The Happiest Place on Earth

[Cache #242]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Disney’s tagline, The Happiest Place on Earth, is the world’s biggest, boldest brand promise.  

People come from all around the planet to experience that promise.  Especially families.  And even more especially, children – for whom there cannot possibly be a parental announcement more exciting than of an upcoming Disney cruise or theme park visit. 

Three days ago, Disney failed on its promise in the most unimaginably horrible way.

Two-year old Lane Graves of Nebraska was with his family, on the beach of a man-made lagoon inside Disney World in Orlando, watching the outdoor screening of a movie.  Lane was playing at the water’s edge.  An alligator appeared and dragged him to his death.  His father fought the animal to no avail.

I am not an alligator expert.  I look to reports from CNN and the Washington Post, which articulate that:

-Florida has more alligators, more than one million, than any other US state.

Floridians know that gators are a constant threat, and that extreme caution must be exercised when near almost any body of water.  “The danger is so ingrained in the general public that many small bodies of water lack posted warnings.”

-There were signs on the beach that said “No Swimming,” but there were no signs warning about alligators.

There has not been a fatal alligator attack at Disney World in the park’s 50 years of existence.

For me, the bottom line is this:  with the world’s biggest brand promise comes the world’s biggest responsibility to deliver on it.  Disney does not have an average, typical or normal level of responsibility to ensure the safety of its customers.  Instead, a higher standard applies, because it is a superlative proposition – happiest on earth – upon which the organization trades, to the point of building a behemoth valued at $160 billion and in the world’s top three media companies.

This higher standard would apply even if every one of their customers were from the state of Florida.  Which they are not.  Between 18% and 22% of the 52 million people who visit Disney World each year are from outside the United States.  That’s in the area of 10 million people – setting aside the surely even larger cohort that comes from other US states.  Put simply, Disney was built and thrives upon people who come from away.

These tourists, like Tyler and his family from the Midwest, cannot be expected to possess – to repeat, like every Floridian does – a hard-wired awareness that one must always beware of gators, especially near the water.  Their ignorance is even more understandable in the absence of explicit warning signs or messages on a man-made beach, on a man-made lagoon, on the grounds of the very organization – Disney – ­that has the world’s strongest reputation for delivering an unparalleled experience, one based on crossing every imaginable t and dotting every imaginable i.

Of doing everything imaginable to deliver happiness.

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