Friday, June 20, 2008

Marketing Needs More Weenies

Walt Disney was a marketing genius. The endless, innovative ways he found to promote his products created a blueprint from which marketers continue to borrow. But one of Walt's ideas has been lost or largely ignored, and it's a shame because it may be the most relevant to today's marketing challenges: The weenie!

What's a weenie? It's a visual magnet; something that draws people from one area to the next. A weenie makes a promise, creates mystery and excitement, and motivates crowds to move deeper into the experience. The term reportedly came from a boyhood memory of luring a dog home by dragging a wiener on a string. quotes Walt:
"What you need is a weenie, which says to people 'come this way.' People won't go down a long corridor unless there's something promising at the end. You have to have something the beckons them to 'walk this way.'"

Walt's most obvious weenie is Cinderella's Castle, which draws Magic Kingdom visitors down Main Street, USA and into the heart of the park. Having been pulled to the center of the Magic Kingdom by the striking 189-foot-tall castle, theme park guests are then propelled deeper into the corners of the park by views of the towering Swiss Family Treehouse and Space Mountain.

Walt didn't stop with giant weenies. An attentive visitor can find weenies hiding just about everywhere, pulling guests into rides and adding to the park experience. At the entrance to the Haunted Mansion, a foreboding gate, faux graveyard, and spooky noises propel guests into the queue for the ride. The long, twisty tunnel that delivers guests to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is a chain of weenies--fountains, cannons, and gunpowder barrels set the scene for the experience that follows.

The idea of a weenie might not sound revolutionary, but there is much marketers can learn from Walt about the use of visual magnets. Think about the last time you saw a mobile event marketing setup at a concert, sporting event, or festival. My guess would be that you saw a truck and/or tent decked out with large brand logos with little to pull passing consumers into the event footprint. In fact, the numerous logos might have actually deterred people from entering; after all, how many people outside of our industry think, "Oooh, I think I'll dedicate some time to be marketed to!"

I've seen some very uninteresting and mundane event design, but I've also seen some great event footprints with weenies that demand attention. For example, a mobile event that Pierce Promotions created for Gillette was designed with two barbers chairs at the front of the footprint. Men strolling past were invited to sit down for a shave, and the unexpected sight of guys getting their facial hair removed caused others to stop and pay attention. Another great event footprint was created by GMR for Red Wing Shoes, the front of which promised a free picture with the world's largest boot. In the half hour I spent at the Red Wing event, the line to see and get a photo with the giant boot was never less than two dozen deep.

The concept of the weenie can be extended to other sorts of marketing tactics, as well. For example, most print advertising is pretty easy to ignore, but every now and then a brand will stop consumers from turning the page with interesting ads featuring scratch and sniff, stickers, pop-ups, magic windows, or other features that pull consumers deeper into the ad.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that most ads are anti-weenies--instead of inviting attention, they encourage indifference. You might be surprised that Disney Imagineers know and use the power of the anti-weenie. While guest areas of the park are welcoming, if you wander into a service area you won't need a sign to tell you you've made a wrong turn. The message is delivered with bland colors, featureless surfaces, a void of vegetation, and other visual cues that suggest you ought to turn around.

If marketers learned the lesson of Walt's weenies (and anti-weenies), they might find more effective ways to demand attention to and engagement with their campaigns and brand messaging.

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