Wednesday, June 28, 2006
The Hidden Potential of Epcot
In recent weeks, Disney has introduced a new line of “Fairies” products, branched out into dog food and pet supplies, heralded the success of it’s “Princesses” line and shown the world how it can trumpet its “new” Pixar brand.
Though there are some things that it does quite poorly, “branding” isn’t one of them. Disney loves to turn its entertainment properties into “brands,” using a single name (such as “Princesses”) on a wide range of previously unrelated products. By turning a property into a brand, Disney manages to make everything into its own.
Disney’s favorite “brand,” of course, is Disney. Though Roy E. Disney famously said “brands are for cattle,” Disney management disagrees, and every chance it gets, Disney management slaps that name onto something else. Think of the resorts at Walt Disney World – what used to be the Contemporary Resort is now “Disney’s Contemporary Resort,” etc. (Lest we get it confused with all of the other Contemporary Resorts out there.) Even things that aren’t Disney become Disney – I recently received an e-mail communication friend of mine claiming to have been written on a “Disney Blackberry.”
So, if Disney has become arguably the world leader in figuring out how to make something into a brand … why hasn’t it paid any attention to Epcot? Boy, if any “brand name” is ripe for the pickin’, it’s Epcot.
The name Epcot has been in common usage for more than 25 years. In 1981, in fact, Disney executives told reporters that by the time EPCOT Center opened on Oct. 1, 1982, their goal was to have every single person in the U.S. at least aware of the name. They succeeded – even the least Disney-savvy acquaintance of mine knows what Epcot means.
But in their zeal to become a powerhouse media conglomerate, Disney overlooked many of its own assets that were ripe for “exploitation” in the late 1990s, and Epcot was chief among them. Instead of delving into the remarkable opportunities it offered, Disney let the park – and the name – languish. EPCOT Center became EPCOT, then Epcot-followed-by-the-last-two-digits-of-the-year, then, finally, just Epcot, a shell of its promising former self.
What did Disney miss out on? What could Epcot have been? What could it still become with a little imagination and determination? Many things, which neatly fall into several categories (most of which Disney is already active in). Food for thought:
TELEVISION – Instead of wasting the $5 billion purchase of Fox Family Channel on repurposing ABC shows (which never worked; now, it appears, Disney will try to rebrand the network under the “Jetix” name – a name that means nothing if you’re older than 12), Disney could have turned Epcot into a major television player. How? Well, consider that the Travel Channel, the Food Channel, the National Geographic Channel and Bravo are all essentially “discovery” channels (oh, yeah – so’s the Discovery Channel). The Epcot Channel could be broader than any of these, yet still supply family friendly programming that explores the world, science, technology, health, culture and the future. The Epcot Channel would have a wealth of programming opportunities, many from the Disney and ABC vaults themselves. Epcot was made for television.
PUBLISHING – Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Travel, Budget Travel, Discover, Popular Science, Men’s Health … all of these popular and successful magazines cover subjects that are already present at Epcot. An Epcot magazine, published monthly, could not only offer a family friendly mix of articles and activities for all ages, but quite naturally and effectively promote travel to Disney’s own theme park with every issue – a place where you can learn more about and explore the very subjects covered in the magazine. (Heck, there could even be two magazines: Epcot’s World Showcase for travel and adventure; and Epcot’s Future World, for science and technology.) Given that Time, Newsweek and magazines as far reaching as The New Yorker and the Economist routinely cover science and health, this seems a natural.
INTERNET – Epcot.com could become a home base for teachers and students, offering information, lesson plans, study guides and a community geared to learning about the world we live in. Epcot.com would be a natural extension of the now-defunct Teacher’s Center at Epcot, but would be much, much more, making real many of the concepts explored in Spaceship Earth and that are central to Epcot’s themes.
CONSUMER PRODUCTS – Epcot wares from around the world, available on Epcot.com … the latest clothing and apparel from and inspired by designers worldwide on the Home Shopping Channel (or on a special shopping program on the Epcot Channel) … books, videos and CDs that explore the world around us and different languages … the latest consumer technologies from leading companies, packaged under the Epcot name. All of it makes sense and can help grow the revenues of the struggling Disney Consumer Products division.
Is there more? No doubt. This is just a sampling of what Disney’s branding power could make of Epcot.
If only anyone at Disney even gave Epcot a second thought. It reminds me of a line from the Elton John/Disney version of Aida:
“But in the end, I know it’s rather sad /
that a life of great potential /
is dismissed, inconsequential /
and only ever seen as being cute …”
Change the word “life” for “park” and you’re on to something.
What potential! Is it hidden, waiting to be (re-)discovered ... or has it been sadly squandered for too long?