Disney will give free admission to its parks to 1 million people who complete a day of volunteer work. It's an amazingly smart marketing tactic, and it has strategic implications that every business should consider.

In many ways, Disney is a unique case. Babies are born with the brand identity pre-programmed in their brains, which means that every human being walking the planet is likely to be aware of the brand and, unless they're active evildoers or otherwise twisted, associate it with at least the appearance of wholesome goodness. Disney has branding problems like the Earth has issues with rotation.

The challenge is to get people to do something with all that awareness. Watch a movie. Buy a plush toy. Visit a theme park. Normally, the tactical solution would be to offer a promotion or other price-relevant deal to prompt that behavior (limited time offer, special discount). Disney did the exact opposite and told people they had to do something first.

It's not as if Disney's brand awareness gave it any special permission or credibility to do so. It's not known for good works, per se, unless sharing sparkle counts, and it's youngest consumers aren't going to feel fondly for Mickey because his corporate parent sprung for some homes to be built for the needy. This activity doesn't build Disney's brand in any traditional sense of the word; rather, it looks beyond making the obvious cognitive connections, and hoping to forge a link between an objectively real, external action and reaction.

Do good, and you'll get something good in return. Brought to you by Disney. What's getting communicated isn't a brand attribute, but rather enablement of an attribute of experience. 

So the name of the charity or how good it makes people feel who follow that stuff is pretty much irrelevant; the payoff isn't to link Disney to fixing the planet in some mystical way. It has enough awareness. The measure of the campaign will be in how many people do the charitable work, and subsequently go to the parks.

This is strategically interesting because the approach could work for any brand, save cigarette or gun makers. There's lots of research suggesting that people take things more seriously (care and act) if something is required of them. Think how much marketing communications ask for nothing more than a passing chuckle, and term that drive-by "engagement" with a brand? If our communications had the clarity and honesty to ask for something, maybe people would do more with it. 

It also suggests a novel way to measure brand value, looking at how many people do things because of awareness, not just think them. It requires letting go of the desire to track what's going on inside heads and hearts. From Disney's perspective, it already knows that every soul has sworn some allegiance to its brand.

Actions speaking louder than words is how it makes money.

The Bulb Asks:

  • What's more important, what people think about a charitable association, or what it prompts them to do?
  • If nobody uses the free day deal, will it be a branding failure like I suggest?
  • Are there ways to make such campaigns ongoing, so the actions never stop?

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/10/do-something-get-something.html

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