What's rather disarming about this ad is its absolute lack of any Disney characters or reference to "Disney-style" entertainment. There's no mention of Disneyland being "magical." Check out the stylized caricatures of park guests. Notice anything? No children.
The ad is 50 years old, but represents perhaps more canny, sophisticated marketing than is evident today. Disneyland didn't need "Disney" to sell it. The concept was enough. Disneyland was a special place, filled with wonder and excitement. Dixieland music, pop bands, riverboats, Tahitian fire dancers, a speeding Monorail ... there's something for everyone at Disneyland. And despite the fact that 1959 was the year of Sleeping Beauty and The Shaggy Dog, there's no effort to sell Disneyland based on these entertainments (or any other Disney movie). "Disneyland" was all you needed to know.
What does any of this have to do with EPCOT?
Well, consider how little faith Disney has in the very concept of EPCOT or, it's seeming these days, in the concept of a theme park in general. More than half a century has passed since Disneyland opened, yet today Disney is unable to market its parks on anything other than its "synergized" entertainment creations or the increasingly tired concept of "Disney magic." Yes, we all know it's "magical" for little girls to dress up as a princess and romp around a Disney theme park (less magical, perhaps, for the parent, whose wallet is suddenly hundreds of dollars lighter), but is this really the only way to sell Disney's theme parks?
EPCOT has the distinct advantage -- or, depending on how you look at it, disadvantage -- of being unlike any other Disney park. There never have been any easy, built-in opportunities for Mickey and his animated gang to invade the park, which is why even thematically driven efforts like The Seas With Nemo and Friends still feel, at best, uncomfortable. They're not rooted in storytelling, they're rooted in a marketing mindset that fails to understand one basic concept:
"Disney" doesn't just mean "magic."
As Disney's more-sophisticated-than-they-might-have-seemed marketers from the 1950s knew, Disneyland was about a lot more than flying elephants and seven dwarfs and tuxedo-clad mice. It could be many things to many different people.
It's probably one of the very reasons you (yes, you, whoever you may be) are reading this. At whatever impressionable age you were first exposed to Disney marketing, it didn't pander to you and make you feel that the only way to show your love for Disney was to dress up and have character breakfasts. It appealed to your imagination. It promised you wonders you had never before seen.
That was the simple beauty of EPCOT Center. Many longtime EPCOT enthusiasts were hooked from the moment we were promised a glimpse into our future. It had nothing to do with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or wishing upon a star. It had to do with tapping in to our not-so-hidden desire to live outside of ourselves, to imagine a world filled with opportunities and untold ambition. In its inherent promise of something extraordinary and wonderful, it became more Disney than Disney.
In its own way, 50 years ago, Disneyland's simple little newspaper advertisement did the same. By not leaning on "Disney," but rather focusing on the wonderful things the park offered, it was more effective at setting a tone than the entire, multi-million-dollar "What Will You Celebrate" campaign that's underway now around the world. Disneyland could take you to distant places, on exotic adventures ... but was as close as the Santa Ana Freeway at Harbor Boulevard.
Disneyland was unlike any other place imaginable. More than any movie or character or other creation of Uncle Walt or his artists, the park defined "Disney" simply by the enormity of its promise.
The same holds true for EPCOT. As Disney continues to struggle with how to bring more "Disney" to the park, its marketing managers would do well to take a look through the company's own history. The late 1950s and early 1960s were when Disneyland made its indelible mark on America and the entertainment industry. Ads as simple as these little guys were more effective in cementing the concept of Disneyland as "special" than all the pixie dust in the world.
So, why continue to shoehorn Kim Possible and the Three Caballeros and Finding Nemo and (no doubt, in the future) other Pixar and Disney "brands" into EPCOT? Why not focus instead on what sets EPCOT apart, makes it unlike any other place on the planet?
EPCOT once promised the dawn of a new Disney era, not just another place to meet "magical" characters. It's that promise and allure of something impossible to find anywhere else that once set Disneyland apart. Imagine what that mindset could accomplish today.