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 – 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. 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 … 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?


Scott said...

That's an excellent picture of SSE.

I do like the idea of the EPCOT Channel as some sort of Discovery/Travel Channel hybrid. currently leads to the park's site. leads to some junk site with a bunch of links for different things (similar to a site you run across when you misspell a URL). It's a shame that Disney wants nothing to do with that domain.

Anonymous said...

i just saw this video with Elton John in it. I guess that it’s about Dave Stewart’s (from the Eurythmics) first group in the 70s that never released their album back then, and now there’s a big VH1 special on them.

anyone else heard about this?

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, the idea is great. It seems so obvious now that it has been mentioned.

Ivonne R. said...

Actually, I really love the idea for Epcot Future World Magazine. I would definitely have a subscription to that!

Anonymous said...

Love the idea of Future World Magazine. Sign me up.

I chewed on the other ideas for awhile, because I kept coming up with disconnects. The problem is the Epcot brand seems to not be well applied to the park.

Let's take a simple example of Epcot Transportation, and show what the Epcot brand means and how it is applied to the park.

A. The history of transportation showing the scientific advances = World of Motion GONE.

B. The future of transpiration. One concept car behind a rope.

C. 99% of pavilion. A ride (I maintain necessary and important for park attendance) and 10 cars you can find at your local dealer.

If your brand is A and B, then the park isn't following it. If your brand is C, then the brand is a an amusement ride with advertising and I doubt it has any outside value.

The solution actually comes from the past. It's the worlds fair model. Keep the ride but the pavilion has to honor A and B above. The average auto show has hundreds of cars you can buy now but also has more than enough concept cars to fill a pavilion. Make a simple deal that each presenter can show 1 model available now for each concept car or futuristic presentation. Call it the today and tomorrow lot. Honda show us that robot, and you can have 9.9 million Epcot visitors walk by your new Accord.

All that is needed here is someone to decide that the Epcot brand means B. They can bring it back to the pavilion. It will have value, then they can license it outward.

Epcot82 said...

Very good point, though the Toyota suggestion was made more in keeping with the idea of the pavilion needing a massive overhaul; since GM is bleeding money, it's likely they will decline to renew when their sponsorship is up. (Whether GM even *lasts* until its sponsorship is up is a matter open to debate.)

Your list of "lost" beauties of EPCOT Center is excellent -- and tremendously sad.

Anonymous said...

Excellent SSE picutre! You wouldn't happen to have a larger (desktop) sized version of it on hand, would you?

About the article (I happened to be listning to Ballad of John and Yoko whilst reading it), I'm intrigued by the Epcot Channel and the magazine ideas. Although I'm afraid that genre of the cable TV market is dominated by the Discovery Family of channels. It would be very difficult to make any headway with a new channel right now.

Somebody above me posted that Epcot lost it's logo. That's not entirely true. The old logo is still in the pavement behind the Fountain of Nations towards World Showcase (about 20 feet before the, ugh, DVC booth).

Anonymous said...

These are some rather nifty ideas. Plus Disney could tap into the marketing potential of our little purple friend and he can actually become more recognizable.

Scott said...

"Somebody above me posted that Epcot lost it's logo. That's not entirely true. The old logo is still in the pavement behind the Fountain of Nations towards World Showcase (about 20 feet before the, ugh, DVC booth)."

That logo marks the original geographical center of the Walt Disney World Resort. However, I believe it's the only instance that remains of the logo.

Anonymous said...

How much do I love this site! Keep it coming! Would we give up the fight if Indpendence Hall or the Grand Canyon were threatened? No--and Walt Disney World is, without a doubt, Americana for our age. Keep fighting to make Disney give it respect.

And I totally agree with your points about "An Inconvenient Truth." Global warming is not a political issue! It's an Epcot issue!

Anonymous said...

With the channel idea, it would be the best place to put Figment at the forefront again as Epcot's mascot. I was thinking that the shows of the channel could have an intro based on their subject with Figment getting involved, kinda like how Tinkerbell introduced each land in the old Disneyland TV show. That and give Figment a cartoon show for the kids to enjoy, something with a sense of humor yet slightly educational. Figment has some serious untapped potential.

Matt said...

Epcot82, you're right - everything is covered in this post (either in your words or in the comments). Thanks