Walt Disney World, Karma, and Newton’s Third Law

Fantasyland: an early morning destination just for you!

Here’s the difficulty: the Walt Disney World Parks in Florida are demonstrating a trend towards marketing exclusivity and premium experiences.  While long-time fans are feeling uncomfortable about this on many levels, the bean counters at WDW are surely optimistic. But would it ever benefit a business to divorce itself from its roots in order to make a dollar?

Disney has proven success as a boutique brand with DCL.

The answer lies in what fans see versus what the strategic planners see.  Fans tend to look at business decisions as though they are ruled by karma, and this carries with it some emotional responses.  CEOs look at business plans in a more objective way.  More like… say… Newton’s Third Law. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s meant for physicists, but let’s apply it to Disney magic.  I’ll lay out the sides so we can measure the impact.

Action Reaction
Intellectual Property
  • Incorporate more IP experiences into the parks. Our IP won’t devalue.  There’s no risk of loss of interest in our entertainment. We will keep recruiting the best story tellers and animators available.
  • Oooh!  A new land!  Let’s go see it!  I love [Marvel/Star Wars/animated animals/Frozen/Princesses/live action remakes]!
Cost of WDW vacation
  • Market to higher income families. 95% resort occupancy full of families who spend 20% more money is better than 95% resort occupancy full of people who are fans.
  • I’m a big WDW fan, but this is starting to get expensive.  Maybe we need to slow down on our visits. But I’ve GOT to go back! It’s magical!
Stratified experiences
  • Create exclusive events and VIP experiences. We can charge for exclusive access because the people we’re attracting have more disposable income than our traditional customer.
  • I went to WDW, but it felt more like going to Universal.
Walt’s vision for his parks
  • Dedicate Park operations to “the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America”- i.e. Capitalism
  • What about being “a source of joy and inspiration to all the world”?
  • Depend on our history of connecting with customers through our stories. We are so diversified in entertainment that if one segment loses revenue, the others will make it up.
  • Oh look!  [insert Disney subsidiary here] just came out with a new [insert commodity here]!  I’m gonna buy that!

Frozen: the story compelled us, the music entertained us, and the ending melted our hearts.

As a business, WDW can make more money from guests who have more disposable income; for example, those from a higher income bracket.  The result of raising park tickets and offering exclusive events will be fewer guests at a higher revenue per guest:  a respectable goal for a business.

This brings us to the karma side of the equation.  How will the buyer feel about the brand? If Disney transitions itself to a luxury brand, will they still have enough storytelling clout to attract the masses?  It would take a huge shift in public opinion to isolate the Disney brand from the story-loving consumers who buy movie tickets and Frozen comforters.  Seems like the only high-volume, low-cost items Disney should really be concerned about are movie ticket sales.  They aren’t in danger of losing those, right?  In fact, it would take a loss of the immense story telling talent that works for the Disney brand for the company to lose face with your average fan.

Is Tom Staggs a loss? Or just Disney moving forward to new and better things?

When has Disney or Disney-owned IP failed to entertain us with talented animators and writers? During the late 70s? The 80s? Tomorrowland?

Does it really matter how much money it made?

Ancient history. We all know that talent only migrates from large corporations if momentum truly heads away from core values.  This takes years and is a slow process.

So, it seems that Disney is in a good position to appeal to the higher income consumer when it comes to the Parks. No bad karma, just good business choices. And we still get our stories.  We can all still afford an occasional night at the movies, especially when it involves Princesses or Han Solo.

In the end, this is what we are really buying from Disney: the story.

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