What Disneyland teaches us about branding

Mickey Mouse

Nowhere is the power of sensory branding more apparent than on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland.

The entrance to Walt's iconic park is set up like the start of a movie. From the iconic Mickey at the entrance, reminiscent of the start of the original Mickey cartoons, you go under the railway line and the lights dim like in a movie theatre where attraction posters act as trailers.

Disneyland literally lays out the red carpet. The red 'sidewalks' that greet you absorb the bright sunlight and make photographs POP for guests. Disney also likes to trick our senses - using forced perspective to make the castle look larger than it really is. This is achieved reducing the proportions of elements such as stones, windows, doors and painting effects.

Main Street U.S.A.

Disney's imagineers invented "Smellitizers", to ensure a consistent olfactory experience, scents of vanilla, popcorn and baked goods are used up and down Main Street U.S.A. Rather than blast guests with the latest Disney hits, Main Street has its own soundtrack, reminiscent of its 1910 setting (available in the gift shop!). Even select modern Disney tunes are turned into melodies suitable for early 1900's. The patriotic, uplifting music is the perfect soundtrack for a street where it is always the 4th of July.

A theme park can't be compared with an FMCG brand though can it? Perhaps not directly but Walt teaches us that branding is about the experience. It teaches us that by considering all our senses, we can truly engage our consumers and keep them coming back for more.

There's a good reason that when Nivea sun cream in Germany pumped the smell of their product into cinemas, ad recall increased by 515% and why 20% of young adults are more inclined to buy a product from a brand with a sonic identity as compared to those without. Brands grow as we consistently build physical and mental availability - how better to do this than by building those memory structures through all our senses?

A brand can also 'own' its sensory brand profile more than a simple trademarked colour or logo. Like a fingerprint, this approach is truly unique. Lots of brands do this well but many still don't, often because corporate structures keep marketing and R&D separate.

Today you'll see a lamp lit in the firehouse, close to the entrance of Main Street in Disneyland. This was Walt's apartment where he liked to watch his guests enter the park. Walt still provides a guiding light for us all to this day.

Anthony Carter
Head of Research