Just like Walt, It All Started with a Mouse

Everything I know about marketing I learned from a mouse.

Well, not really “a” mouse, more like “The”-with-a-capital-T mouse.

Yep, that’s the one.

That one internship shaped me more than I ever could have anticipated, and I most certainly didn’t know it at the time.

The program consisted of working (to be specific, in the Main Street Bakery and Ice Cream Shoppe on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom), living (on property at Vista Way with a thousand other college kids from all over the world – and yes, it’s exactly what you imagine it to be), and learning. This last component was the one, at the time, we thought of least.

Each week we would gather in a room and were taught marketing principles by top Disney management. They were so passionate! That’s what I remember most. They lived and breathed Disney. Their energy was contagious. They were Disney evangelists and we were hooked (lined, and sinkered).


What struck me the most was that it was never about selling. Now, I’m not playing the Pollyanna part here, I realize that Disney is a major corporation laser-focused on ROI and P&L (and a whole lot of other letters too). I know there are bottom lines that need to be accounted for and year-over-year performance analytics that will be scrubbed and scrutinized top-down. There are enough data points to render you blind. But they didn’t sacrifice the vision, and the collective heart of Disney, to do so.


That heartbeat comes from Walt himself. Walt is still there. You feel his presence. It’s palpable. There’s a deep reverence with all of us because of who he was and for what he stood. Walt cherished family togetherness and magical fun. After all, isn’t that why he created Disneyland in the first place? Our job, simply enough, was to keep the magic alive.


Ok then, back to my Disney education.


After weeks of learning all the ups and downs that made the company what it is today, we began talking about how you market this behemoth brand. And it started with what you don’t do. You don’t abandon your values and point of differentiation with each new campaign or catchy gimmick (if you don’t believe me, ask a Chick-Fil-A cow). You stay steadfast. You remain true to your brand’s voice. And that most certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be uncreative or left with stale and grandfathered in ideas, not at all.


We learned that Disney owned the word Magic.


It’s the Magic of Disney that can make you wait in a line for an hour to get a picture with Mickey, grumbling, complaining, and looking at your watch the entire time, for all of that angst to fly right out the window when Mick opens up his arms to give you a hug and a photo op.


The word Magic, in and of itself, evokes an image (Mickey, Cinderella’s Castle, Dumbo’s mom rocking him in her trunk, Bambi…even hearing “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” can tug your heartstrings) that leads to an emotion (feeling like a kid again, getting all weepy, memories of vacations you took with your parents a million years ago) that leads to an action (planning your own family vacation to one of the 12 theme parks, going to see “Black Panther”, buying DVD’s and countless other merch).


It’s this emotion that plays out in all of their advertising. Check out this video:

for a great compilation of past Disney spots. The thread that ties them all together, regardless of the year, is that connection through emotion. There’s the night before going to Disney World spot where two kids are “Too Excited To Sleep”. The antsy and excited feeling just like Christmas Eve. And it wasn’t just the kids. Mom tries to get Dad to go to sleep and it’s mission impossible for him too. “My Vacation” had a boy giving his ‘What I Did On Summer Vacation’ paper in front of the class where he told tales of going to a Haunted Mansion, traveling into the future, being attacked by an alien, and going all the way to China. How magical is that?! And don’t forget “Walking” where a baby girl’s first steps are straight into the arms of Mickey Mouse himself. The heart leads the head.

I’ve taken this lesson and brought it to each client with which I’ve worked over the past 15+ years. Find that connection. Working on the McDonald’s account, they called this passion having “ketchup in your veins”. I loved that. But they needed the connective tissue. How do you go from having passionate owner/operators to passionate customers? Easy. Tell them that McDonald’s has an equity that no other fast food restaurant can touch (and I should know, over the course of my career I’ve worked on 5 of ‘em). Children, I explained to them, learn the letter M from your sign. Talk to them. Remind them that you’ve been there since their Happy Meal and you’ll be there for their $1 senior coffee.

Thank you for sticking with me through this first blog. Within my blogs I will bring you best in class campaigns that I have executed as well as those I haven’t but wish I did.

And I want this to be a conversation. Any questions you have, ideas, anything at all, ask away.

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