Friday, January 12, 2007
A Brand-New Idea for EPCOT
All right, all right, I admit it right up front. I'm not going to literally offer a brand-new idea, since I’ve weighed in on this subject before. But last week’s massive, brilliant media blitz by Apple made me think again about the incredibly lunkheaded “branding” decisions Disney has made in the past decade or so, particularly as they relate to EPCOT.
For a company as seemingly obsessed with “branding” as Disney … what gives?
Cinderella Castle has about as much to do with EPCOT (or Disney-MGM Studios or Animal Kingdom, for that matter) as the Grand Canyon has to do with Miami. You don’t hear anyone reasoning that since they’re both part of the U.S., they can be interchangeable. Yet, there’s the castle on every bit of “Disney Parks” merchandise – including that sold at EPCOT.
It’s rather extraordinary to me to think that a company as allegedly “brand”-driven as Disney (I put that word in quotes since it is so overused and, as Roy E. Disney once said, “Brands are for cattle”) has completely overlooked and subordinated the EPCOT name. By stripping it of the power it had for the first half of its life – removing the word “Center” and officially making it a “lower-case” name – Disney made a strong statement that it didn’t much care what “EPCOT” meant.
If I were the folks in charge of today’s Epcot, I’d be making damn sure that every executive at Disney recognized the underutilized, forgotten value of the brand.
For the average person, today’s world is increasingly shaped by two things: the fast-changing world of technology and the events and actions of our fellow humans on other parts of the globe. We have a never-ending need to understand the ramifications of the technology we have around us at every moment, from exploration of the heavens, the seas and our bodies, to its practical applications in communications, transportation and what we eat, to how it allows us to tap into our creative minds in ways our ancestors couldn’t imagine.
Wait a second – space, oceans, bodies, communication, transportation, food and imagination … why do those important subjects seem so familiar to EPCOT junkies?
On the other hand, we are realizing that the way people live in far-off nations affects us here in the U.S. and vice-versa. More and more, we are realizing how inextricably connected we all are, how we need to understand and appreciate other cultures.
Huh? Learning about and appreciating other nations … gosh, that rings a bell.
Yes, indeed, exploration of the subjects that so many people in today's world hunger to know more about was the very reason EPCOT Center was created in the first place. Twenty-five years ago, we were given a remarkable gift, a place we could go to learn about our world, and just as our global society is finally at the point where they can appreciate it, Disney is turning Epcot into a place that increasingly resembles every other “amusement park” in the world.
But what does any of that have to do with EPCOT as a brand? Plenty. Just as Apple is realizing that the more “categories” it can control, the more people associate it with something they can’t live without; just as Google is realizing the more information categories it can reign over, the more people will think of it as indispensable; there’s a huge opportunity for the word “EPCOT” to come to mean “the way we make sense of our world.”
EPCOT-branded magazines, EPCOT-branded TV shows, EPCOT-branded accessories, travel gear, toys and apparel all would be welcome and logical ways to capitalize on the unique qualities of the theme park and the themes and concepts behind it. And, hey, they also might make a lot of money for Disney and propel the company into a whole new direction – one that ultimately can come to have a hold on more than just 9-year-old kids and tweens who like Hannah Montana.
Disney, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, is huge, it contains multitudes. ABC and ESPN learned that, Disney Channel learned that, Walt Disney Pictures learned that.
Theme parks, alas, have not. Instead of creating different, unique identities for each location, theme-park executives have been trying to shoehorn all of these different experiences into one “brand” name – even going so far as to overload EPCOT stores (as an example) with bland, boring “Disney Parks” merchandise that can be found in every other park in the world.
Why would Disney care so little about a brand name that could be so strong? Why would it shove EPCOT over to the corner instead of recognizing it as a potentially lucrative “new” business, one that could grow, change and expand into almost every area of our lives? Why would it not recognize the enormous potential of this one word – a “new” brand that it has been sitting on for 25 years?
In this milestone year, perhaps it’s time for Disney to understand just how special EPCOT – the name and the theme park – really is … and how a little attention to that one word could reap enormous benefits far into the future.