This is a special message for Your Souvenir Guide’s many CEO readers. Word up, robber barons! Thanks for taking a break from your daily regimen of amalgamating and capitalizing to read — or, more likely, to order an unpaid intern to read and summarize — this special presentation. Today, I’d like to suggest to you a promotional opportunity that will galvanize your company’s customer base and transform its brand message. Today, savage capitalist, we’re going to talk about EPCOT.
We Disney theme park geeks — hereafter known as “themepunks,” because it makes us sound cooler — talk about EPCOT often, because it’s a sad place. The World’s Fair-style Walt Disney World theme park, the last living vestige of Walt Disney’s desire to build a true city of the future, opened to great promise in the 1980s, sustained with good grace the “let’s add B-list celebrities to every one of our attractions” craze of the 1990s, and is currently languishing in a state of practical neglect. The Future World section of EPCOT has received only four new attractions (one of them now closed and boarded up) and five renovations of existing attractions in nearly thirty years of operation … and it’s the lucky half of the park. World Showcase has gotten just one whole-cloth new attraction since opening day, and a series of halfhearted upgrades in the form of restaurants and shops.
It's trendy for us themepunks to wring our kissably-soft hands and wonder how EPCOT came to this pass. The short answer is this: Disney can’t deal with EPCOT right now because there’s no clear-cut way for them to make more money from it by dumping Pixar characters into it. The themes are too difficult to sell to modern audiences, who care little about the future or the world at large, and difficult for modern-day Disney to work with, because Imagineering isn’t the think tank it once was and upper management hasn’t had a stake in the future since Uncle Walt bought the freezer. The future? Look at our Blu-Ray release schedule. The world? Um, “Tangled” just opened in Bali.
Now listen up, CEO. Normally, this is the point in the article where I would appeal to Disney to fix EPCOT by dumping the kind of money into the park that they’re currently pouring on Disney’s California Adventure to fix its b-list celebrity shortcomings. But I won’t do that. Several other Disney blogs — most notably Progress City, USA, highly recommended — have already done so, and better than I could ever hope to do. Also, I’m fairly sure that Disney knows all this stuff and doesn’t care. There’s no money to fix EPCOT and no compelling reason to spend the money they don’t have; it’s not like a bunch of egghead science crap is going to repel the magicks emanating from Universal Orlando.
This means an open field for you, benevolent corporate overlord. You may not know this, but EPCOT Center was built on corporate sponsorships — Kraft, General Motors, American Express, Kodak and others — and your investment can rebuild EPCOT as a 21st Century entertainment/branded marketing force, a true 2.0 model. EPCOT wants to move forward (to “win the future,” right?), and you want to sell your products in a world that’s growing increasingly suspicious of corporate hegemony. Tell me how this couldn’t work for both of you.
I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up partnership blueprints for you and EPCOT. Please read through them, and feel free to email me if you have any questions. Don’t worry about catching me on the clock; I’m currently working as a freelancer, partially due to your inability to create large amounts of jobs. No offense; nothing personal.
Google. A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought your brand needed a dash of EPCOT, but you’re neck-deep in the iPhone vs. Android firefight and your advertising revenues are this close to getting pinched by Facebook. This calls for some trick maneuvering because Friend of Disney Steve Jobs haaaaaates you, but he’s currently on medical leave and there’s a mostly dead pavilion at EPCOT that I think would be a good fit for your company — one that was formerly devoted to the intangible fancies of the human imagination.
Your company is a cloud of mostly nerd, but when it sets its mind to creating an educational tool — a real-time map of the night sky, an instantaneous translator, a visually-based search engine — it absolutely shines. I’d guess that a lot of people don’t even know half the cool things you do; they know your company solely as the maker of a search engine. An attraction that explores the creation and consumption of art, music and literature, and the many ways in which those things can be better enjoyed through the judicious use of technology, seems like it would be right up Google’s alley. Your entire company is a searching mind, every bit as inventive and curious as your rivals at Apple, and it’s time your customers discovered that for themselves by way of a nice hi-tech dark ride and a post-show area full of interactive hoo-hah.
General Electric. Ding. You’ve had terrific successes with Disney attractions in the past: Carousel of Progress is closing in on its fiftieth birthday, and the late, great Horizons is so beloved that one enterprising Disney geek is rebuilding it as a kind of first-person swooner. Now it’s time to come back to the party — not as a producer of consumer electronics, but as driving force in renewable energy technologies. You’re second in wind power market share, with nearly 14,000 wind turbine installations set up around the world — wouldn’t you like people to know that? You’ve just introduced a consumer-side electric car charger — don’t you want to flaunt it? And for that matter, wouldn’t you like to assert your windpower dominance over fellow EPCOT sponsor Siemens, which is currently ninth in total market share and gainin' on ya?
The sponsorless Universe of Energy attraction is located inside an enormous, wedge-shaped structure. It rivals the old Horizons building in volume. If you were to rip out everything inside — the movie theaters, the pointless primeval diorama, Bill Nye and the rest of the dinosaurs — you could make one hell of a dark ride in there, one that imagines the future of renewable energy and its many possible applications. I say again: The building is there, and the love is there. All you need to do is sign a third check to Disney and reap the benefits.
Inditex. You’re one of the largest fashion distributors in the world, with dozens of subsidiary brands and 48 stores in America (Zara, they’re called). More importantly, you're based in A Coruña, Spain. EPCOT needs you because Disney has been trying to get a Spanish pavilion into its World Showcase since the Reagan Administration. And you need EPCOT because, until five minutes ago, I had no idea your company existed.
SAS (Scandinavian Airlines). Please allow me to make introductions. You’re the flagship airline of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, with daily flights out of Newark, Dulles and O’Hare. You carry 25 million passengers a year, many of them to Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. You provide a conduit to the last of the red-hot beds of tourism; nearly everyone I know has recently become interested in visiting Norway, drawn by the fjords, the aquavit, the black metal bands, and the what-have-you. Norway is teh sex and SAS is teh sexay.
This shrinking lutefisk behind me is EPCOT’s Norway pavilion. Now, I think I’ve learned a few things about the Norwegians — I live in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, home to the largest Syttende Mai parade in the United States. If I want a helmet with horns on it, I can walk to the end of the block and get one. And this EPCOT attraction, whose ostensible purpose is to promote tourism to your homeland, doesn’t even fill me with the desire to visit my own neighborhood. The queue leading to the pavilion’s centerpiece attraction Maelstrom is a simple blue wall cheaply bedecked with tiny flags; the attraction itself has precisely one interesting scene and a bunch of terrible ones. I know that yours are a people not naturally predisposed to showing off, but c’mon. Norway has left 1979; your amazing techno scene proves it. The chorus of Röyksopp’s “The Girl and The Robot” is sick.
A relatively small outlay of sponsor cash — $10 million, maybe $20 million — could make EPCOT's Norway into one hell of a tourism office. It could pay for an update of the dated and borderline frightening movie that plays at the end of the boat ride; it could pay for badly-needed scenery and technical improvements to the ride itself; and it could enable Disney to do something, anything, with that boring queue. In exchange, Disney will slap your name on every flat surface and probably give you some shop space if you want it.
Sony. Oh boy, do you ever need this. Look: Samsung is spanking you in LCD TV sales, Microsoft and Nintendo are taking turns pwning you in gaming console sales, and you never came up with a satisfactory answer to the iPod, iPhone or iPad. However, your company does make some great products — your TVs, in particular, are terrific — and you’re one of the few multinationals that’s at least trying to reduce its greenhouse gases. If you were to sponsor a thrill ride at EPCOT’s Japan pavilion, it might help you to regain a foothold in the consumer consciousness — take us back to the time when we thought of Sony when we thought of electronic anything.
Starbucks. I’m kinda surprised we’re having this conversation. Walt Disney World is open territory, you latte-pulling Queequegs — perhaps the last place in the world without a Starbucks on every corner. Disney is still pouring Nescafe even though Nestle has left the building. People can’t believe Starbucks is not already a presence at Disney World; even Dave Hickey noticed your absence. Call Disney — odds are they’ve got a dedicated hotline assigned to you, just like Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air” — and tell them that you might like to put cafes in Future World and World Showcase and every other damn part of Walt Disney World, if it’s not too much trouble.
While you're at it, tell Disney you’d like to "sponsor The Land pavilion, or something." They’ll know what you mean. They will mention a badly dated 70mm educational film and a few other places you might be able to insert your brand, then they’ll quote you a multimillion-dollar figure. Tell Howard Schultz to dig around in the tip jar and pay it.
Congratulations! This transaction makes you the new Coca-Cola. Enjoy the buzz until the FDA starts gunning for you.
Wired/Conde Nast. I think I’ve found a venue suited to the resurrection of NextFest, your World’s Fair-style showcase of emerging ideas and technologies. EPCOT’s Communicore pavilions — parenthesis enclosing the center of Future World — are currently occupied by “Innoventions,” a kind of low-rent Consumer Electronics Show clone that promotes dated technologies and makes exceedingly poor use of the Communicore space. (Floor-to-ceiling windows are meant to be used.)
Have your Conde Nasty bosses make a deal with Disney to clean out that crap and install NextFest for at least a year. After that, encourage Disney to create a kind of tech incubator, which you’ll sponsor through print and web advertising trade. Disney gets a shot of your credibility, and you’ll increase circulation of your magazine, website and mobile app.
I know that EPCOT seems like an old-fashioned idea, corporate overlord, but the timeworn ideals on which it was founded will always ring true. Ideas remain as contagious as ever. The future remains full of promise. The world continues to be vast and amazing, and it deserves to be saved. And people still want to be amazed by technologies indistinguishable from magic. This is your Sputnik moment.You can make an investment in a new EPCOT and be a part of the march of ideas that will save the world, or you can continue to make commercials like these:
Line dancing. Heh-heh. Call Disney right now and say “help us.”