Disney turns to guests to promote theme parks

Disney turns to guests to promote theme parks
By | November 13th, 2010

In one video, a little boy dances during a parade at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In another, a young girl dressed as a princess embraces her father. And in a third, two women explore Cinderella Castle.

All are part of Disney’s new campaign called Let the Memories Begin — a promotion that relies on what the company refers to as “guest-generated” content.

“Let the Memories Begin is about real guests making real memories in our parks,” said Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president of global marketing for Disney Destinations.

“Disney guests have always loved sharing their vacation memories with us and each other. New technologies like YouTube and Facebook have made it easier and faster for our guests to share their memories, for Disney Parks to spotlight those memories on a larger scale, and for us to reinforce to our guests how important we think their memories are.”

Disney isn’t alone.

The travel industry — which for years considered videos as byproducts of a happy vacation, if not liabilities that occasionally found their way on to the Internet — has also had a change of heart.

User-generated videos aren’t exactly new. They’ve been popular for years and have big audience online. According to ComScore, 178 million U.S. Internet users watched online video content in August, the latest month available. That’s an average of 14.3 hours per viewer. Many of the clips online are produced on the cheap, using a cell phone and rudimentary editing software on a PC.

But Disney’s campaign marks a turning point. The grainy videos with the tinny sound that occasionally went viral are now being accepted and even celebrated as authentic representations of a vacation experience.

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“They’re real,” said Jason Stein, a writer, producer and director for Laundry Service Media. “No script, no actors. I understand why the travel industry wants to employ more user-generated videos: It’s a real person documenting a real experience.”

It’s about more than lowering production standards and handing over some of the creative control to a customer, said Hawk Thompson, the content director at the marketing firm Springbox. “It’s more like a convergence,” he said. “Consumers and smart brands like Disney interact with each other and share similar aesthetic values because digital media has leveled the playing field.”

Travel companies could get a boost from that trend, in terms of improved sales and visibility. But travelers might be the real beneficiaries, in the long run, because they’ll gain power.

“This is all about curating the content that helps sell the virtues of Disney through the experience of its consumers,” said Frank Sinton, CEO of MeFeedia. “This appears to be an attempt to better harness the user-generated content movement with hand-picked selections to help the company put its best face forward.”

The potential downside
But letting the user-generated content genie out of the bottle could also backfire. While Disney’s experiment is carefully orchestrated, other initiatives haven’t gone as smoothly. An often-cited case is TripAdvisor, which is best known for its written user-generated hotel reviews. Hoteliers have long complained that the reviews are false or inaccurate, and now several hundred have reportedly banded together and are considering filing a defamation suit against the company.