Disney ad campaign will pull out the emotional stops

Susan Strother Clarke
BUSINESS COMMENTARY

June 19, 2006

If you've ever questioned Disney's ability to pluck an emotional chord, consider this:

When the company unveiled the latest ad campaign for its theme parks recently, photographer Annie Leibovitz was on hand to discuss her role. She recalled going to Disneyland as a child -- and talked about eventually taking her own daughter.

And she got a little choked up.

Now, that alone doesn't mean that Disney's "Where Dreams Come True" promotion will be a slam-dunk.

But if someone like Leibovitz -- who has seen plenty over the years -- can get touched talking about taking her kid to Disney, it says a lot about what the Mouse is selling.

More than thrill rides or shows, it's emotion and experience.

The Dreams campaign kicks off in October, though a preview of one print ad was in USA Today two weeks ago. It is designed to pick up where Disney's successful 50th anniversary campaign leaves off in September.

Hankies handy? Here's a preview: In one 60-second TV spot, a little boy's fishing trip becomes a pirate adventure. Three kids jumping on a bed take flight like Peter Pan. And a little girl -- adorable, naturally -- opens a door to become a princess, ready to board her carriage.

"Where once upon a time happens once upon a day," an announcer says. "Come live your dreams . . . at the Disney parks."

The dollar value? Given the high caliber of talent, not the least of which is Leibovitz, we're talking millions in creative and in media buys.

Leibovitz's part will include celebrity photos, though it's unclear whether that means movie stars or park celebs like Snow White.

Another part of the promotion: Randomly chosen parks guests will get superperks, like a stay in Cinderella's Castle or having the Magic Kingdom to themselves for a few hours.

Here's what I like about the Dreams campaign: It goes to the very heart of the distinction between Disney and its competitors. Put another way, I can't imagine Leibovitz getting emotional about taking her kid on the Jaws ride at Universal.

"Your relationship with Disney is an experience," Greg Bustin told me. He's a branding expert in Dallas. "It's one of the most recognizable brands in the world."

Still, the campaign has a potential pitfall -- namely, the fact that it's global and will be used by all the parks. Anytime a company goes worldwide with ads, it risks watering down the message so it will fly in all markets.

On the other hand, the economies Disney can get from something like this makes me wonder why they haven't done more of this in the past.

Wall Street ****ysts have already weighed in, suggesting that Dreams is a good follow to 50th celebration campaign.

How successful was that? In Orlando, it helped the Disney parks rob its competitors -- Mouse attendance climbed while Universal's fell and SeaWorld's was flat.

BOTTOM LINE. With Alberto behind us, it's good to remember that a couple of recent surveys have shown that some travelers are leery about coming to Florida during hurricane season. But funny thing: The anxieties melt away if they get a discount. Said one wag: "It's amazing how quickly people get past their concerns if the price is right." . . . Speaking of surveys, this Friday is "take your dog to work day," and a recent poll found that 32 percent of folks would take a pay cut if they were allowed to have their pooches at work. Please -- less money just to have Fido in the office? Sounds like these folks have their collars on too tight.