Saturday, September 15, 2007

News Fit for an HP Printer


News Flash. Mike Mendenhall leaves the Walt Disney Company after 17 years of service.

It’s no accident that the very best of WDI’s work came at a time when Imagineers only had to answer to other Imagineers. The idea that any outside interest could come in and dash the dreams of any attraction design team on a mere whim was completely alien to this amazing assembly of creative thinkers.

But for the last few years no matter how original or innovative the idea was it could be scrapped in the blink of an eye because some business executive or marketing group didn’t feel it jived with the latest direct to video release or had limited potential to sell keychains.

As creative road blocks go, Mike Mendenhall and his group of marketers and publicists was one of the most formidable. As the leader of Disney Parks and Resorts global brand image, marketing strategy, planning, publicity, advertising, media, new media online, interactive TV, strategic alliance marketing, special events and promotions and customer management, Mendenhall had more creative say than any Imagineer at WDI and more power than the President of Disneyland or Walt Disney World.

Mendenhall is responsible for changing the attraction approval process by installing a marketing review before projects are given a green light. This review had become so important that his department could shut down any Imagineering project before it got funded. This great marketing inquisition, more than anything else, has led to all those out-of-character characters invading Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland as well as such awkward attractions as Stitch’s Great Escape, Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and DCA’s Monsters Inc.: Mike and Sully to the Rescue, the latter title penned directly by Mendenhall himself.

His threat to all things classic Disney was felt in even the smallest divisions. When the two person creative team responsible for the nostalgic Disneyland 50th Anniversary collectibles presented their concepts to Mike he dismissed them as esoteric and “not our guest”. Eventually the two artists convinced Disneyshopping/catalog to proceed with production of the collectibles independent of the Disneyland Merchandising and Marketing teams. Despite the Mendenhall meddling the collectibles made the company millions.

How did a guy with a bachelor of science degree from Emerson become such an indomitable roadblock to so many creative endeavors at the Mouse House?

Jay Rasulo, chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, loved him, even adding “Senior Creative Executive, The Disneyland Resort” to his title. Towards the end of his tenure Jay was grooming him for the head of Walt Disney Imagineering.

But then John Lasseter happened.

Unfortunately for Mike, Jay’s plans just didn’t fit this new Marketing paradigm.

HP, the company that brings us all things Printers and Ink, will start taking care of Mike on October 1st, a date that ironically happens to mark Epcot Center’s 25th Anniversary, a celebration that Mendenhall and his marketers refused to support. Luckily other divisions, despite their limited budgets and resources, have rallied together to take care of the proceedings, with many personnel working long hours and racing the clock to make this last minute celebration as memorable as possible.

For this once glorious and groundbreaking park it’s the best they could do under the circumstances.

With one less hoop to jump through at Imagineering the mood is once again ecstatic. In this unseasonable ‘Year of a Million Dreams’ this definitely counts as one big dream down.

All of us at Re-Imagineering wish Mike Mendenhall well as he starts his new career selling ink cartridges. Still, as one insider put it, “Thank God for Apple and Epson”.

50 comments:

MattyMatt said...

"How did a guy with a bachelor of science degree from Emerson become such a powerful creativity killer...?"

I have to say, as someone who's suffered through getting a degree from the Emerson assembly line myself, this is the most rhetorical question I've ever read. It does not surprise me to see my alma mater mentioned in the same breath as the death of creativity.

Digital Jedi said...

Let me be the first to offer my congratulations. And I hope... no, I believe, that this is one of the first signs that the feet of clay of the old Eisner idol are finally starting to crumble.

We'll be looking forward to you guys spearheading the next WDI Renaissance.

sdav10495 said...

Ah, isn't this something worth celebrating. I enjoy reading posts like these where we get an opportunity to see the bigger picture--I had no idea how much power Mendenhall wielded, and now I can really understand what his departure means.

Just goes to show that even terrific news like this can make for posts equally as insightful as the old ones that lamented the various ways Imagineering was "dying". Keep it up--I was worried for a while that all the rosy news coming out of Glendale lately might be the death of this blog!

Anonymous said...

I think Ecstatic may be a bit strong. Guarded optimism is more like it. In the last couple of years, Imagineers have been through potentially positive news that has sent their morale soaring, only to have no significant changes appear. Iger, started the ball rolling, then upped it when he brought Lasseter in. While some changes have been made, ecstatic “essentials” haven’t really taken over (yet?).

Even though this news is another boost, Imagineering still has to deal with park management approval when it comes to getting concepts through. While Mendenhall was the corporate roadblock, the park level roadblocks remain.

Disneyana World said...

this sounds very promising.

hopefully some contributors to this blog with be at epcot on the 1st.

see you there.

Spokker said...

If this is truly a blog written by Pixar and Imagineering professionals, then I cannot completely state how absolutely unprofessional it is to insult an ex-fellow-employee on his way out of the company.

Leave comments like "How did a guy with a bachelor of science degree from Emerson become such a powerful creativity killer?" to the disgruntled fan community.

All it does it make this blog sound bitter. Wish the man the best, and keep your mouth shut when it comes to personal insults and attacks.

Celebrating the "promotion" of Paul Pressler was something in the realm of gossip collumnist Al Lutz, not Disney employees. This blog entry sounds like a bunch of gossipy white-collar guys standing around the water cooler saying, "I always hated that guy!"

How about you get to work if the future is so bright without him?

Mr Banks said...

Spokker. Your comment is duly noted. Some of the language within this entry has been softened.

For the record, however, nobody has been hurt at the Disney Company by any of the thousands of champagne corks that have been flying through the air these past few days.

Spokker said...

Hah. Mr. Banks, for being a smartass, at least you're funny. That last comment got a good laugh out of me. Touché.

However, as an employee of the company I work for, I have chosen to not comment on those who have departed and prefer to concentrate on my work. I have learned that gossip and drama can turn out to be a far greater barrier than any braindead marketing guy, especially for the individual who sees a bright future ahead of them.

Mr Banks said...

Spokker. Did I just hear you call Mike Mendenhall a 'brain dead marketing guy'? I hope gossip like that doesn't taint your bright future.

I will, however, wish you well as you leave the company.

Digital Jedi said...

Lets not confuse insults with factual description. If Mendenhall was a roadblock of creativity, then he should be sited as such.
If you don't do your job well, and you stifle the effectiveness of the company I love I work for, you wouldn't get any pats in the back from me on the way out. And I'm not going to rose color your biography either.

The truth may be biting, but its never an insult. And if your one of the major obstacles to a companies successful legacies, then your passing to another one's bane should be celebrated.

Eric said...

This looks very promising, but I'm sad to report that my 7 and 5 year olds are looking for to the Monsters Inc attraction at MK. That's not to say that I disagree with you because it probably belongs over in Studios and is very out of place in the MK.

BTW - I think your blog (and I've commented before) is a must-read for anyone who loves Disney.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your informative blog.

As a common Disney fan and graphic artist (of note) who is not a full time employee of the Mouse, I have to say whoever gave the orders to "coppertone" Tomorrowland and spit that awful beige paint all over the once bright and colorful park here in Anaheim should be hung by their "Tuscan" bootstraps.

Now can we please have our Carousel of Progress back? I'm sure there's plenty of white paint leftover from the beautiful resurrection of the T-land stage...and take those brown & beige paint buckets back to Frontierland where they belong!

Anonymous said...

Mr Banks, please remember when addressing Spokker you're dealing with a person had this to say in response to your earlier "wake-up call" Walt Disney quotes about his park:

Spokker said...
If he was so smart then why is he dead?

3:13 PM

1047 said...

So does this mean fewer gift shops at the end of new attractions? I hope so.

dan_steinberg said...

This is encouraging news, but it leaves open a huge question: Mike Mendenhall is leaving - but is the position going away too? Or will that position remain with someone else taking his place? Changing the personalities probably isn't enough here - it sounds like the whole system needs to be reorganized to emphasize what's really important. So if they're just replacing the one guy, it’s probably not enough.

That said, I'm going to commit heresy here and state Marketing isn't evil! (disclaimer: I have a Marketing MBA collecting dust somewhere). In a creative-driven business like Disney, Marketing needs to have a strong voice. How else do decide between equally good Imagineering projects? Without proper marketing input, you’re likely to get great art (which is good) but no profit (not good). But I'm talking about Marketing as it should be - inherently understanding what the customers (yes, there's more than one group of customers out there) like and want. Not the type of "marketing" we've seen at Disney (and to be fair, at so many other companies too) that's more a fast-talking sales pitch than actually listening to customers, foisting whatever is easiest to sell, cheapest to build and makes the largest profit but in the end leaves the customer feeling empty and exploited rather than happy, amazed, and wanting more.

My role model of a great marketer was a guy who knew exactly what his audience wanted, and he knew how to sell something that couldn't be wrapped up neatly in a ten-word tag line. A guy who knew how to be creative and profitable at the same time. A guy who knew how to look long-term, and knew how to protect the brand name. Yes, Walt Disney. Now that was a marketer! And do I even need to add: Disney today needs more Walts and fewer used-car salesman...

kcnole said...

"This looks very promising, but I'm sad to report that my 7 and 5 year olds are looking for to the Monsters Inc attraction at MK. That's not to say that I disagree with you because it probably belongs over in Studios and is very out of place in the MK."

There's nothing inherently wrong with the MILF attraction. Its actually slowly becoming an attraction worth visiting unlike that awful SGE across the way. However its just in the wrong park. I think it could have been perfect in the studios in the new Pixar Place. It just doesn't fit in tomorrowland, not at all.

I truly hope that at some point Disney can again understand the concept of theme in its US parks and quit muddling them all together.

Donovan Swiglighter said...

Actually, I wouldn't mind riding a MILF ride at Disney, just not the one you're talking about! I think it'll debut after they open the Hooters in Downtown Disney and the Lapdance attraction over in Fantasyland.

Digital Jedi said...

o_O Zoinks! I knew using all those attraction acronyms where going to get away form us someday. Please folks, do not let your kids say that they rode a MILF attraction at Disney World. It will just save you some problems down the road.

That said, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Test Track and Soarin' are examples of great ideas either implemented incorrectly or located in the wrong place. They prove that that sometimes a corporation can take a word like "synergy" as its motto, and completely misapply it's meaning.

Anonymous said...

"anonymous above said...
Thanks for your informative blog.

 As a common Disney fan and graphic artist (of note) who is not a full time employee of the Mouse, I have to say whoever gave the orders to "coppertone" Tomorrowland and spit that awful beige paint all over the once bright and colorful park here in Anaheim should be hung by their "Tuscan" bootstraps."

For the most part, the “coppertone” color pallet for Tomorrowland was in reaction to Disneyland’s ongoing (at the time) failure to maintain the park. Tomorrowland’s white paint scheme required repainting every other year. But the reduction in maintenance resulted in the mountain not being painted for over five years. So the decision was made to use a color scheme that would not show the lack of maintenance.

Unfortunately, even though the maintenance has recovered somewhat, even the new paint scheme has started to show some deterioration. Whatever color they decide to go with, they will need to stay on top of painting needs.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean Epcot IS getting a 25 year celeberation, or no?

If this guy is as big a roadblock as you say he is, then good riddens! Stich, Monsters and Buzz turned Tomorrowland into a headache. Bring back Timekeeper, Dreamflight, and Alien Encounter! I know I'm probably alone on the Dreamflight part but still...

/bsdb said...

In a creative-driven business like Disney, Marketing needs to have a strong voice. How else do decide between equally good Imagineering projects? Without proper marketing input, you’re likely to get great art (which is good) but no profit (not good).

Excellent point, Dan. I totally agree that marketing needs a seat at the project table. But that seat should never be at the head of said table, which is precisely where Mendenhall believed he should have been.

The operative word here is "proper," with regard to marketing input. What is the proper level of input for marketing, in determining which creative projects get the green light, be it park attraction or feature film? Which marketing exec repeatedly demonstrates the necessary creative background and intuitive sense to know what the artist is capable of producing that will best suit the target audience and their desires?

To slam Mendenhall for not being the marketing exec with the proper level of marketing input for Imagineering is a fair call. But to ridicule the notion of even having marketing's presence at the Imagineering decision table is not. In fact, it borders on the hypocritical, given another decision made last year regarding WDS leadership.

Where were the outcries denouncing Iger's and Cook's decision to fire Nina Jacobson and replace her mid-contract with the head of studio marketing, Oren Aviv? Oren had no previous experience running a studio, and virtually no experience in any creative capacity other than being the originator and exec producer of National Treasure. Whoop-dee-freakin-doo.

What, precisely, made this marketing man better suited for the job? Why is a marketing exec making production decisions regarding the theme parks a bad idea, whereas a marketing exec making production decisions regarding the films a good one? What's the difference? Both involve creativity and an inherent understanding of what the target audience wants to purchase and experience. So why is marketing in one creative arena apocalyptic and the other messianic?

Considering that the firing of 650 WDS employees last year, which included Nina Jacobson, occurred after the Pixar acquisition, methinks that Lasseter was not a total innocent bystander. While the "honor" to fire Nina over the phone while she was still in the delivery room with her partner rightfully fell to Cook, I cannot help but wonder if Lasseter and/or Catmull had any input regarding this decision. And if Lasseter did indeed agree with Jacobson's removal and Aviv's promotion from marketing, then I seriously question the rejoicing by Pixar and WDI creative personnel over Mendenhall's move to Hewlett-Packard.

Would Oren Aviv have received the same fate, had it been his butt in the chair at the head of the studio table instead of Jacobson's? I'm thinking, no. Given that Jacobson's track record was solid and Aviv had no experience in running a studio and virtually no production experience outside National Treasure, other factors were obviously at work, that did not include the distain for marketing executives in key leadership roles at Disney.

As Dan has already stated, the answer is to be found in the continuation or removal of Mendenhall's position.

Tongaroa said...

bsdb, I would never suggest that Orin Aviv was the right person to take over Motion Picture Production, but there are two holes in your argument. 1) The head of live action production at the Walt Disney Studio does not create content; he/she buys it. The creative head of WDI does create content. 2) I like Nina a lot as a person and the way she was fired was wrong, but her sensibility leans heavily toward Touchstone pictures with an almost total lack of interest in Disney films which she delegated to her various VPs (most of whom are all still there), and the Studio is making fewer Touchstone films.

By the way, Nina's firing was well covered by the media, but this blog focuses on Imagineering and the parks, so...

teevtee said...

It is really not so complex...

the average fan does not really understand or even care about what marketing does. In fact they often lump marketing and advertising together and just sort of think they are the same thing. the point is that to FANS it is all maningless, they care about the attractions that shape the parks.

To those more initiated I think most people would agree that of course marketing plays and important and key role in driving revenue and keeping the parks alive. There are even times when good ideas perhaps should be killed if they simply could not be marketed properly.

HOWEVER, and this is the simple part... marketing must SUPPORT the product which is in the case the parks and attractions which WDI produces. When it turns the other way around (marketing CONTROLING the product) then things gget out of whack and screwed up. Marketing does not know how to produce killer attractions and must not be put in a position of limiting them to the point they have in the past.

To make it even simpler... Allow WDI to make a great ride and allow marketing to hype it and educate people about it... that simple. As soon as you get decisions by comittees, focus groups and massive marketing tests going on BEFORE an attraction is even built you are doomed. You need peopel with vision and creative drive and then you need to allow them to do what they do well and TRUST them. This is the Pixar formula, this is the Apple formula and this used to be (and needs to be again) the Disney formula.

theatreman said...

MODERATOR -
My Comment of several days ago has not appeared. Can you let me know wheter a) It was not received, b) It was deemed inappropriate or unworthy of inclusion.

I find that after I enter a comment and enter the security words, my comment seems to reappear with another set of security words, so i don't know if I am sending you multiple copies, or none at all.

I was successful in adding a comment to the previous thread.

Any help you might give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for all the effort you put into operating this very fascinating and valuable site.

theatreman
dbm@nationaltheatre.org

Mr Banks said...

I publish all comments unless they're radically off-topic, mean-spirited or promotional in nature.

Spokker said...

"Spokker. Did I just hear you call Mike Mendenhall a 'brain dead marketing guy'? I hope gossip like that doesn't taint your bright future."

That is perfectly in line with what I said earlier. I am not an employee of the Walt Disney Company. I am part of the disgruntled fan community.

"Mr Banks, please remember when addressing Spokker you're dealing with a person had this to say in response to your earlier "wake-up call" Walt Disney quotes about his park:

Spokker said...
If he was so smart then why is he dead?"

Are you really that offended by such a flippant remark?

Regardless, I added to that by stating it felt like he never left a clear direction for his company to follow. After finishing off whatever projects Walt was personally involved in, the company didn't really know what to do. Animation was stagnant and so were the parks. It took Eisner to step in and revitalize the company.

Also, despite the insistance of his daughter, he never tried to quit smoking. Maybe if he had been a little smarter about his health he might have lived longer.

dan_steinberg said...

teevtee said...

It is really not so complex...
...
In fact they often lump marketing and advertising together and just sort of think they are the same thing
...
To make it even simpler... Allow WDI to make a great ride and allow marketing to hype it and educate people about it... that simple. As soon as you get decisions by committees, focus groups and massive marketing tests going on BEFORE an attraction is even built you are doomed. You need people with vision and creative drive and then you need to allow them to do what they do well and TRUST them. This is the Pixar formula, this is the Apple formula and this used to be (and needs to be again) the Disney formula.


Nope. Completely wrong. No offense intended, teevtee, but this is the typical misunderstanding of what Marketing is good for.

You are confusing advertising – getting the message out – with marketing – figuring out what the message should be. And you are assuming that a company’s engineers or designers or artists come up with a great idea, marketing figures out how to sell it, and advertising gets the message out. Sometimes it happens this way and that’s wonderful. But what happens more often is the idea is great in some way (beautiful / technologically innovative / whatever) but it’s something that nobody wants to buy. It won’t matter what Marketing does or how good they are, it’s just not going to sell.

Or, to put it another way: it’s the difference between “art” and “commercial art”. One is just for its own sake, the other is intended to make a profit. And I know we all want Imagineering to be pure art, but it’s not – it’s part of a commercial enterprise. Marketing *has* to be involved at the start, because nobody in their right mind is going to spend $10 million to develop a technology product or $100 million to create a animated movie or theme park ride without an understanding of who will buy it and why (aka, “the message”). You really think Apple or Pixar just go with their coolest idea, and don’t have any marketing input before deciding on a project? I seriously doubt it.

A great example here IMHO was Treasure Planet, which I believe started out being more about the visual style than anything else. Again, great art but an unappealing and a totally unsellable product. Marketing should have killed this one before they wasted $180 million on it.

To sum up, Marketing should know what the message will be *before* you start serious development of the idea, and if there is no compelling message then you shouldn’t build it! Notice I don’t say that Marketing should come up *with* the idea – that’s what artists and designers are for. In my mind, the ideal is to have artists and designers creating lots of great ideas, and then working with Marketing to pick out – from both an artistic and commercial side – the best one.

theatreman said...

Terms of language aside, the record of key players in an enterprise must of necessity be open to scrutiny during and following their tenure. When damage has been done, those passionately involved or concerned will, yes, be tempted to invective.

Mr. Banks has obligingly reduced the temperature of his assertions, but the cold facts remain. The Eisner reign was marked by great growth but ultimately marred by a seeming ascension of greed over art and quality: princely salaries (Eisner and others), platinum parachutes (Katzenberg, Ovitz). The arrogant profit-fixated corporate culture of those days is still not entirely undone. Enough of Stitch already.

Those developments deserve to be documented by the citation of particulars and, as appropriate, the assigning of blame to responsible parties. There is wisdom in the adage: “Those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it.

The accountants should empower the Imagineers in the way that Roy Disney supported his brother. The record of past Imagineering achievements, and the morale and culture of the creative artists, should be understood, valued and protected by the Disney business people.

Management’s goal should not be to have every individual attraction and every last aspect of every park be a money-maker or product promotion. “Synergy,” with its implication of happy inter-communal cooperation and coordination, deteriorates into mediocrity when misapplied as cross-platform profiteering and exploitation of one segment by another.

Walt proved, against critics within and without his organization, that quality is paramount. Reasonable profits are possible when each park and resort has maximum appeal. Appeal lessens to the degree that these venues are crushingly exploited as marketing tools for pins, princess dresses and pirate films. As park appeal ebbs, so ultimately, will the profits.

The accountants - and how can we induce them to read these pages? - should be awestruck daily, and continually sobered, to realize that Haunted Mansions and River Cruises have been operating daily for some 50 years - now across the globe - to the delight of countless millions of people – with no film characters and no plugs for movies. (Sadly, I cannot add the “new, updated” Pirates of the Caribbean to this esteemed group).

Wise administrators don’t tamper with success, don’t second-guess creative teams and don’t sacrifice quality for quick profits. The great Disney park achievements were the result of the visionary Walt-Disney-blue-sky-spirit, artistic freedom, camaraderie and respect for – yes: Imagination. To the degree that these attributes are disrespected and deteriorate, a slow degradation of the parks, and ultimately the decline of the profits, will surely follow.

Let’s hope a new fire is re-inspiring the Imagineers, and a new flame enlightening the Budgeteers.

Mr Banks said...

Regarding: "You really think Apple or Pixar just go with their coolest idea, and don’t have any marketing input before deciding on a project? I seriously doubt it."

Actually, Apple and Pixar DO go with their coolest idea. And their marketing departments then go out and sell them.

Within this system it's the creative team that has the greatest say in how their ideas are sold to the public and the marketing department's job to get the message out there.

Can you imagine Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter being forced by a marketing team to adhere to the way they believe a project should be sold to the public, let alone allowing a marketing team to actually crush a project just because they believe it won't appeal to a target audience? This may work for companies that create ink-jet printers but this just doesn't work for companies that stake their reputation on innovation.

Under the creative leadership of someone like John Lasseter, the only worthwhile marketing team is one that works FOR the project. Not against it.

teevtee said...

dan_steinberg:

No offense taken but you may wish to re-read what I wrote as I am VERY clear on the difference between advertising and marketing, in fact i have worked in this field spcifically for more than 15 years.

In fact the irony is that many of your points were the exact ones I made, only in a much less long winded manner.

I said that marketing MUST be involved and I said some ideas should NOT be built if they clearly could not be marketed. I also said that many peopel confuse advertising and marketing as one in the same when in fact they are wuite clearly different.

While I am an independent business who works on the creative side of things I work equally within the advertsing and marketing businesses and am CRYSTAL clear on what they do.

One last point of note, you are off on your assertation that Pixar and Apple have marketing involved from the get go. Apple does no focus group testing for example... they put trust in an idea, develop the idea the best they can and then market that idea... same goes for Pixar.

I admit that this is an over simplification of the process and perhaps that is where we are misunderstanding each other but I don't think anyone here really cares about marketing minutia. that was really my point to begin with.

I also aknowledge that Apple and Pixar are in the GREAT minority and as companies grow the process becomes even more complex and intermingled. Disney is a huge company and so it is hard to keep things as simple as in a much smaller company such as Pixar, but don't underestimate the power of that simplicity.

dan_steinberg said...

Okay, a few comments I just have to reply to:

Mr. Banks said:
Under the creative leadership of someone like John Lasseter, the only worthwhile marketing team is one that works FOR the project. Not against it.

Yes, yes, YES!! Marketers (and the even-more reviled lawyers) should be on the team to help figure *how* to make the concept work, not only to shoot things down. Buzz Price’s “Yes, if” approach comes to mind here.

Teevtee said:
You are off on your assertation that Pixar and Apple have marketing involved from the get go. Apple does no focus group testing for example.

Okay, you may be right – have no idea what Apple or Pixar does internally. But marketing is more than “focus groups”. Marketing is about understanding the customers. Focus groups are one way (and IMHO a lousy one) to try understand them.

Mr. Banks said:
Can you imagine Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter being forced by a marketing team to adhere to the way they believe a project should be sold to the public, let alone allowing a marketing team to actually crush a project just because they believe it won't appeal to a target audience?

Heh! Of course not! “Marketing Input” doesn’t have to come from a marketing team; these three all have an inherent understanding of who the customers are and what they want. They don’t need outside input - see my comments in the original post about Walt being my ideal of a marketing genius. But not everybody in the business world is a genius on the level of these guys.

My whole point is that for WDI to be really successful, they need to have a good sense of the market and customers – whether that comes internally or externally – so what they create is something that is just as wonderful and exciting to their guests as it is to the guys who designed it.

And, yeah, I am long-winded...but only because I’m really passionate about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

In an earlier posting Digital Jedi said "The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Test Track and Soarin' are examples of great ideas either implemented incorrectly or located in the wrong place."
I think he is wrong on both counts. I rode the Seas in January with my entire family, some of whom had been at EPCOT some 15 years ago, and some who had never been there before. All felt they were really good attractions and were not out of place at all.
As a former Imagineer who worked on a variety of projects at all the Disney theme parks, I think you are being too harsh on these attractions. They work well and are popular-and at the end of the day the attractions at all the parks need to be popular.

teevtee said...

Dan...

We are all passionate, thuis that is why we are here, no problem there!

I think the point you are making is just, simply put you are saying "marketing IS important and just because some things may have gotten out of hand does not mean that marketing as a whole should be blamed." Now excude me for praphrasing but I think that is the gist of it.

I cannot disagree with that at all. Remember however that we are speaking in generalities here and I for one firmly believe that within that broad and simplsitic realm creative decisions and trusting those who have them must lead all others in companies such as Disney. Now to your point maybe that creative decision is a marketing one, and there has been great marketing that delivers really fulfilling experiences. A great example would be Toon Town. This started as almost a purely marketing driven idea that started slowly (with a very pathetic Mickey's Starland at the MK which was nothing more than a cheap meet and greet area) but then evolved into a very strong Mickey's Toontown at DL.

However more often than not the genesis of great attractions or even products (again, the ipod) do not come from markrting minds. In the worst cases the marketing drives the product and then you end up with just dreadful crap such as big wands over Space Ship Earth or pretty much anything Microsoft has ever made.

Again though, I don't think we want to lynch the marketing dept. We know they serve a valuable post. But this is a blog about bringing the creative forces back to the forfront because those are the guys we really can make things happen in meaningful and for fans exciting ways.

TW said...

Good news for Disney, bad news for HP. Really, how soon are people going to figure out what should have been obvious from the beginning -- Marketing's job is not to decide "What we can package and sell". It's to figure out "How do we sell what creative has come up with?"

Marketing is the pond scum below the bottom of the food chain, not the creatures at the top. And too damn many companies have lost sight of this simple fact.

moochie said...

Moochie loves this discussion!

/bsdb said...

bsdb, I would never suggest that Orin Aviv was the right person to take over Motion Picture Production, but there are two holes in your argument. 1) The head of live action production at the Walt Disney Studio does not create content; he/she buys it. The creative head of WDI does create content. 2) I like Nina a lot as a person and the way she was fired was wrong, but her sensibility leans heavily toward Touchstone pictures with an almost total lack of interest in Disney films which she delegated to her various VPs (most of whom are all still there), and the Studio is making fewer Touchstone films.

Tongoroa, I'm fully aware that WDI creative execs get their hands dirty in the design process, unlike most film studio execs. This has been the case for engineering and design firms since the beginning. So yes, the two situations are not exactly interchangable.

But... Ms. Jacobson's penchant for films more in line with Touchstone than WDP also applies to her replacement, Mr. National Treasure. Seems to me that Disney is replacing a Touchstone exec with yet another Touchstone exec. So I don't quite understand where the "hole" is in my argument on that point.


By the way, Nina's firing was well covered by the media, but this blog focuses on Imagineering and the parks, so...

I was using the Aviv-replacing-Jacobson situation as an example of how Disney under Iger, post-Pixar acquisition, was seemingly putting marketing ahead of creativity once again by Aviv's promotion. If the attitude towards "marketing driving production" was truly changing within Disney overall, I doubt a marketing wonk like Aviv would have replaced Jacobson.

In spite of all this speculation, the bigger question still remains to be answered:

Will Mendenhall be replaced, particularly by someone from marketing? Or will his position be eliminated altogether?

That's where you'll find the true change regarding this situation.

If the corporate attitude towards marketing-driven management is dead and buried, then Mendenhall's position will be toasted. Otherwise, his departure will have no lasting, long-term significance regarding the future direction of Imagineering project development.

Strange but true, there's always the possibility of someone even worse than Mendenhall being hired by Rasulo to take his place.

Mr Banks said...

MOOCHIE! And Re-Imagineering LOVES LOVES LOVES MOOCHIE!

dan_steinberg said...

Teevtee said:

I think the point you are making is just, simply put you are saying "marketing IS important and just because some things may have gotten out of hand does not mean that marketing as a whole should be blamed."

Yes! That’s it! Marketing isn’t evil, and to be successful there has to be a place at the table for them. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I felt it need to be said because I see things like this from tw:

Marketing is the pond scum below the bottom of the food chain, not the creatures at the top. And too damn many companies have lost sight of this simple fact.

Sigh.

And I do still have trouble with the idea that concepts should come from the creative folks only – I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree here. I guess I’ve worked on too many “creative”-inspired products that hit the market like a bug hits a windshield. Unless you’ve got a Lasseter, Jobs or Disney, it’s really got to be a whole team effort.

teevtee said...

Dan...

I think it all comes down to the individual ideas and the creatives who conceive them... right?

There is absolutely no doubt that MANY, MANY, MANY horrible ideas have sprung from creative minds. It is also true that some really good ideas may be thought of that are simply IMPOSSIBLE to market thus making them pretty much meaningless ideas from a practical point of view. So I agree with you... creative idea does not automatically equal good or practical idea.

However I bet that if you look back on the track record of Disney parks you will find that the best ideas, the enduring ideas, the industry shifting ideas have all come from a creative genesis. As soon as you start driving your product from marketing you lose the heart and soul of what you do. In some cases it really does not matter. Selling soap is marketing driven and that is fine but Disney is a rare exception. It's core is about emotion and striking a balance of short term gain with LONG term impact. These are things that are ruled by the heart as often as not and creative's are generally the ones who understand this. Pizar is perhaps the absolute best example of a company run this way and obviously the results speak for themselves.

Mr. Fenwright said...

I am glad to hear of this, does thais mean the imagineers will only have to answer to them selves, no more cookie cutter attractoins? No more "you've seen one you've seen them all"? I must ask this question, were'nt the attractions at each park supposed to be unique and not like anything else. May be it's just me.. keep up the fantastic work, and maybe we will see a new golden age of imagineering.

theatreman said...

Mr. Fenwright raises a point of interest to me: the duplication of attractions from park to park. I do not think all replications are bad, and certainly the afficionado can enumerate subtle differences among the several Haunted venue attractions, The Caribbean Pirate rides and other classics.

I understand the urge to repeat a success like Soarin', which is for me the best achievement of the new millennium to date. I learn from Wikipedia that the show utilizes two dome-screen IMAX theatres in California as well as in Florida. Within each theatre are three large cantilever ride-vehicle carriages, each made of more than one million pounds of steel. The theatres are equipped with gusts-of-air and scent effects. The attractions are housed in their own large buildings with queues, pre-show videos, etc. The exciting and magnificently scored helicopter film runs four-minutes and 51 seconds.

What I don't understand is why the California-themed movie is shown at EPCOT. Why not Soarin' Over America, or Soarin' Over the World? (And for that matter, why not have placed the show in World Showcase rather than Future World?). Certainly the creation of a less-than-five-minute helicopter film (scents or no) must have been a minor item in the overall construction budget.

Perhaps park surveys suggest that only well-heeled Disneyiacs visit both U.S. parks in significant numbers.

Nevertheless, allowing California to retain its own exclusive film, while EPCOT has another unique movie, seems the more desirable Disney richness-of-Imagineering approach. Even those who will never visit every park can marvel at expansive and varied DI creativity, enhancing the brand. This is a situation easily remedied by the introduction of a new film for Florida.

This same disappointment applies to the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder cruise ships. I loved my first Disney cruise. But I was dismayed to learn that the Animators' Palate and Palo restaurants and other features were duplicated on the second vessel. Great concepts, yes, but wouldn't repeat business, distinction, and a tour de force display of versatility argue that each ship should have its own one-of-a-kind restaurants?

I'm sure there was economy is pulling out the Animator Palate blueprints, perhaps improving a few details, and replicating the restaurant on the Wonder. But how many equally exciting ideas did this leave on the DI drawing boards? And how many people, like me, declined a deja vu cruise?

teevtee said...

The lack of easily updated and imoprived films for the movie based attractions has always annoyed me.

Look at the filsm in Epcot's World Showcase, only now being updated after 25 years. Look at Star Tours... running the same film for nearly 20 years.

With Soarn' it obviously makes no sense at all to be running a California film in Florida. The only possible answer to to the question "Why?" is money. I seriously doubt that any creative minded person at WDI has ever argued to keep the original Soarn' over California film for the Florida execution... no, it is just a bottom line cost saving measure. So then the bigger question is why do that? How can they get away with it?

Well sadly they can. They know that the average WDW visitor is NOT a local and is NOT aware of the minute details of every attraction on property. they know that simply pushing a big new ride is enough. Most who come will enjoy the ride and have good things to say about it, why (they argue) spend one cent more than you need to if the average guest won't know the difference anyway?

in the case of Soarn' they may even me right. they don't ever talk about it being in California. There is a very diverse sense of scenery and so most people just don't think about it. They are flying around over cool looking spaces, that is all they know. Hell, many probably don't even realize that it is Disneyland and not the Magic Kingdom at the end. All of this sadly validates the reasoning to skimp and save and do things on the cheap.

HOWEVER it is very short sided thinking. You see there really ARE enough people who know, who can either simply sense the cheapening of the park (especially notable at WDW) or know specifically why the parks feel less special. The word spreads and long term they lose a LOT more than the up front cost of simply doing something correctly to begin with.

Soarn' is a great ride, but one that has been hobbled by a nonsensical movie for it's Florida location, a tenuous at best plcement within the Land pavilion and a general low budget feel. Where are the hanger doors hiding the bare screens at the start of the film? it is a great attraction which has been cut back to a good attraction and that is frustrating beyond all belief.

Disney parks used to be (and in some cases till are, go to Tokyo) about SURPASSING expectations. Now (and Soarn' is perhaps the quintisential example of this) they are more and more about meeting lowered expectations and hoping to fool everyone else.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting if someone would share specific examples of the projects he killed. What we might have seen?

theatreman said...

tvtee said., regarding the diminution of quality at the parks:

...there really ARE enough people who know, who can either simply sense the cheapening of the park (especially notable at WDW) or know specifically why the parks feel less special. The word spreads..

I agree, and perhaps I am just restating his point: There are the repeat visitors and those who are very perceptive, who can "put their finger" on the brilliant details and/or the problematic additions and lost values.

I also think that even the least perceptive visitor will, however unconsciously, register delines in artistry, maintenance, suitable novelty and Imagination.

I think this is a mirror opposite of the throngs who love the parks, without being able to enumerate the mass of artistic detail and sensational inventiveness in which they have been immersed.

Ultimately every visitor is affected, however vaguely, by the totality of effect which either makes or breaks the park experience. And, yes, they WILL spread the word.

Anonymous said...

Good news.

Now let's hope Disneyland's new Tomorrowland is about tomorrow and not Star Wars.

Anonymous said...

This is good news, but as always, I am cautiously hopeful. While good things are beginning to happen at EPCOT with the destruction of the disembodied Mickey arm, and the original logo on new signage, there are still those in the company who design from spreadsheets. It's a sad state the company is still in when, in my office, we had a party when High School Musical 2 premiered, and nobody even mentioned EPCOT's 25th today. Obviously, brands are still more important than history or quality. Of course, the celebration that was put together despite people like Mendenhall and Rasulo was fabulous. There just should have been more.

/bsdb said...

Obviously, brands are still more important than history or quality. Of course, the celebration that was put together despite people like Mendenhall and Rasulo was fabulous. There just should have been more.

As in, more acknowledgement of certain Imagineers who helped make EPCOT Center the reality it became, who were completely omitted from the 25th exhibit?

I could not find one single photograph of Tony Baxter anywhere in that room, not even in the Journey Into Imagination display.

Perhaps the heat combined with jet lag tricked my eyes, even though I visited the exhibit three times throughout the day, especially after the crowds dissipated mid-afternoon. But I don't believe that was the case.

Are certain team members in Glendale still pissed that Baxter ended up on the winning side of the reorg war, regaining creative stewardship of Disneyland, and deliberately omitted him from the exhibit? Or was I just not paying close enough attention?

Anonymous said...

I think Mendenhall was not a good marketer.
I remember seeing billboards with small kids in California Screamin' that were actually too small to ride, the whole chili peppers ad fiasco and more, just irresponsible advertising. The TOT ads didn't even show what it was. People thought it was an ad for the Twilight Zone TV show. Even the 4 page spread in the LA Times of solid blue with a sub and a lone fish. No way to promote Nemo. "The subs are back".. "Space Mountain is back". No one in LA knew they left. I don;t even have to get into the million dream thing. Bad dog. No bonus..

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is.. most every Imagineer knew that the value the marketing VP had was he predicted how much incremental attendance there would be based on how sellable he thought it was. So.. you had to sell the daylight of of him to get the green light. This, my friends is the equation that tells you how much budget (ROI) you get to build the attraction and weather it will be an E of not. I never met Mendenhall but he yielded power I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

I imagine the mickey's wand epcot dome exploding(death star) and a bunch of the ewoks from Star Tours over at MGM Studio's dancing and burning Mendenhall's Corpse(Darth Vader)in some tree village while illuminaions goes off in the background and you will see Mickey Mouse(Luke) smile at Goofy(Han Solo) and then look over to see The Blue Ghosts of Walt and Roy Disney Smiling Back at Him(Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi)