Today’s post comes from Mr. Steve, the First Impression at Brains on Fire and one of the bigger fans of Disney that you’ll come across in your lifetime.
My obsession with all things Disney does more for me than sap every spare dollar I earn.Â It gives me the chance to experience first-hand, an entire masters program on marketing and word of mouth.Â And one of the most fascinating case studies involves the phenomenon of ‘Hidden Mickeys’.Â Now, for those of you unfamiliar with HM’s, here’s some history:Â HM’s began appearing in the Disneyland as soon as it opened…most famously, the ‘rivets’ used on the metal fencing surrounding the trees, or in the pavement in Adventureland (so that when it rains, the puddles form the familiar three circled figure). But the phenomenon started as Disney prepared to build EPCOT in the late ‘70s. Legend has it that the Disney Company did not want any Disney characters to appear in the new park, claiming that they belonged only in the Magic Kingdom. The Disney Imagineers, however, felt so certain that the Disney characters made Disney what it is, that they began ‘hiding’ silhouettes of Mickey Mouse in the rides and throughout the park.Â Â Once word of this subterfuge hit the Disney fans, it was like a special secret that only true Disney fanatics knew about.
So what did Disney do?Â Well, some companies would have taken control of the phenomenon and sold ‘Hidden Mickey’ t-shirts and guide maps.Â But Disney learned long ago the power of ‘being involved’ (just look at the Mickey Mouse Club). They let this stay a little on the outside.Â A search of the Walt Disney World website shows no acknowledgement that they exist.Â Disney doesn’t announce where the new ones are after a ride has been built or refurbished.Â Cast Members certainly know where they are (or at least most of them), and will offer some knowledge to a child who doesn’t want to go on It’s A Small World again.Â But what Disney did best with this was let the fans take ownership.Â Disney Imagineers (and most Cast Members, for that matter) genuinely feel as though they work for the guest, not the company.Â So these Hidden Mickey’s are a handshake between the Imagineers and the guests.Â A way to say thank you for loving what we do so much that you want to know every little detail.Â And as a thank you for riding Spaceship Earth 100 times, here’s a little secret that most people don’t know about.Â And Disney fans have shown their appreciation by building websites and writing guidebooks dedicated exclusively to Hidden Mickeys.
The end result is beneficial in more ways that anyone could have anticipated.Â Â First of all, the rides have more value, because Disney has almost eliminated the law of diminishing returns on their rides.Â Half the fun of Disney rides lies in appreciating the details (heck, ask any old-school Disney fan, and they’ll tell you they can still smell the oranges in Horizons, which closed down 10 years ago).Â But now there’s another level beneath the detail…a secret…a joke that only true fans get. Those Hidden Mickeys have kept the rides fresh, even to guests who have the scripts memorized.Â Â Â More importantly, though, these Hidden Mickeys have provided Disney’s guests a chance to genuinely connect with this mega-corporation.Â That connection is vital in keeping guests talking about Disney World, even when they are thousands of miles away, and haven’t been in years.
Other companies do this…the Playboy bunny appears on every cover of Playboy, and, in tribute, Albert Einstein appears on every cover of Mental Floss.Â But no company has let such a giant sub-culture rise up within its fans.Â And it didn’t cost them a dime.Â All they did was let it happen.
So, I guess the obvious question is, how can your company slip your fans a Mickey?