s hard to believe that back in 1928 a whistling mouse could go viral, propelling its creator into a blockbuster career in movies and television and founding a theme park dynasty.
Along the way, Disneyland provided not only an iconic customer experience, but iconic marketing lessons from which every brand can learn.
If some of these seem obvious today, it’s because Walt proved they could work. But back in 1955 they were breakthroughs … so, sophisticates, please keep the eye-rolls and LOLs to a minimum.
Always stay in character
You’ll never see Disneyland staffers from Frontierland wandering through Tomorrowland. And you won’t smell the subtle old-time Americana scents that are pumped into the Main Street general store wafting through the musty dankness of The Pirates of The Caribbean.
Lesson: Brands that step out of the consumer’s comfort zone don’t do well. Boomers and Gen Xers remember the disastrous Pontiac Aztek, VW Phaeton and New Coke adventures that ended up with their marketers being laughed out of town.
Understand the power of symbolism
Disneyland guests don’t come for the food. Or for the wildness of the rides – Mr. Toad’s excepted, of course. There are plenty of places that provide nearer-to-death experiences if that’s what rocks your world. And the food is good but not gourmet.
Instead, every experience – from the Matterhorn to Big Thunder Railroad and Space Mountain, and from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street to the Blue Bayou restaurant in New Orleans Square – reinforces Disney symbolism at a deep emotional level.
Lesson: Brands must look deeper than features, benefits and competitive checklists to understand what they really signal and symbolize to consumers.
Hint: the brand experience is not just about physical product.
Balance innovation with traditional values
Disneyland has innovated and evolved from Day One – by building truthfully on its traditional core values, not trendy fads.
Lesson: Brands that gyrate into the quirky zone can grab attention and, sometimes, boost share for a while – but it’s a one-way trip.
A quirky life can be fun, but it’s hard to go back.
Above all, be inclusive
Disneyland caters to kids of all ages, from two to ninety-two. Seamlessly. Every guest feels special. Every guest feels included without condescension. There is no Geezerland, no Millennial World, no Gen X Mountain.
Lesson: Brands need to ditch age bias and look beyond the 18-49 demographic; okay, a technicality, some reach out until age 54. Big deal.
Imagine how attendance would plummet if Disneyland excluded Americans over fifty. Yet conformist thinking handed down from the Mad Men era ruinously advises clients to do just that.
Ageless marketing advice from Mark Twain
Walt Disney admired Mark Twain so much that he named the Frontierland riverboat after the down-home humorist who once piloted old-time Mississippi steamboats himself. We like Twain a whole lot too. Here are a couple of his apt 19th century sayings with 21st century translations:
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”
Translation: brands need to ask themselves how on earth marketing group-think pushed them into ignoring the folks who own most of America’s spending power.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”
Translation: don’t discount Boomers because of unfounded rumors – such as, Americans over fifty are no longer able to adapt or switch brands.
Of the 110 million U.S. consumers in the 50+ space, 93 million belong to the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965. Owners of over 70% of American household wealth, they represent a far more affluent market than any European country, or than Canada and Australia combined.
Now that’s a magic kingdom worth visiting. All aboard!
I am impressed with your reference to Boomers as though they are part of viable situations and are real life people! We Boomers respond much better to those who do not box us into a corner market. We like the fun that our families like to be a part of together. So, thanks for your unbiased marketing for people over 50.