Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Learning from marketing errors

by Dr Jack Samuels

Over the years the error of not researching things properly and clearly has lead to numerous incorrect market decisions. In the case of New Coke a few years back, the Coca Cola Company extensively tested the product and found that its new formula tasted better.

It forgot, however, that soft drinks do not sell based on taste but primarily on reputation and advertising. As a result, the public uproar was one of the greatest of all time as people could not believe that the company would take away their traditional and time-honoured product. If the company simply changed the taste of the product without advertising the change and had not renamed it New Coke the product may have had a more successful introduction.

All of this was recalled recently when I read that Southwest Airlines decided to not change its “cattle call” unreserved seating policy because its customers like it that way. This is another common marketing error – only catering to your current clientele. What about the probability that if it did change its existing customers might quickly adjust and it might also get many new ones?

So, when studying customer trends in the amusement and attractions industry we need to avoid making some of the same errors. In service businesses such as ours they are easy to make. Here are a few pointers:

1) Although we mostly do market research on our current customers, because it is easy and less expensive, always look at customers that you don’t have. In the early ‘80s, Disney suddenly realised it was not reaching many large market segments such as empty nesters and college students. Today, Disney has greatly expanded its customer base.

2) Test new ideas. It is uncertain whether Southwest did any test marketing of its new seating strategy. For years there has been a rumour that Disney has test marketed the name “Villians” for a fifth gated attraction. Nobody has ever confirmed this but obviously it is worthwhile to test market. After new ideas are developed through market research the final research should always be a test market.

3) Don’t get caught up in fads. Fads are the dangerous downfall of the pop culture marketplace. I have in the past written in these pages about how to spot fads and long term trends.

4) Don’t be too quick to change a tradition. Perhaps that is what Southwest Airlines concluded; that changing the “cattle call” would not be a good idea. Imagine if Disney thought Mickey was passé and made Donald the keeper of the Kingdom.

Dr Samuels provides diverse consulting services in marketing, facility development, customer service, safety and event management, plus promotional activities programming such as birthday parties. He can be reached at

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