09 Aug 2017
Disneyland Brand Engagement

How Disneyland’s Bins Can Help You Increase Engagement

The Walt Disney Company is great at engaging people in its brand story. The fact you can buy Christmas ornament replicas of its theme park garbage bins betrays a certain confidence in how invested its audience is in what it does.

This was apparent on my family’s recent Disneyland trip. I mention it not so I can write-off the entire holiday as a tax deduction (note to self: phone accountant), but because like any interaction with Disney, it offers important lessons you can apply to your brand’s messaging and content.



Keep People In Your Orbit


When Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1955, it was a single park. Today, there’s a second theme park, Disney California Adventure, three Disney-branded hotels and Downtown Disney, a dining and entertainment promenade adjacent to the parks.

The hotels are pricey, but they offer perks. These include early admission to the parks, free delivery of the merch you buy in the parks to your room and the possibility of dining with Goofy. The result is that once you get into the Disneyland funnel, there’s little reason to spend a dime anywhere else. (Unless, like me, you discover there’s a two-hour wait for a table at every restaurant in Downtown Disney because it’s peak season. Then, you demand a cab takes you “anywhere there’s food”.)

This is not to suggest that if you make banana bread, you need to get into the toaster and butter-churning game. But consider your customers’ next actions and how to accommodate them. Tell them about related products or provide instructional videos. Have spokespeople that can articulate wider trends. Not only does it position your brand as one that understands them, but you can keep them around long enough to impulse buy a trash can tchotchke.

Create Distinct Messages For Different Audiences


In this fractured media landscape, the idea of a single message on all channels is outmoded. But the truth is Disneyland created niche messaging for decades. Take a look at the themed lands of its parks, such as Tomorrowland vs Fantasyland. Each caters to different age groups and interests.

It’s not just the distinctions, but the execution. The parks are designed so you can’t shatter illusions by seeing one land from the other. The merchandise in each reflects its location, yet is still identifiably Disney. Whether you go kiosk or fancy restaurant, the food will be on point. And yes, even the rubbish bins are themed.

Disneyland doesn’t have “utilidors”, the underground corridor system that lets staff move around the park unseen. But they built them in subsequent parks, reportedly after Walt Disney noted the jarring effect of seeing costumed cast members in the wrong place. Even if you are pushing the same message onto to different audiences, use language or formats that will resonate so it doesn’t look like a cowboy in space land.

Use Technology Carefully

If Disneyland doesn’t refurbish its rides and attractions, it risks playing host to crappy animatronics more at home in Pissweak World. But as the Arnott’s Shapes debacle demonstrated, you mess with something people love at your peril. Upgrades need to retain the original flavour. Disney refurbishes Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean, but they still feel like those rides. They’ve introduced more sophisticated technology, but these enhance, not replace authentic experiences.

This was a contrast to Universal Studios, which has plenty of new rides in the vein of The Simpsons Ride’s “virtual reality roller coaster”. Basically, you wear 3-D glasses and sit in a contraption that moves up and down in conjunction with computer animation. Maybe it’s because this movement and 3-D glasses are a perfect storm of things that make me horrendously motion sick, but riding a pretend roller coaster was nowhere near as satisfying as an actual one, even though I could see it was technically clever. Any automation in the ways you talk to your customer should not feel like ersatz engagement.

Reward Deep Engagement

Disneyland patrons commit. I saw more than one large group with members wearing a matching Disney t-shirt customised to denote their status in the family (“Birthday Boy”, “Mom” “Aunt”, “Pop” “Cousin”). While this is undeniably weird AF, it highlights Disney’s brand loyalty. It works hard to generate such enthusiasm. You can go to Disneyland and go on a few rides, or you can get into pin culture. Each Disney park, resort or cruise ship has its own line of collectable pins that start at about $US8 and go up to over $US100, depending on rarity. There are as many subsets of pins as there are strains of Disney’s intellectual property. Just perusing the pin trading page on Wikipedia makes me tired.

Yet everywhere you looked, people were proudly wearing their annual pass hanging off a pin-festooned lanyard. Give your audience a way to dive deep, if they want. It doesn’t even have to be something that you sell. While the practice is not officially acknowledged, the “imagineers” who create Disney attractions, resorts and films often hide subtle representations of Mickey Mouse in their design. There’s a subculture on a quest to find all the Hidden Mickeys

Tell Customers What They Need to Know (Up To a Point)


Like many theme parks Disneyland displays ride wait times so you can decide whether you want to queue, get a FastPass (a designated window of time to return) or give up and find somewhere with alcohol. But occasionally, there’s, well, fudgery involved. Sometimes you jump on a short-looking queue, and discover it snakes upstairs and back down, in and out of a building or in some way that means it’s longer than it initially appeared. This was never to the point where it was taking the mickey (ha!), but enough so you figured you were in the queue, you might as well wait.

While I am not suggesting your brand needs to be dishonest with your customers, you can keep them informed without overwhelming them with so much information that they get turned off. In communicating with them, ask yourself what they need to know right now. Chances are it’s less about you and more how you can solve their problem.

Possibly, your brand will never be so beloved that people care about your rubbish bins. But take a few lessons from the House of Mouse, and craft messages that resonate to get more customers along for the ride.


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