news from the intersection of branding & technology

Part II – Jack Lindquist’s book – “In Service To The Mouse”

In brand-building, Disney on January 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This is the second installment of the review of Jack Lindquist‘s new book.
Jack is the former President of Disneyland and its first advertising manager.

by Robert Liljenwall

Nobody does brand management better than Disney

When Jack Lindquist joined Disneyland as head of Advertising in 1955, the Disneyland brand, by all current measurements, was a blip on America’s radar – known by few, visited by fewer, and regarded as “Walt’s folly” by most.  Building a theme park in the middle of orange groves 30 miles south of Los Angeles, seemed – at the time – the improbable place to begin a 38-year career that ended triumphantly for a humble marketing genius, even though that may seem like an oxymoron.

But humble Jack is.  After serving as Disney’s attraction and resort marketing head executive for nearly four decades, he guided the creation and development of many of the most powerful brands in the world that surround the Disney theme parks, now on three continents. In this page-turner memoir, Jack chronicles the challenges of developing marketing programs literally out of ‘thin air’.  “There were no guide books, no experts.  We made it up as we went along,” Jack recalls.

In his new book, just published and now available online – “In Service To The Mouse”, Jack shares never-before-told stories about how Walt Disney and his band of magical Imagineers, operations, and marketing masters created Disneyland, Disney World, Epcot, and other world-famous entertainment brands that continue to demonstrate how resilient and hugely popular Disney is today.

But it wasn’t always that way – not in the early days.  In continuing our review of Jack’s book, we pick up his story in 1970, 15 years after Disneyland opened:

Yippie Day threatens the “Happiest Place on Earth” … for a moment

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to test whether a brand is strong enough and deep enough to withstand a deliberate attack on its very existence.  Disneyland proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that its brand equity was wide and deep after it was ‘attacked’ by Yippies on August 6, 1970.  It was known, infamously, as “Yippie Day”.

The Youth International Party – known as Yippies – was a loose collection of young rebels more anti-authority than anti-war.  According to Jack, he described these malcontents as ‘more revolutionary’ than an organized anti-war group … “they burned down the Bank of America building at UC Santa Barbara.  They were more theatrical anarchists who participated in dramatic incidents to draw attention to themselves.”

Imagine if you were General Electric or Procter & Gamble, and you knew in advance that a band of young rebels were going to attack your world headquarters.  That doesn’t seem as far fetched as attacking “The Happiest Place on Earth” does it?  I mean, Jack thought at the time; “Give us a break. What have we done to deserve this?”

As head of marketing for Disneyland at the time, Jack describes how Disney management circled their wagons – pulled together a plan of defense, called the media to alert them that this was coming, and informed all employees how to deal with any disturbance in the Park.  After several awkward moments with Yippies showing up at the front gate with banners (not allowed in the Park) in the morning, they slipped in unnoticed later in the afternoon. They took over Tom Sawyer Island, but were quickly jettisoned from there. The Yippies then spread out, and after several serious confrontations along Main Street and at the Gate, they were forced out of the Park, but not without a lot of shoving and pushing.  Jack remembers how one, small 14-year old kid remarked, “…bring on the fuzz.”  So Jack did.  They were all over six feet tall and towered over the scared kid…  “So what do you call these gentlemen?” Jack shouted at him.  “Law enforcement officers, sir!”

It was over in a matter of hours.  I was there that day, and remember seeing these kids, led by a Cal State Fullerton professor in a blond wig, being chased by Disneyland management out of the park.  It was scary but kinda sweet at the time.  Jack remembers that “ …We won the battle, but not before it was carried on national TV that night. The reaction from across the nation? How could anyone attack Disneyland where the only thing people wanted to do there was to have fun?  Why spoil the fun for all those families? That was the theme of more than 1,400 editorials!”

Guests were given another free admission for the discomfort and trouble caused on Yippie Day…and of course, Yippie Day was just a blip on Disneyland’s storied 50 years as the Happiest Place on Earth.

When looking back at Disneyland’s history, Yippie Day is remembered more for how Disneyland employees and management handled a difficult and challenging experience – not for any destruction caused by a band of rebellious youths.  The Disney brand was intact!

Walt Disney World and continuing Walt’s dream

Roy Disney – Walt’s brother and long-time financial steward – was determined to open Walt Disney World after his brother’s death (1966) on time and on budget.  Working tirelessly to implement Walt’s vision for this new Florida theme park, the Disney team had the official dedication of Walt Disney World (WDW) on October 21, 1971, with Seventy-Six Trombones – led by Meredith Wilson – leading a huge parade down Main Street.  Located in the middle of more than 27,000 acres near Orlando, WDW was an immediate success.  No one doubted Disney’s decision to build a theme park now because the company had clearly demonstrated its unsurpassed ability to create and operate a theme park that attracted over 12 to 14 million guests every year in California.  Roy kept his promise:  and he died just two months later on December 20, 1971. He was able to see his brother’s dream come true.

While Walt Disney begged and borrowed to get his first theme park opened in Anaheim in the early 1950s, the company didn’t have to do any such thing for WDW.  America’s largest and most prestigious companies were lining up to get sponsorships or be aligned with the Disney brand in any way possible.

One of Jack’s major challenges after WDW opened was the task to market and sell the Epcot World Showcase – a series of pavilions featuring nations from around the world.  Traveling the globe with their presentations, Jack and his team finally were able to sell 11 nations on the concept – all at their expense.  “It wasn’t all fun and games.  We thought we had a shot at getting the Philippines, and when we informed Imelda Marcos of our fee ($1 million per year); she laughed us out of the room.”

What most people don’t remember, Jack says, is that Epcot stood for “Experimental City of Tomorrow” – a vision Walt had for a city and home to 20,000 who would live within earshot of WDW and would have every modern convenience known to man.  However, the concept of a real-life community in the middle of a theme park had a quiet death – Epcot, instead, became another one of WDW’s major attractions.

Disney’s fall and rise in the movie industry

As entertainment tastes and times changed after WDW opened, Disney had to, too!  A cornerstone of the company was its film library and studios that produced “Snow White”, “Bambi”, and “Fantasia”.  Walt Disney films always had “Walt Disney Presents” on top of the movie title, and for years, the Disney brand was a guarantee that the movie made a profit.  Whether it was “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” (w/Kirk Douglas) or “The Love Bug”, the Disney name meant “family entertainment” – good for the whole family.  (For many years, the Disney family earned 5% of all gross income on any project where Walt’s name was attached…but finally, the Disney board changed that that lucrative arrangement.)

The movie business changed dramatically in the late 1970s, especially with the release of Star Wars.  Disney was, by then, way behind the curve.  After several management changes and fighting off a hostile takeover, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over management reins and thus started a re-branding of Disney’s movie business.  Eisner became President and CEO and Frank Wells was his #2 guy… Katzenberg ran the movie business.  Known as the Paramount Mafia, the trio knew Hollywood at its most senior level – and they also knew that the Disney movie product had to upgrade and compete, or it would never become a major studio.

It wasn’t long before the Disney brand morphed into other brands, such as Touchstone, which produced “Splash” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” – both blockbuster hits.  When Disney acquired ABC/ESPN in 1985, it showed that Disney was a major entertainment company.  The Disney brand continued to rank in the top 10 global brands as it moved into the 1990s and 2000s.  Rightly so!

Eisner knows talent…elevates Jack to President of Disneyland

One of the Jack’s trademark ‘moves’ is that he doesn’t appear to be moving at all.  He is not tall or even handsome (he’ll agree to that) … he isn’t the first one out of the shoot to brag about his latest accomplishment; he prefers to work behind the scenes, not in front of them.  What does he do well?  He is one of the world’s top marketing executives, and a creative genius like none other.  That’s saying a mouthful at Disney – home of the world’s most creative and imaginative executives.  Jack was a proven winner in the trenches since Day One.

Michael Eisner appointed Jack as the first president of Disneyland in 1988 at a Service Awards Banquet – a complete surprise and shock to this diminutive but highly regarded and well-respected executive.  “Since I was the first person to ever have the job, there wasn’t any job description,” Jack remembers.  And for the next five years, Jack figured it out, reporting daily to Michael.  And what was Michael like to work with?  “He let me do my thing at the Park.”

Jack retired in 1993, and as he reflects back on his career, he likens his Disney career to a James Bond book – “…because 007 is dedicated to the service of the Queen.  I was dedicated to the Mouse.”

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Jack’s book – “In Service To The Mouse”.  If you want to truly understand how great brands are built and sustained, this is a must-read.  You’ll get a true, behind-the-scenes tour of one of the World’s Great Brands!      RJL

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