Thursday, November 10, 2011

Words You’ll Never Hear On futureprobe

Recently the author of the EPCOT Explorer’s Encyclopedia tweeted an interesting video in which Disney’s Global PR Chief cited a very interesting statistic: for every person who posted something negative about the company, eighteen people would spring to Disney’s defense.

That statistic got me thinking about the way some of my fellow members of the online Disney fan community use language, specifically how the words and phrasing some of them use mimics Disney’s advertising to an uncanny degree. For example, how often have you seen a posting on a message board, a blog, or on Twitter that uses words like “magic” or “pixie dust” to describe the experience of visiting a Disney theme park? Now, I’m not trying to be critical of anyone here. Most companies have approved messaging and verbiage that their employees are expected to use when talking about the company. Such approved verbiage is generally designed to depict the company in the most favorable light possible and downplay any of its faults or mistakes. And as you might imagine, most of the people who are required by their employer to parrot such verbiage don’t really believe it themselves. Some of them are just really good at delivering it convincingly. And that’s why it kind of makes me laugh when I see people who aren’t on Disney’s payroll voluntarily adopt its approved messaging and verbiage in their writing.

And make no mistake, it’s easy to do. The company has crazy good ninja marketers who can write ad copy that melts into your brain and merges with your thought processes without you ever realizing what’s happening. But since I dislike the idea of partially ceding control of my mind to a corporation whose sole aim is to get me to give them money, I believe it’s important that we recognize when these tactics are being used on us and try to resist them. I also believe that there’s no need for me to function as an unpaid parrot for Disney’s marketing messages, like a computer with inadequate security protection that’s become part of a botnet. Therefore, here are a couple of Disney-related terms you will rarely, if ever, see me use on this blog:

Guest. This word has been around since Walt’s time. It’s used to convey the idea that visitors to a Disney facility can expect a higher, more friendly level of service than they might get at their local grocery store or county fair. But let me ask you a question: suppose I invite you over to my home for a steak dinner. I’m asking you to be my guest, right? But what if I tell you it costs $15 to park your car in my driveway, $85 to walk through my front door, and the steak dinner will be $50 per person? Are you still my guest? No, you’re my customer. They’re different things. Now, if I invited you to my home as a guest and the house was a little messy and ill-maintained and I didn’t cook your steak exactly right it’s not a big deal. But if I made you pay through the nose for the experience, you’d rightly expect everything to be better than perfect. To me, calling Disney’s customers “guests” undermines the business relationship between the company and the people who pay to get into its parks and stay at its resorts.

Back to my analogy. Suppose I have a really cool game room at my house, full of the latest in home theater and video game technology, and from time to time I invite you over to play some NBA Jam or watch a movie on my giant TV. Again, if I’m charging you admission to my house and we have a business relationship, you’re not coming over spend time with me because I’m such a cool guy. You’re coming over because I have cool toys to play with, and I let you win at NBA Jam. Now suppose I decide I need to cut expenses-not because I’m hurting for money, but because I’m kind of greedy. So I strip my game room bare, sell off all my cool toys, and block the door with a potted plant and a sign that says “The game room is closed-please enjoy the other rooms at David’s house”

It’s a good thing Disney never does anything like that

And then to top it off, what if I raised my admission price to $95, and continued to raise it once a year regardless of whether or not I bothered to improve or even maintain my property? You’d accuse me of all kinds of things. You’d call me a jerk and a cheapskate. And you would be right. You’d also leave and go spend your money somewhere else. But that never seems to happen to Disney, does it? And why is that? It’s mostly because of their crackerjack marketing department, and another word they’ve plucked out of the English language and pretend to own the copyright on:

Magic. How many times do you hear this word in connection with Disney? The parks aren’t just fun, they’re “magical”. The bus that picks you up at Orlando International Airport isn’t a reasonably nice motor coach, it’s the “Magical Express”. Staying on property? You’re not just paying above-average room rates for the convenience of being close to the parks and getting to use Disney transportation, you’re “staying close to the magic”. This is blatant manipulative advertising language. It helps to foster the notion that an expensive Disney vacation has some intangible value that makes it worth the money. And that’s okay, it’s what advertisers are paid to do. But you’re not going to catch me doing it, because I’m not a Disney marketer and they’re not paying me a penny.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Disney World. And most members of the Disney fan community (especially the ones who link to this blog or follow me on Twitter) are fantastic people. I’m not bashing anyone here. But, maybe because I work in the IT industry and not in sales, I have an aversion to sugarcoated marketing language. So, you’ll often hear me refer to Disney park “visitors”, “parkgoers”, and even “customers”, but never “guests” unless I’m quoting someone else or writing about someone for whom Disney picked up the tab for their visit. And while you’ll often hear me refer to the Disney parks as “fun”, “entertaining”, or “enjoyable” and the customer service as “friendly” or “excellent”, you will never, ever see me use the word “magic” to describe these things in a non-sarcastic way.

In fact, if you ever catch me using words like “magic”, “guest”, or “pixie dust” the way Disney uses them, It’s a sure sign that the aliens have taken over my brain and are preparing to invade, and only Jeff Goldblum and his MacBook will be able to save us.


  1. And yet you use Cast Member....

  2. Look! You're already got one of those 18 defending Disney :)

  3. Hey, all the marketing jargon is irritating, but if you're going to make a big show about being above it, at least have the decency to be above it!

  4. Sometimes a descriptor is pretty accurate for describing your experience, however. I think "magic" comes pretty close to describing the feelings that a lot of people, me included, feel when they walk through the gates.

    Even with their inattention to several things in the parks, they still deliver a pretty unique experience. I guess bloggers and fans using the Disney jargon to describe specific things about the Disney experience doesn't bother me all that much.

  5. BTW, I couldn't find the use of the word "Cast Member" in the post. Where is it?

  6. It's not in this post, but Blogspot provides a handy search bar at the top of the page.

    This post uses "guest" a whole bunch of times:

    It pops up here too:

    Inconsistent with your claims, David. I'll bet you even say Mousekeeping!

  7. First of all the phrase "cast member" isn't really a marketing term, since it's not really used to get people to spend money or blur the true relationship between Disney and its customers. The fact is that Disney employees are expected to put on a much happier face "on stage" than their counterparts at places like Publix or Wendy's. So that's not a term I have a problem with. Your mileage may vary, and that's okay.

    Secondly, I'm not claiming that I haven't slipped up and used the word "guest" on occasion (although one of the examples Mr. Anonymous dug up was a piece of SATIRE) but I generally try not to.

    And again, I want to emphasize that I am NOT taking shots at any member of the online fan community. We're all free to say what we want and I have better things to do than engage in Internet slap-fights. I was just explaining why I do things the way I do them and advocating people to think for themselves, rather than let marketers do it for them.

  8. "I want to emphasize that I am NOT taking shots at any member of the online fan community.... I was just explaining why I do things the way I do them and advocating people to think for themselves, rather than let marketers do it for them."

    So you aren't taking shots at them, you're just saying that Disney marketing does their thinking for them. Dunno, man, that seems pretty ... un-magical.

    It's weird that Disney blogging has become so clique-y. I'm waiting for one of the "cool kids" to dump Lou Mongello's books in front of his big secret crush. That'll show those nerds!

  9. David, I've heard guests used by restaurants and hotels, not just Disney. It seems to me that it's become a more or less generic term for customers at those types of businesses. I see your point, but couldn't it be that Disney wants its customers to feel like they are being treated to the same level of service and courtesy that they might get at a 5 star hotel or restaurant?

  10. Hi David,

    I understand your hesitancy to embrace the marketing lingo, and I think understand your point of view...


    You write:
    "It helps to foster the notion that an expensive Disney vacation has some intangible value that makes it worth the money."

    The thing is that for many people (myself included), Disney vacations *do* have an intangible value that makes them worth the money. There is a feeling that many Guests (yes, I did that on purpose) experience at Disney parks that is difficult to articulate without resorting to words like "magic." I prefer to use the word "reassurance" since I think that is more accurate for me, though it may not be for others.

    For example, last year during a family trip to WDW, my family and I had "Lunch with an Imagineer" and among the others at the lunch were a couple who visit the parks at least once a year and have done so for many years. I asked them about it, and they explained that the first time they visited, they experience a feeling of comfort and security that they've never experienced elsewhere. That is an "intangible value" that is clearly worth the money to them.

    Take Care,

    Lou Prosperi

  11. I completely agree with basically everything said here.

    The "magic" term is the worst offense of all. Listen, I get that there are magical parts of a Disney vacation. That can't be denied.

    But the word is thrown around so often and in such a high volume by Disney it's lost all sense of meaning.

    No longer can something just be special and appreciated. No, they have to make sure we know how dang MAGICAL every little thing is. There's no subtlety in the operation anymore. No class.

    Marketing "magic" has replaced the real kind.

  12. Pulling a rabbit out of my hat, that's magical. Paying 90 bucks for a park ticket, not magical. But it is genius marketing because people are falling for it.

  13. ^^^
    Some might say that Disney pulls a whole lot of rabbits out its hat in their theme parks. The question then becomes what's it worth to the paying guest? I agree that 90 bucks is pretty nuts. But I'll still pay it on occasion.

    I went to a David Copperfield show in Vegas a few years back. I want to say the tickets were in the 65 to 70 dollar range (I could be wrong). The show was less than three hours, if I recall correctly. Much of the show, it seemed to me, was devoted to video presentations telling me how great David Copperfield is, in his own words! There were a handful of great illusions, some a lot more impressive than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It was a "magic" show! (I probably wouldn't go back; I didn't think it was worth the money I paid for it. But yet I think he's still there, selling out shows.)

  14. A nerd who still writes about Star Trek and Eisner and obscure facets of WDW wants his street cred because he won't use certain Disney-created terms in his backwater blog.
    I bet you got a lot of wedgies in high school.


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