Where dreams come true
Spring? Are you finally here? While the rays of sun are slipping through my window, I find myself soaking them and, at the same time, the same tune is playing in my mind: the Lion King’s Cycle of Life. Ever since I came back from Disneyland Paris my brain has played every Disney song I could remember, and couldn’t help but feeling goosebumps every time Michael Bolton’s voice appeared in my playlist with Hercules’ theme Go the Distance, or the initial drums of the Cycle of Life… and I couldn’t help but wonder, how the hell do they do it?
Disney is the perfect example of how a brand can permeate the collective skin and make entire generations feel like a child again, and Disneyland is the perfect tool to keep the flame alive, through an incredible experiential strategy. Personally, I lived my whole childhood through their movies and wishing someday I could convince my parents to live that wonderland paradise that was advertised in my ‘Little Mermaid’ VHS, before the movie started.
I had to wait, though, until I reached 20 years old, to finally enjoy the perks of the park. That Summer my inner child woke up again and my mind blew with the accuracy of the details of every corner of the park. I left that day with the feeling that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience or, at least, I wouldn’t come back in a very long time… until fate got on the way and offered me the chance to participate in a casting to be a Disneyland Cast Member that October. I had very little idea of French but I was certain I would get through the interviews. Et voilà! those Christmas I was back to the park that blew my mind a few of months before.
While struggling with my French (is there any better way of revising the numbers in French than working for one of the busiest shops of the park at the highest peak of Christmas season?), meeting incredible people and learning to smile despite the exhaustion, I discovered the secret of the magic potion for Disneyland success: consistence.
How can be possible that every Disneyland Resort is a special place that remains in your memory as the ultimate spot of happiness?
Sure thing, the meticulous attention to detail is one of the key aspects for such success, plus engaging influencers every child – and not so child, could ever dream of: the Disney characters.
However, if we have a look at all the parks, they turn out to be designed in the same way, and the key attractions are named in the same way, no matter whether it is Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disneyland Resort Paris or Disneyland Shanghai. They all are arranged in the same way.
Following, if you get the chance to work in one of these parks, you will have to follow certain rules that will add to the magic potion of consistence. To start with, if Mickey chose you is because you have great social skills, as you have to be extremely nice and smiley at all times. Even if you have a rude client demanding the impossible, you have to be nice – though at times this skill can be close to magic.
Smaller or larger, these parks not also contain the same elements, but also accomplish the mission of getting the inner child of whoever sets a foot in the park.
I wanted to find out more about the magical formula that these parks have and instead, I learned that the success of Disneyland Paris hasn’t always been like that. Even though the parks were arranged in the same way, there was one paramount element of the magical equation missing during the first years of the park -back when it was called Euro-Disney in the beginning of the 1990’s: cultural differences.
Clearly, there was something going very wrong with Euro-Disney. Cultural differences in several aspects, from the American-style management, following the differences in working conditions, to the type of meals offered, were killing the magic that worked so well back in the US. It didn’t help either that the French elite was pretty much against the American imperialism ever since the end of WWII.
Not only initial expectations were overestimated – with only 50000 visitors during the first year, far away from the 500000 initially expected (Matusitz, 2010), but critics over the park didn’t wait, being described as ‘a horrible constructive design built with cardboard, plastic, and appalling colors, and a chewing-gum construction spiced with idiotic folklore taken directly from comic books and targeted for obese Americans’ by critic Jean Cau (Palmer et al, 2007; in Mautusitz, 2010). This caused major financial loses, which eventually took the park close to bankruptcy in 2005.
From American Euro-Disney to European Disneyland Paris: a tale of glocalisation.
The magic touch which turned the park from an ugly pumpkin to a splendorous carriage was called glocalisation.
Coming from the words ‘globalisation’ and ‘localisation’, in a nutshell glocalisation means adapting the global elements of a corporation to a local extent. Therefore, even though the main elements are part of the universal construct, they are particularised for the local culture (have you ever wondered why the size and types of McDonald’s burgers differ across countries? There you go).
‘The fundamental assumption behind glocalisation is that imposing our cultural values in other cultures does not always work’ (Matusitz, 2010)
Disney was in trouble with this park, and what they eventually did was adapting their strategy to the European audience. Yes, the parks would contain the same elements but the audience they were reaching for was different, which led to a radical change in prices, management, working conditions under the French policies, as well as an adaptation to the European tastes by turning the shows into the French style and changing the food menus and eating habits, instead of the initial American approach.
Even though it took some time to adapt this strategy, the turnaround paid off and now Disneyland Paris is the most visited park in Europe.
So, if you visited it in the 90's or early 2000's and think it's just another family park, I would recommend you to repay a visit to the complex in Marne la Vallée and think again, they welcome adults with open arms.