Inside the Mix

In pulling Super Bowl promotion, Disney is forfeiting 18 years of marketing momentum

In pulling Super Bowl promotion, Disney is forfeiting 18 years of marketing momentum

If there's ever going to be a year in which family-viewing suitability at a Super Bowl halftime show is pretty much a given, it's going to be this year, now that the NFL has taken full control of the proceedings.

While those of us over the age of 30 or so will know that the event's headliner, Paul McCartney, doesn't have a squeaky-clean playbook, it's safe to assume that we won't be seeing any more of him than is strictly appropriate. But in the midst of the media coverage last week of Disney's decision to not run its "I'm going to Disney World!" promotion, this year was the implication that the House of Mouse, probably the ultimate family brand, was a little skittish about last year's proximity to Ms. Jackson's malfunction.

In a USA Today story, Disney spokesman Craig Dezern stressed that the move was unconnected with last year's controversy. He explained that the reason for pulling the promotion was that the timing wasn't right, given two other theme-park marketing efforts currently underway. In the story, he said, "I wouldn't read anything into the future of the program. This is about where we need to put our focus right now." Heard in isolation, that sounds like a reasonable justification for not running a certain promotion.

But Disney has been sending Super Bowl MVPs to Disney World for 18 years, since 1987 when New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms was the first to utter the words. Eighteen years is an incredibly long time in the life of a marketing campaign. A while ago, I wrote about the Emergence survey that showed that tagline recognition was low for companies who had recently changed them. The conclusion of both the survey and this column was that longevity can be as important an ingredient in a marketing message as the content itself.

Al Ries, veteran branding consultant, agrees that doing the same thing, year after year, is a very powerful thing in marketing, especially when a line slips into the vernacular as Disney's has. That's not to say that you shouldn't give up something like this, but it should only come after a great deal of thought.

The risk is, Ries says, that no matter how much brand equity you have built up, you might not get it back. Disney's success in its Super Bowl marketing has been unmatched, in terms of association with the occasion, by pretty much anyone other than Budweiser and its Clydesdales. It's no revolutionary theory to say that a large number of brands that spend millions to advertise during the game have a questionable return on their investment, so for Disney to forgo this standout opportunity is not an inconsequential gesture. Whatever the terms of the deal between Disney and the NFL were, it's not unthinkable that if Disney doesn't reinstate its promotion, the way is clear for someone else to enjoy a similar level of association with the brand.

Of course, this year's MVP needn't worry too much. Given that the Super Bowl is being held in Florida this year, Disney World is only a mere Tom Brady or Donovan McNabb pass away.

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