It all started with a mouse
Disneyland, Anaheim, is going all out for its Diamond Celebration, with special events and spectaculars to commemorate its opening sixty years ago on July 17, 1955.
And, as Walt Disney pointed out, 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 sophisticated world of CGIs and awesome special effects, it’s hard to believe that back in 1928 a whistling mouse could go viral and propel its creator into a blockbuster career in movies, television and the founding of 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 “lessons” seem obvious, it’s because Walt proved they work. But in his day they were breakthroughs … so 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 wild rides – Mr. Toad’s excepted, of course. There are plenty of places that provide nearer-death experiences if that’s what rocks your world, and the food is fine but not gourmet. Instead, the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad and the myriad of eating place themes all play into – and reinforce – Disney symbolism at a deep emotional level.
Hint: it’s not just about product.
Balance innovation with tradition
Disneyland has innovated and evolved from Day One – by building truthfully on traditional core values, not trendy fads.
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 Madison Avenue conformists ruinously tell clients to do just that.
Ageless 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 whole lot too. Here are a couple of his quotes that explain why …
“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 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 – for instance, Americans over fifty are no longer able to adapt or switch brands.
Of the 111 million U.S. consumers in the 50+ space, 93 million belong to the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965 and comprising conventional Baby Boomers and kids born 1940-1945. Owners of 70+% of American household wealth, they represent a far more affluent market than any European country.
Now that’s a magic kingdom worth visiting. All aboard!