Emotional Equity Is Still Disney's Key Asset

Consumer Bond, Built on M&V principles, Vital After 50 Years

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The greatest brands are those with the strongest emotional connection to their consumers. At Walt Disney Parks & Resorts the relationship with the consumer stretches back to the foundations of one of the most recognized brands in the world -- Disneyland.

Walt Disney's original theme park in California was the answer to what he thought was a very simple emotional need: "I felt that there should be something built, some sort of an amusement enterprise, where the parents and the children could have fun together," Disney once recalled. When Disneyland opened in 1955 it was a revolutionary entertainment concept. Its creation and its marketing became one of the earliest examples of the merging of "Madison & Vine."

In designing Disneyland, one of Walt's biggest ideas was the realization that he couldn't rely on typical architects to create the jungles, forests, castles and futuristic landscapes that the project required. Instead he called upon a select group of skilled writers, architects, draftsman, artists, engineers, sculptors and special-effects experts from his film studio to form a team that would be responsible for the creation of Disneyland—he dubbed them "Imagineers."

The Imagineers liberally applied their movie-making techniques to the creation of the park—everything from the layout (unfolding like scenes in a movie), to the use of forced perspective, to the use of colors to convey moods and theme. Since the opening of Disneyland, the Imagineers have designed and built every Disney theme park and resort around the world, in addition to an equally impressive portfolio of diverse projects (such as the ships of the Disney Cruise Line).

The funding, too, was early evidence of Madison & Vine thinking: Walt took a chance on the fledgling medium of TV and entered into a programming deal with the ABC network in 1954 in exchange for its funding of Disneyland. Walt felt that a weekly TV series would be the ideal way to share his excitement about the park and make an emotional connection with millions of viewers throughout the country. acceptable integration

During the show's premiere episode, Walt explained how "Disneyland" the show and Disneyland the place were really one and the same, with the series featuring a weekly rotation of shows emanating from such subjects as Adventureland, Frontierland and Fantasyland. The show became a platform where Walt could update viewers on the park's construction, opening and eventual expansion.

This sort of embedded programming was an acceptable form of brand integration because it was also entertaining and the audience wanted to see Walt's Magic Kingdom rise out of the orange groves. The show helped to define the brand of Disneyland nine months prior to the opening of the Park, and by the time it opened, virtually everyone could answer the question "What's a Disneyland?"

The mythology of the Disney parks is now so universally accepted that the trend has recently reversed, with films like "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" now based on popular Disney theme park attractions.

Today, branded-entertainment concepts such as "embedded programming" and "experiential marketing" are considered cutting-edge, yet Disney pioneered these programs nearly 50 years ago. However, there is one constant that has remained: As a creative content company, Disney is first and foremost a storytelling organization. It makes no difference what the marketing vehicle is or how great the "creative" might be if it doesn't tell a compelling story that connects emotionally with the audience. an emotional connection

In 2005 Disney has an opportunity to remind people of their bond with the Disney Theme Park experience through its global "Happiest Celebration on Earth." Launching May 5, 2005, the campaign will mark the first time all of the Disney Destinations around the world have joined to commemorate an important milestone—50 years of Disney theme-park magic and the 50th anniversary of Disneyland.

At its core, the celebration is all about making an emotional connection with first-time guests and reinforcing the relationship with returning guests. Disney aims to accomplish this by taking the characters and stories from Disney libraries and presenting them via innovative storytelling technology. Disney is also extending its theme park experience through the convergence of the real and virtual worlds via breakthrough technology that represents another creative way to keep our guests emotionally connected to the brand at home.

What can other marketers learn from Disney? Well, the emotional connection it enjoys with its audience is its greatest asset, and the same applies for many leading brands. Sometimes in the desire to be hip, edgy and contemporary some brands lose sight of the emotional advantages they possess. But the most successful brands connect emotionally with their target segment, not just with the hipsters.

No smart brand manager should ever be afraid to leverage the emotional equity of his or her brand by consistently reemphasizing the approval, trust and loyalty that consumers invest in the brands. The most successful brands will expand upon the notion of brand integration and experiential marketing while building, or continuing to nurture, an emotional connection to their consumers.

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