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Give a Day, Get a Disney Day

Friday, October 02, 2009

I'm just not getting it...the economy's in shambles, unemployment is double-digits in many places, the median home value in Detroit is $7,500, and some people don't think Disney should be rewarding people who volunteer to help their local communities?
Earlier this week, Disney announced the “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion, in which people who donate their volunteer labor to designated non-profit organizations will be rewarded with a free one-day, one-park pass for either Disneyland or Walt Disney World. There are also alternate rewards for those who hold Annual Passes or multi-day tickets, such as a special FastPass card (for which the details are not yet clear).
Now, I've got a skeptical heart myself, and I will be very interested to see the list of officially approved opportunities. I’m not familiar with the HandsOn Network, which is coordinating the volunteer work, and a quick search of their current opportunities didn’t do much to educate me. But I do think it’s a good sign that they’ve set up a form on their site for community organizations to express interest in partnering with them on this promotion. And I’ve spent enough time in grassroots community circles to know it takes a tremendous amount of work to organize volunteers, especially those who want to do something truly meaningful with a one-day commitment.
But all that being set aside…..we are living in times when we need to be doing more to reach out to our neighbors, and anything Disney can do to encourage more volunteerism is fine by me. So, I was a bit taken aback that the first comments I heard about the promotion were so negative.
One internet poster complained that her time is worth more than $10/hour, which seemed to me to be missing the point altogether. This isn’t a payment for your time; it’s a token of appreciation. (To the credits of the great interwebs, plenty of people set her straight in short order, in relatively gentle ways.)
Another complained that it’s more important to give money to nonprofits than to give time. Well, there actually may be a point here, though I believe on an individual level one should give both. But on a corporate level, would Disney’s philanthropy have more impact had they simply contributed the costs of this marketing campaign (and the not-insignificant logistics effort that must accompany it) to a worthy nonprofit organization? It’s hard to say, especially given the potential ripple effect here: A person who volunteers simply to get their free ticket may find that the intangible rewards are greater than anticipated, and may consider volunteering more regularly (or yes, donating financially to the nonprofits with which they’ve just become acquainted).
And yes, there’s also some concern out there that this promotion won’t drive much new traffic to the Parks, but we hear this concern every time a new promotion appears. With Year of a Million Dreams, some were upset because not everyone could win. With What Will You Celebrate?, many of us feel like Disney’s said to us, “Hey, we don’t know why you should come here, you make something up!”
But really now, most Disney promotions are about supporting the brand that continues to support and attract Parks traffic, not directly driving new traffic into the Parks. People aren't unaware of Disney World and Disneyland, they just need a little reminder. And the audience for these promotions isn’t the Disney Digerati, those who haunt messages boards and blogs and podcasts…..the audience is the casual Disney Guest, who might just need a little reminder to prompt them to consider Disney travel. And yes, that casual Disney Guest includes those hit hard by the recession. And I’m willing to bet that for some of them, especially those within a day-trip or with family they could stay with near the Park, this means a chance to spend a Disney Day with their family that simply wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Maybe this promotion is for them more than it is for us, the Disney geeks, the Annual Passholders, those with the luxury to visit at least once a year, and the determination to make it happen even when times are tight. (It’s certainly not designed to target a person like myself, who will likely be holding dual Passports for Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World by this December, and feeling a tad cranky about the lack of a Global Annual Pass.)

Overall, though, I’m glad to see that the haters are outnumbered by people hoping that this might just do some good for our larger community. And if we’re gonna worry about Disney’s bottom line, let’s remember that some of the people coming into the Parks might just buy souvenirs, or Dole Whips, or even upgrade their tickets. Or maybe not….some of those who’ll put in the volunteer hours for free tickets may well be among the downsized, the long-term unemployed, those living along the margins. If we’re going to be focused on the bottom line, we can think about how their long-term brand loyalty to Disney might be enhanced if this promotion makes it possible for them to take their family to the Parks for a day.

Me, I’d rather just hope that this promotion does make a difference, even in some small way. I can imagine people discovering local nonprofits through these community service hours, and developing longtime volunteer and donor relationships. I can hope that even those who don’t participate in the promotion might think a bit more about what they can do to help those less fortunate than themselves. And I surely do believe there’s somebody out there who will find a little fun at Disney next year who couldn’t otherwise, and I am all for that.