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The 'Happiest Place on Earth' is Taking a PR Beating.


Oh boy.

All we can say is … It’s called ‘a soft opening’ for a reason, ‘ya know.

Or a soft reopening, as the case may be.

Walt Disney World in Orlando, the Happiest Place On Earth, is caught in a public relations nightmare, taking a beating of epic proportion in traditional media and social media simply by reopening its gates to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom after almost four months. Except, well, timing (and a sense of place) is everything.

Disney officials not only made the decision to reopen at the height of a dramatic surge in positive coronavirus cases, making the state of Florida the country’s new epicenter for COVID-19, they did so with a great deal of fanfare.

Perhaps that was to distract from the new normal – temperature checks, face masks, social distancing, no parade down Main Street, some rides closed, mostly takeout food – but for most people it turned out to be a tone-deaf reopening.

Twitter user Emma Hondry even invoked public relations when she wrote, “Dear Disney, has your PR team gone insane? Reopening in FL at the height of a COVID pandemic surge is just stupid. (I don’t use that word often, but this is it.) You may have deluded yourselves that this will go well, but your Risk Managers know better.”

A tweet from @mmpadellan read: “I can't think of any other reason for Disney World reopening, unless Florida is going for the World record in COVID-19 cases and deaths. It's a small world, after all.”

If it wasn’t the decision itself causing consternation, if it wasn’t the cast member greetings as the first guests came through the turnstiles, it was the hokey video on Twitter from the @disneyparksjobs account showing cast members at the parks and resorts saying “Welcome Home” while wearing masks.

The spot also includes highlights of rides and attractions at WDW but the video, apparently since deleted, was widely panned. Some even called it ‘eerie’ and said it had the feel of a horror movie. We saw it; it’s like Stepford Wives meets Friday The 13th (the early Jason Voorhees, not that Jason vs. Freddy shit).

To paraphrase Al Pacino in the great film ‘And Justice For All,’ in theory it was highly commendable but in practice it sucked.

Now, let’s be clear about the Walt Disney Company – The Mouse rules. This is a company that has done far more good than the mistakes it has made over the decades. It has become a leader in every sense of the word as it made the transition from theme park giant to media conglomerate. Don’t believe it? Check your recent history. It was only four months ago when the pandemic began to ravage the U.S. Businesses, including other amusement parks were iffy, at best, about shuttering until Disney World announced on March 13 it was locking the doors indefinitely in 48 hours. Everybody who was waiting to see what WDW would do quickly followed.

Disney stuck to its guns in this instance and reopened. It has been a controversial decision, to be sure. But the blow might have been softened by having less of the ancillary activities.

Sometimes, less is more.

Whether you’re the head of Disney World or the honcho of your own world, Media Maison can help your brand. Reach out to our CEO, Samantha Martin, at samantha@mediamaison.com, to help you get to the next level.

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