How Far Is TOO Far?

When do businesses cross the line to protect their brand?

Can you go TOO far to protect your brand?

There are millions all over the world who love Disney.

They perfected the art of creating a VERY strong, experiential brand when most were still trying to figure out why that’s important. … And they protect that brand at all costs.

Some Tidbits on How They Do It
Disney offices are underground or outside the park, so no one ever sees a glimpse of the mundane, behind-the-scenes stuff.

Dress codes are extremely strict and detailed. Look is regulated to fingernail length and nail polish color.

No two people working in the same area in the same shift can have the same name. If you’re not the senior “Jenny” on shift, congratulations! You get a new name.

Staff members are trained in what language to use. They’re forbidden from using certain words/terms, such as “I don’t know.” They have code words for things like “fire” or “vomit,” so those words are never used in the park.

No one may remove any part of their costume in public at any time, and the penalty for this is severe.

Employees are forbidden to post about their job on social media.

The Harsh Reality
While their way of doing business has preserved their “magical” brand, over the years leadership prioritized the brand over its people, which has had a negative effect.

Being from Orlando and having many friends and relatives who worked there, I’ve seen the underbelly of this brand. Those of us who’ve seen it have very different opinions of Disney than most. For example, with many former employees now working for Dreamworks, there are numerous Easter eggs slamming Disney in the Shrek movie. (If you ask me in person, I will tell you what “Duloc” stands for.)


To help you understand, I would tell you a couple of the many stories I’ve heard over the years from current and former employees, but because I KNOW how protective they are of their brand (which means telling you may make me the subject of a lawsuit), I’m going to refrain. (Luckily, I can still make my point.)

When a Brand Crosses the Line
You don’t have to hear the stories to understand those situations communicated something about the brand to us, to the employees and their friends and family. Disney had clearly and repeatedly sent me the message that people don’t matter, that they are commodities. … and they lost me, and many others, as customers.

They’re still a virtual media monopoly, so it’s hard to escape their related brands, but we still avoid the Disney brand itself because we don’t like the brand anymore.

Be Balanced with Your Brand Management
Your brand is your business’ identity, but it’s not a living, breathing human being. You need to be a strong brand manager, but avoid being a brand nazi. Prioritizing the strength of your brand over your people or your consumers will not only have a negative impact, but in these days of viral social media and getting #cancelled, it could have a crippling and lasting impact.

Besides, if your brand is strong enough, it will survive whatever hit it takes with your choice to put people first. For example, had my friend who played Winnie the Pooh lost her head (costume head) while in the park, sure, some little kids would have been surprised and confused.

But would Disney have lost its “magic” to them? Would those kids now be confused about the brand and what it stands for? No way! They’d still be begging to make another trip to Disney World every time their family takes a vacation.

Sometimes people, and brands, fall short of expectations. When you fall short, it doesn’t change who you are or how much people love you. It makes you human, but it doesn’t change your “identity.”

It’s ok for your brand to be human. That won’t change it’s identity … if it has one.