Disneyization (American coining) was a term I heard recently in a Digital Humanities class to illustrate the issues surrounding modern copyright laws. The gist of the point was that in an economically focused world Disney has transformed into a behemoth of corporate copyright lawsuits and ugly, intense merchandising techniques. They seem to have lost the spirit that Walt created it in all those years ago; but as it stands they’ve been deemed the most powerful brand in the world. So what’s even wrong with all of this?
For a company who takes already well-known ideas and makes them their own, it seems slightly intense to note how seriously they take the re-use of their images, characters or ideas. More than the copyright issues though, Disneyization has become a derogative term that stands for more things than copyright. In fact it stands for 5 things: Theming, Hybrid Consumption, Merchandising, Performative Labour & Control and Surveillance.
Theming, which is well seen in any Disney park, is the idea that everything falling within a concept must be so themed. In the Disney park the restaurants, hotels and shops are all Disney themed. This is a way of charging more money for services, because our society is increasingly valuing service over goods. When a restaurant is Disney themed it’s providing us with entertainment, this translates to a service being provided and people will willingly pay a higher price.
Hybrid Consumption refers to the blending of products and services and ties in with theming. It attempts to retain customers for longer. When you visit Disneyland you don’t just ride the Disney roller-coasters but you eat Disney food and see Disney shows.
Merchandising is the marketing of somewhat innocuous goods with a logo or branding proudly displayed. Disney does this extremely well, in that if you were to visit a Disney store on the day of a Disney film release yourself surrounded with products relating to that film. When I was very young I was bought a Disney Tinkerbell electric fan from the Disney store in Paris. By establishing a strong brand through minor things like this companies can ensure revenues will stay up for longer periods of time. Whenever I go past a Disney store I still have to go in!
Performative labour is an interesting Disneyland themed idea. It essentially means the changing role of worker to performer. In Disneyland every worker is known as a ‘Castmember’. The show would fall apart without one of the cast members and everything ties together neatly by perpetuating the Disney studio as just that- a studio, even in the theme parks and the stores. Outside of Disneyland this can be seen each time a chain restaurant manager tells one of its employees to smile. Fake behaviour is what we have become accustomed to in a customer service setting. If the behaviour isn’t as such we feel uncomfortable.
Lastly control and surveillance.. Disney imposes a code of behaviour and dress on the visitors to the parks. It isolates the type of consumer who can go to the park by having high price points to entry. Employees are fiercely regulated- hairstyles, makeup, clothing, behaviour. These are all changed and trained in Disney training camps for employees.
If this is all starting to sound a bit too Big Brother for your liking I can assure you that that is simply how business sounds when phenomenons like these are explained in brass tacks. Disney is one the most successful brands the world has ever seen – and kudos should be given. Disneyization has been tried by many companies but Disney has done it best, and as such if all of this behaviour seems disingenuous and and little bit icky; that’s probably because it is!