Today In Disney History ~ September 1st

Today In Disney History ~ September 1st


In researching today’s “In History” I came across this amazing article that not only explains WHY Disney uses sponsors for attractions and shows, but how that practice has influenced and effected and influenced how other companies handle sponsorship.

“What We Can Learn From Disney About Sponsorship Marketing”
by Patrick Diogenia for Marketingadvice.Biz

It is no great secret that Walt Disney was, shall we say, a bit loopy. Only a truly eccentric man would desert his family to live in a tiny, clandestine apartment above his theme park, with nothing to distract him but the anonymous, sun-peeled faces of the tourists below. (Or as Walt himself said, with his narcissism on full display: “I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.”)
However, it is also no great secret that iconoclastic men (and women) bring forth innovation. Ben Franklin harnessed electricity, but according to Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, he also took hour-long “air baths” each morning, flinging open the windows to his London flat and strutting around naked – in full view of the neighbors.
The same Edison who gave us the light bulb, the phonograph and other game-changing inventions also suffered from partial hearing loss, causing him to bite his piano with his teeth in order to hear the music issuing forth.
Steve jobs wore the same uniform of New Balance running shoes, black socks, black turtleneck and Levi’s 501 jeans nearly every day of his adult life.
Considered in this context, Walt Disney, while seemingly odd to the rest of us, was merely hewing to his cohort. But what was his innovation: Mickey Mouse? Feature-length animation? While Disney redefined the use of mascots, he was not the first on the scene with a recognizable character appealing to children. There were 7 full-length animated films before Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
No, Disney’s true innovation – the one which contains every other advance he perpetuated – was in marketing. Walt was the first corporate officer to take his message directly to children: Mickey may have been the mascot but Walt was the adoring father figure. Even today, his Q Score, a measure of likability and popularity of public figures, places him in the rarefied pantheon of Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.
He is the best loved pitchman of all time, and his parks stand as living monuments to his superhuman salesmanship.

Sponsorship Marketing as Necessity
In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Walt Disney Company was over-leveraged. The animators’ strike had taken its toll, and Walt, per his usual predilections, borrowed his way out of the hole. Astutely noting the escalating number of communiques requesting studio tours, Disney badly wanted to build an amusement park based on his movie characters – a place he took to calling “Disneylandia.”
Bank of America said no. Skepticism also befell Walt’s brother Roy, his business partner in the Disney studio. According to biographer Marc Eliot, “As far as Roy was concerned, Walt’s description of ‘Disneylandia’ served as the clearest evidence yet that he had finally and completely gone out of his mind.” Undaunted, Walt engaged the services of the Stanford Research Institute to estimate the cost of opening a park built to his specifications. The answer that came back was $11 million, or more than $100 million in today’s dollars. Mired in debt and facing multiple lawsuits, Disney’s idea seemed hopelessly stalled.
Then, in a stroke of genius, Walt decided to flip the script: instead of paying a parade of banks principal plus interest, he would find people willing to pay him to construct the park. Western Publishing and Lithography, who printed children’s books based on Disney characters; and the fledgling ABC television network took the bait. Each became an equity holder in Disneyland, Inc., which in turn owned the park.
In order to further offset costs, shops along the now-famous Main Street, USA were rented to merchants such as Hallmark and Timex. And, perhaps most significantly, rides and other attractions were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Each would boast a corporate sponsor, and be designed to that sponsor’s specifications and to advance its goals.
Thus we have the United Airlines Enchanted Tiki Room, “where 225 birds, flowers and tropical tikis sing, dance and entertain”; organ concerts by Wurlitzer; Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Inner Space; and the Goodyear PeopleMover to transport us among and between every wonder – even to the Global Van Lines locker facilities.

A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow
To be fair, the idea of attraction sponsorship wasn’t new – it had been a successful component of temporary structures such as the World’s Fair for decades. However no one had thought that the public would pay theme park prices ($15 per person at the park’s opening, or about $150 in today’s dollars) to see the same sponsored attractions year-in and year-out. No one had dreamed that people would pay to shop in sponsored stores, eat in sponsored restaurants and stow their goods in sponsored storage lockers. No one except Walt Disney.
Buoyed by the Disneyland television program airing on ABC, as well as the Mickey Mouse Club and mountains of positive PR arranged by Walt himself, park attendance was exceptional. The public didn’t seem to mind the almost subliminal propaganda promulgated in their direction, and so Walt decided to up the ante.
For the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney created 4 attractions that would later wind their way to Disneyland, and later to other Disney parks across the country. Among them were the ubiquitous “It’s a Small World,” created for Pepsi and Unicef; and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” sponsored by the State of Illinois. (This project would later be expanded into The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom in Florida.)
Perhaps the most influential, if not the best-known attraction Disney created for the fair was GE’s “Carousel of Progress,” which depicted the technical advances families have enjoyed over the past 100 or so years. Each scene featured an audio-animatronic father discussing the innovations of his day, surrounded by a decidedly corny depiction of his “typical family” consisting of wife, 2 children and dog.
Unsurprisingly, the scenes also feature a number of moving appliances, such as GE refrigerators that open upon mention and light fixtures that turn on and off. Although the “present time” scene did a good job of showcasing many GE products, the overarching goal was not just to sell. GE was interested in the Disney studio – trusted as they were – lending its “wholesome halo” to their brand. In the words of Eric Schlosser, they wanted the public to “(celebrate) technology without qualms”; to see progress as being worth any price.
In the case of both Pepsi and GE, an integral part of the persuasion was the musical score. To those ends, Disney commissioned the Sherman brothers, writers of the music for Mary Poppins, to compose 2 new songs for the World’s Fair attractions: “It’s a Small World (After All)” for Pepsi; and for, GE, “It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow.”
While the commercial intent of the “It’s a Small World” ride is mostly lost on modern audiences, the Carousel of Progress remains largely untouched. It continues as an operating ride, now within the gates of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The Carousel of Progress is often cited by Disney as the world’s longest continuously-running stage production. It is seldom mentioned that it is also the only known stage production to function first and foremost as an infomercial for its corporate sponsor.

Epcot, Brought to You by Siemens
As Florida legacy, the legend of the Magic Kingdom reigns supreme. It’s been there longest and out of all the parks, it’s the one that most intentionally apes Disneyland. Few people realize that Walt’s true legacy to the world (aside from Mickey Mouse) is Epcot, a name Walt himself coined. The acronym, which stands for “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow,” provides a peephole into Walt’s psyche.
Disney originally intended for Epcot to be a functioning city in which people made house, went to work, saw the doctor. Everyone would pay rent so that Walt, whose tendencies toward a command-and-control mentality prompted some of his animators to dub his studio “Mousewitz,” could retain autonomy and enforce sterility. Everyone would have a job – retirement would be disallowed. Theoretically, this would eliminate slums and ghettos.
Partly because of clashes with Florida politicians – and partly because Disney did not want to invite other, voting residents into the special district the State of Florida had granted the company to build its resort – Epcot became a theme park instead of a working city. A permanent World’s Fair, if you will, where the highest pinnacle of corporate synergy could be achieved.
Today, there is a boat ride through biotech greenhouses sponsored by Chiquita; a racetrack sponsored by GM; and the Innoventions pavilion, featuring “Don’t Waste It!” by trash hauler Waste Management, “Play it Safe” by Liberty Mutual and “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure” from T. Rowe Price.
Even the films presented at Epcot have sponsors. O Canada! starring Martin Short, for example, was financed by Canada’s commission of tourism.
At the close of each day, there is a fireworks spectacular called IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which celebrates our diversity and unity as a people. The unlikely underwriter of this attraction is Siemens, the global communications powerhouse. On a recent visit to the park, I was startled to find the Siemens logo gyrating around Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth (otherwise known as the “giant golf ball”) as I exited for the evening.
But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, for hawking space on an international icon is only the latest quotient in the decades-old formula of Disney magic. Ever since Walt became the first person to pre-arrange product licensing for a film before it hit the screens (for Snow White), Disney has perpetuated its prophecy through third-party funds. The money comes from mundane corporations far and wide, wishing upon a star that some of Disney’s mesmerizing magic will rub off on them.

The ING New York City Marathon
The patchwork of patronage that Walt Disney started to assemble has grown into a veritable quilt, covering the entirety of the civilized world in a layer of corporate messages, icons and ideologies. In 1970, we had the New York City Marathon. Today, we have the ING New York City Marathon. In 1989, when I first visited the Franklin Institute science museum on a school trip, it featured an exhibit called “Franklin: He’s Electric!” Today, that exhibit has been replaced by “Electricity,” sponsored by PECO, an Exelon Company.
Naming rights to venues such as stadiums date back to the construction of Wrigley Field (chewing gum) and Fenway Park (named for one of the partners’ businesses, Fenway Realty). However, at that time sponsorship marketing was the exception rather than the rule; and events and attractions held within one businesses’ portals were supported and presented by that particular business.
Walt Disney changed all of that, making it okay for non-profits and Chambers of Commerce everywhere to sell of sponsorships of dessert stations, raffles and even meal courses. Concert promoters offer sponsorships of stages, parking lots and venues. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority even sold naming rights to their State Street subway station to Citizens Bank from 1997-2000.
Today, sponsorships are a $24 billion+ business, and the Walt Disney Company has a market capitalization of more than 40 billion dollars. As Walt said, “Disneyland is a show” – and, to paraphrase Shakespeare a bit – all of us are mere players in its great, big, beautiful circus of commercialism.

TMSM Today in Graphic by Sherry Rinaldi DeHart; Article Author Patrick Diogenia; Article Source

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