Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Be Original

by Bob Rogers

We are commoditising our parks. We are using meetings like IAAPA, Euro Attractions Show and Asian Attractions Expo to copy rather than inspire each other. Identical solutions are appearing everywhere for everything. Our attractions are all starting to look alike.

If there are two attractions near each other, and if they offer the same elements, they will compete on price. The cheapest will win. Your operating margins will get smaller. This means a complete loss of any differentiation, ie. brand equity.

What is the value of your brand? An automotive engineer once explained it this way:

“We have taken apart the Saturn and compared it to our equivalent car, part-by-part, spring-by-spring, screw-by-screw. From an engineering point, the two are identical, but we can’t convince the customer. The Saturn sells for 25% more. Why? Because people believe the Saturn is better. They like the brand.”

A few years ago, there was an unconfirmed rumour revolving around the audience testing for the Warner Bros animated feature Iron Giant. No one will confirm the following but, as the story goes, Warner Bros was testing small differences in audience approval ratings based on subtle editorial changes in the movie. Suddenly one test came back 25% higher than any of the others. The studio executives eagerly asked what had been changed in this copy that made such a positive difference. They were told that only one shot had been changed. At the beginning of the movie, the Warner Bros logo had been removed and a Disney logo had been put on the film.

A great brand adds strongly perceived value to its products. This translates to money in the owner’s pocket.

I see our entire industry headed in the opposite direction. Several years ago while I was attending an industry conference in Asia, a brave park owner admitted, “We can not afford R&D, so we do R&C, which is research and copy.” In other words, they come to the trade shows and simply buy things off the shelf without regard to how it amplifies or contradicts their brand, without attempting to modify the attraction to make it unique, without changing its story and meaning to express their park’s own brand.

The following story is told longer and better in Buzz Price’s book, Walt’s Revolution: By the Numbers. In the early days of planning the first Disney park, Walt sent a delegation including Buzz to the annual meeting of IAAPA, which was known at the time as the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches. In a private meeting fuelled by cigars and Chivas Regal, several of the nation’s smartest park owner/operators explained why Disneyland would never work.

Their thoughts were reported to Walt as part of his “R&C,” but for Walt R&C meant research and courage. He ignored some of their advice. For example, they all urged him to put the parking on all sides of Disneyland and provide multiple gates from all directions. But Walt ignored them and instead brought all of his guests through a common story/arrival experience. The group also told Walt his Jungle Cruise using live animals would never work. The animals would all be asleep and hiding during most of the operating day. They told him to forget the Jungle Cruise. Walt thought about it and went ahead, but with mechanical animals.

This is the right way to take advantage of the great conferences and trade organisations in our industry. Do the research, but then have courage. Build your brand by adopting, modifying and improving what you find. Spend the extra money and take the extra time to make it your own and to build your brand.

And remember, in the words of Brad Bird who directed such classics as The Incredibles and Ratatouille: “Bugs Bunny did not become famous by trying to be like Mickey Mouse.”

Bob Rogers is one of the world’s best-known attraction strategists. Newsweek has called him “the theme park industry’s resident futurist.” His Burbank-based firm, BRC Imagination Arts, creates, designs and produces attractions around the world for companies including Disney, Universal Studios, Ford, General Motors and NASA. In the last few months BRC has opened three new projects, most recently the all-new Heineken Experience in Amsterdam.

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