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Disney Marketing and the Independent Media

Friday, October 22, 2010

Disney Parks is right to jump on the user-generated media craze in their new marketing campaign, "Let the Memories Begin." They've also established a solid foothold in the social media space, including their well-done Facebook, Twitter, and blog presence. But let's not forget: Independent media plays an important role in the online fan community.

In 2000, I took my son to Walt Disney World for the first time. I'd only been there once myself, despite having visited Disneyland a couple times as a child. I was completely unprepared for this trip, despite having worked with an authorized Disney travel planner. I didn't understand the trade-offs inherent in staying on-site or off-site. It never occurred to me to read up on crowd conditions, or schedule my trip for a time of year when the parks wouldn't be incredibly hot and crowded. We had a good time, for the most part, but I was quickly exhausted, tired of sitting in traffic, incapable of spending any more time in long lines while entertaining a four-year-old.

Sometime before my next trip, I picked up The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which completely changed my approach to planning Disney travel. In fact, it helped me to think of all my travel more clearly. Whether approaching the TTC or the Paris Metro, I learned how to apply systems thinking to vacation travel (a conceptually difficult leap for me, for some odd reason).

Around that time, I stumbled across Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (which you can download for free!), a sci-fi dystopia set in Disneyland, which went to places no official Disney publication could consider, even if the authors wanted to. Shortly afterward, I discovered the Haunted Mansion comic book produced by Slave Labor Graphics; I've never been clear on whether Disney authorized this series, but I do believe it puts a different spin on the attraction than we'd ever see produced in-house.

And of course, I fell in deep with the Disney online community. I found message boards with excellent advice for parents of kids with special needs, endless arguments about pool-hopping, and truly kind people. All the information was vetted through the court of popular opinion, and often more reliable and up-to-date than I could find in any print materials, or even Disney's official web publications.

It would seem that Disney's marketers had a finger on the pulse of the fan media as they designed this campaign. For example, one of my favorite message boards has a sub-community called "Keepers of the Secret," where members share their stories of keeping Disney travel plans a secret from their kids, and often post videos after the big "reveal." And what do you know, Guest-submitted videos of kids finding out about secret Disney trip plans are the focus of some of the early advertisements.

Disney's marketing team is doing a good job crafting social media communications and advertising to apppeal both to the "average" Guest (who may occasionally see an ad, or check out Disney's Facebook pages), as well as keeping the official content steadily streaming to those of us who are a bit more fanatical. But there will always be a role for independent media, and I'm glad to be a part of it here on Studios Central.