Sunday, September 30, 2012

If the Ears Fit...

My family just got back from a wonderful Disney vacation: three full days at Walt Disney World in Orlando, then a 7-day cruise on the Disney Fantasy to the eastern Caribbean. I am amazed at the Disney entity in so many ways. They invented line management, their people and service skills are incredible, and their marketing machine is unbelievable. Oh, their marketing. It’s all about the ears.

Mickey Mouse ears must be one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in the entire world, possibly eclipsing even McDonald’s golden arches. On our trip, I saw every possible variation of mouse ears, and plastered onto every possible item. I suspect their marketing motto is, “If it stands still, slap a pair of mouse ears on it. And if it moves, sell it one of the things you just slapped ears onto.”

In the Disney gift stores, naturally you expect to see mouse ears. Standard black Mickey Mouse ears, Minnie Mouse ears with a red-and-white polka-dot bow, with names in script or the official “Walt Disney font,” with a picture of Mickey in a red circle on the front. But the variations were beyond number. There were bride and groom ears with a white veil and a tuxedo, respectively. There were princess ears with a pointed cap and a trailing veil, or a sparkling tiara. There were pirate-themed ears emblazoned with a Jolly Roger and a jaunty bandana knotted at the back, or with Jack Sparrow's beaded dreadlocks. Ears topped with the Mad Hatter’s hat. Wizard ears with a pointed cap like Mickey wore in Fantasia. Ones with Jack Skellington’s face on top and spider webs over the ears. Santa hats with ears. Top hats with ears. Bike helmets with ears. Jack-o-lantern ears. Lightning McQueen wearing mouse ears. (Appropriately enough, Mater seemed to only wear Goofy ears.) Caps that look like R2D2 wearing mouse ears. Darth Vader with mouse ears. Darth MAUL with mouse ears. Ears with rainbows and paint splatters and glitter and American/Canadian/Brazilian/Italian/French/Morroccan flags and pictures of other Disney characters.

And above and beyond the mouse ear hats themselves, you will see mouse ears on every imaginable item. The complimentary shampoo and conditioner in our hotel even wore them:

There were ears on purses, jewelry, T-shirts, dog collars, headbands, trash cans, aprons, wine bottle stoppers, princess tiaras, snow globes, Christmas ornaments, and gift bows. There were things shaped like mouse ears – earrings, pretzels, crackers, waffles, cupcakes, confetti. Everywhere you looked there were mouse ears.

The Disney marketing team deserves kudos for how ubiquitous the ears are. Florida, California, Paris, Tokyo – every Disney park the world over sells the same mouse ears to the same enthusiastic crowd. I have no doubt that you could drop into some remote jungle in South America or the tangled bush in somewhere in the heart of Africa wearing mouse ears and the natives would nod and say, “Ahhh, Mickey!”

I have no doubt that Walt Disney knew the ears would make a great marketing symbol, but I suspect he never dreamed quite how widespread and well-known they would become. If he rose from the grave today and visited any of the theme parks bearing his name, I’m sure he would be proud of how well-loved those ears have become over the years. And I’m sure he’d be sporting a pair of ears himself.


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