Monday, October 05, 2009

Kimpossibly Close to the Mark

Engaging younger visitors has always been a perceived problem with Epcot. Based on the number of strollers, toddlers and harried parents that can be seen wandering through Future World and World Showcase on any given day, it's questionable whether it's really an issue -- but, for, oh, the last 27 years or so, Disney has been more or less convinced that Epcot simply doesn't hold appeal to guests who are younger than the legal drinking age.

Mickey & Co. in futuristic and culture-appropriate garb, "The Seas With Nemo and Friends," "Gran Fiesta" at Mexico, Epcot Character Spot, constant re-jiggering of Imagination, the addition of Test Track and Mission: Space -- all of these projects have been undertaken, to at least some degree, because Disney decided that Epcot and kids don't mix.

It's almost an urban legend, Disney's version of the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world: It doesn't matter if it's true, Disney management believes it to be the case, and they'd doubtlessly pull out piles of polling data to "prove" it.

One of the latest attempts to fix this alleged problem is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, which mixes rudimentary smart-phone technology with a scavenger hunt. And here's the huge surprise:

It's not bad.

It's actually Kimpossibly close to being good enough to suck in adult players.

The premise is simple -- using "Kimmunicator" devices (aka Motorola cell phones), guests will receive clues to help them solve a mystery taking place throughout World Showcase. Clues pop up on the phone, and when each clue/puzzle is successfully solved, the device sends participants racing off to the next location.

Getting guests to engage with World Showcase is a brilliant idea, and it's great to encourage youngsters to learn a little bit about what they're seeing rather than just pull on mom or dad's hand and say, "Come oooonnn, let's gooooo." Epcot as a whole is filled with fascinating details just waiting to be discovered, but this is particularly true in World Showcase.

There's a lot that's right about the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. So here's a question: How come every single "recruitment" center stood virtually empty all day? Why do guests either not know about this entertainment option or seem resistant to it? In short, why (at least from the perspective of an observer) does it not seem to be working?

A thought: "Kim Possible" the series certainly had a fan base for a while, but the show barely airs anymore, and new episodes haven't been produced since 2007. "Kim Possible" was no doubt a success, but not one that had major brand recognition outside of Disney Channel-aged guests. In short, she's a minor "Disney character" at best, with dwindling appeal. And since she's "girl-focused," younger boys are less likely to want to engage with the "Kim Possible" brand. (It shouldn't be this way, but, sadly, this gender bias is impossible to deny.)

So, here's another thought:

Keep the World Showcase Adventure, and dump "Kim Possible."

Like "Nemo," "Gran Fiesta" and Eric Idle in Imagination, it's just unnecessary. Kids are not stupid, and they don't enjoy pandering. Adults think it's what kids want ... but most really, desperately, just want to be treated like little adults. They want to see and experience and discover things for themselves. Are there a large number of pre-teen girls who suffer terrible ennui and spend their Epcot touring time texting friends back home? Yup, and they're still going to do that, no matter what. Making sure they're engaged isn't the purpose of Epcot -- it's to reward those millions of young visitors who come to the park with a spirit of adventure, open to experiencing and learning new things. They really, really do exist, but as long as the long-suffering, pre-adolescent teenage girl is held up as the model of Epcot's biggest "audience problem," it's easy to ignore the guests who really want to be there.

"Kim Possible," with all due respect to its talented creators, has seen its day. Its popularity has crested and waned, and even while it has, Epcot remains. It still receives tens of millions of visitors. It remains successful and popular. So, stick with the brand that has the longer staying power.

A revised, Kim-less World Showcase Adventure, properly marketed as an enhancement to an Epcot visit, could be a fantastic way to make Epcot feel new again, even to longtime visitors. As any fan of CBS's "The Amazing Race" knows, traveling around the globe is a not-so-secret desire of a great many people. Epcot has always offered a manufactured, safe version of this fantasy wish-fulfillment, and adding a new element of excitement through a revised World Showcase Adventure could be just the shot in the arm Epcot needs.

Disney's theme-park management just has to trust that Epcot is a strong enough, exciting enough brand on its own. It doesn't need -- never has -- cartoons and Disney characters and animated teenage spies to make it interesting. It offers the world and the future, and there aren't many more exciting themes than that.

So, keep the technology-driven World Showcase Adventure. Offer a "youth" version, an "adult" version and a "family" version. Keep the guest engaged. Keep them guessing. Enrich their visits with a new sense of discovery, fun and revelation. Get them to talk to cast members, find new corners of World Showcase, and learn about the cultures they are seeing represented. Encourage them to explore.

But dump the kid spy. By doing so, you may see lines at the "Recruitment Centers," not cast members who look like they're desperate to get someone, anyone to try it out.


Anonymous said...

You know, I'd just LOVE to pour over the market surveys that Disney commissioned that convinced them that Dreamfinder was a liability but Eric Idle was the perfect fit for Journey Into Imagination.

Can you imagine how THAT meeting must've occurred?

"Well, judging by our numbers, a man in a red beard simply doesn't attract many children..."

"So, who else can we put in his place? Patrick Warburton?"

"No no, we're already using him for 'Soarin'."

"Ellen DeGeneres?"

"She's already at Universe of Energy or, more accurately, what's left of it."

"Maybe we could add Gary Sinise?"

"We want to ATTRACT small children, not scare them off! If we add him to the pavilion, everyone's going to be looking for a cameo from Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump!"

"Oh... Right... Um, who does that leave us with?"

"Jean Claude Van Damme & some guy named... Billy Idol."

"Billy Idol?! The rock singer?!!"

"No, wait... I read that wrong. It's, um... Oh, here it is. Eric Idle."

"Who's he?"

"Some guy from Monty Python."

"Mount Python? Sounds ominous. Which country is that in?"

"No no... Monty Python. It was a British TV show."

"Oh. Well... What about Jean Claude Van Damme? Does anyone have any objections about using him?"

"We'll send him an offer. Call his agent. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to call this Billy Idol..."

"Eric Idle."

"Right, call this Eric Idle guy's agent & see if he bites, too."

Anonymous said...

Glad to know it's not too crowded,
because I'm excited to try it next week!

You know, I agree that Kim Possible is on the wane, and that a "World Showcase Adventure" would work. Good
call, there.

But everyone I have talked to or read about says that this is a great attraction. We'll see . . . soon . . .

Anonymous said...

a fair and reasonable proposition. I thought KP was a good way for kids to enjoy time in EC with mom and dad. one can argue whether such an activity is necessary, but I think it remains incredibly naive to stick to atiquated principles (e.g. kids "should" enjoy EC as it was c1982).

still, it seems Dis is more into promoting existing characters than generating new ones - unless they're tied to a movie. (they did just purchase a cadre of 5000!!)

i'm not sure it's a new development, but the marketing muscle of Dis now seems to outpace the creative side. there are surely exceptions, though as you alluded, it takes a commitment by management to make it happen. if they put just a little promotion into it, could be viable.

David Landon said...

I never really understood the Kim Possible branding myself. Heck, the show was going off the air even as the "attraction" was being rolled out. Clearly there was a lack of communication between Disney's TV people and their Parks people.

But yeah, this is a great idea. There's no need to tie the thing to a cartoon character but if they must, then why not call it Figment's World Showcase Adventure, since Figment is EPCOT's mascot and a kid-friendly character?

Subsonic said...

You must have read my mind. Right when this Kim Possible thing was announced I cringed. What little creativity Disney has left I feel is wasted by always having a tie-in to a character. Having an "Adventure through World Showcase" is a great idea. Why does it need a tie-in? Can't it just work being called "Adventure through World Showcase?" Heck, I know that would spark my curiosity. "Ooh what's that" instead of seeing "Kim Possible's Adventure" or even "Mickey's Adventure". Sigh. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates have no tie-ins (or at least they didn't) and draw thousands of guests a day. Disney, PLEASE, take a hard look at those attractions. Realize that people visit those, not because they have a tie-in or are the new raging trend, but because they are simply good, full of detail and imagination. Please Disney... Please...

Digital Jedi said...

It's really just kind of awkward theming. You'd be surprised how many kinds have no idea who Kim Possible is. That's one of those pander-y things that Disney often does without thinking. I bet it would feel more natural if they just made up a new character for the game, or even borrowed the guy from The Adventure's Club, since he's obviously not busy anymore.

Kevin Carter said...

I couldn't have said this any better, and its been the major problem at Disney for a while:

"Kids are not stupid, and they don't enjoy pandering. Adults think it's what kids want ... but most really, desperately, just want to be treated like little adults. They want to see and experience and discover things for themselves."

There's an old quote from Walt that says just about the same thing. That he felt that kids were always reaching and that you didn't have to make kiddie rides because the kids would enjoy adult rides too. Or something like that.

I love the concept of Kimpossible, but I agree that the branding is probably the problem. Were it a James Bond adventure you'd probably see more takers. So while I know they won't do James Bond, they could make it a more generic character and still appeal to children and adults alike.

Dylan Kenny said...

I totally agree. Dump Kim with utmost swiftness. I hated the idea of the branding of this idea from the moment i saw it way back when it first saw the light of day but knew immeditatly that it held enormous potential that Disney ethier A) was going to simply waste not at the time nor currently having the proper vision and leadership to use a simple but ingenious tech the like the smartphones to totally enhance the parks experiance. and or B) was just "beta testing" said tech with whatever branding they happend to fit it to "best" meaning had the most potential to push merch probably would be my guess. But then why wouldnt it be "Figments Adventure"? That a great idea for fixing this you wouldnt even have to change the colors or the decor just tear down the Kimpossible signs and substitute graphics with Figs image instead of the old show i dont even think airs anymore at all?

Can you tell us a little more about the experiance itself or point us to some info about it for those of us who havent seen it but wish to know more about it?

Sarah said...

For fans of the show, Kim Possible's tie in is quite entertaining. You spend your time tracking down the villains one by one with sometimes humorous results. The same concept would work without a tie-in, but I personally enjoyed the experience.
To those outside the scope of the program, there may be many missed inside jokes that the attraction draws attention to. You simply have to know KP to get the most bang for your buck out of this.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is, after being unemployed, at first glance I saw "Recruitment Center" and immediately thought it was a place to apply for employment. On our way to the Baby Care Center, I was desperately trying to come up with a reason to give the two cast members as to why I wasn't going to apply. I wonder if they get that often?

Melanie Beasley said...

My daughter loved the Kim Possible missions even though she was not familiar with the show. We gave her the choice to return to any of the four parks and she chose EPCOT so that she could complete more of the missions. She was seven at the time and really believed that she was part of something big, that there were enemy agents to be on the lookout for. My husband and I enjoyed the chance to walk around the pavillions and shops, and she was thoroughly entertained. My only gripe was that one mission referred to Spaceship Earth as a "giant golf ball," blech! But that was also the most fun mission, the "Great Britian" one, where a phone booth dispensed a plastic ball that had to be taken to a special drop-slot for "analysis," and a code phrase had to be whispered to an employee at the tea shop who played along 100%.