I wrote this back in January, 2014 after returning from my family’s annual Walt Disney World vacation. It was my first experience with the MagicBands and MyMagic+. MyMagic+ was still in beta and on the receiving end of a ton of criticism.
My first job was in search marketing. During my time in search marketing, I had the pleasure of working hand-in-hand with Google and Yahoo/Bing. Due to my client’s sizable budget, Google was constantly looping us in on new advertising offerings, marketing tactics and inviting us into its New York offices for strategy meetings. Working with Google gave me the opportunity to see the full picture and to understand how a business – a great business – truly works. Everything they did served a greater purpose. This way of thinking led me to Disney’s MyMagic+ and MagicBands. Here’s my take…
I recently returned from a family vacation to Disney World. Five years ago my family began traveling to Disney to celebrate Christmas and ring in the new year. We have spent the past four out of five Christmases in Disney World, and it has become a tradition that I look forward to each year.
I was especially looking forward to this year’s trip. Disney World has just rolled out new features and services as part of MyMagic+, including MagicBands and FastPass+. While FastPass+ and MagicBands are still in beta, they are being offered to all Walt Disney World Resort guests.
The new MyMagic+ is being marketed as a “new dimension of Disney Magic, allowing guests to personalize their vacation like never before.” It starts with the MyDisneyExperience website and the new MyDisneyExperience app. With MDE, you can make and link restaurant and hotel reservations, secure and manage your FastPass+ reservations, and share your plans with family and friends.
The original FastPass was a virtual queuing system created by the Walt Disney Company, allowing guests to enter rides at a reduced-waiting time. Guests would approach a FastPass distributor and insert their park ticket. They would then receive a FastPass with a one-hour window to return.
The FastPass+, often abbreviated to FP+, allows guests to select an arrival window to experience park attractions and rides, character meet-and-greets, and arrange special viewing locations for fireworks, parades and shows. You may book your FP+ as early as sixty days in advance for a combination of three rides/attractions/shows per park, per day.
While the FastPass+ was an exciting addition, the real highlight was the MagicBand. The MagicBand is the centerpiece of Disney’s new MyMagic+ initiative. The MagicBand is an all-in-one device. It contains a radio-frequency device and a transmitter that allows the bracelet to work as your hotel room key, your park ticket and your wallet. It also holds your FastPass+ and PhotoPass. Every reservation and plan that you make on MDE is accessible using your MagicBand.
We were able to customize our MagicBands a little over a month before our trip. We fought over colors (six colors: gray, orange, blue, yellow, pink and green) before coming to an agreement. They came in a box decorated with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, in what seemed like a humblebrag by Disney’s Imagineers. Opening the box, the bands were neatly organized with our names under our respective band. At first glance, wearing this rubber device would be more of an annoyance than a convenience.
When we arrived at our resort in Walt Disney World, I began to see the benefit of MagicBands. At check-in, the woman at the front desk asked if we had our MagicBands with us. She had us enter a 4-digit security pin that would be used when making purchases or using the MagicBand to redeem our meal-plan credits. She then told us that we had the option to add a credit card to the MagicBand. Adding a credit card would be another benefit of the MagicBand, allowing guests to leave their wallet at home. Being only a few short days after the Target scandal, we declined and decided to play it safe.
We entered our room by waving the MagicBand over the new Mickey door lock. The weather was gorgeous, so we decided to drop our luggage off and head to Downtown Disney and Disney’s Marketplace, home of many different restaurants and souvenir shops. Talking with a Cast Member (Disney’s name for employees) at Downtown Disney, I learned a bit more about the MagicBands. The radio frequency inside the bracelets allowed for another level of personalization. Not only are bands equipped with short-range radio frequency for purchases, they are equipped with a long-range frequency as well. Guests and parents (for guests under 18) can set the degree of information shared through the MagicBand. The radio frequency can be read during shows and throughout the park. So, if it’s little Johnny’s birthday, Mickey will know and be able to wish him a happy birthday.
Upon arriving at Downtown Disney, it became evident that Disney was going all in on the MagicBands and personalization. Stores sold shirts proclaiming “I’m with the Band!” They also sold Disney-themed decorative pieces and sleeves for the MagicBand. This was nothing new. For years, Disney has profited from personalization and customizable souvenirs. They bought into the Build-a-Bear craze with Duffy, the Disney Bear, sell crocs with Disney accessories, and have established a cult following from pin collectors.
I was still trying to learn the underlying objective behind the MagicBands. Sure, Disney wanted to create a personalized and memorable experience for each guest. They wanted each guest to be able to plan their vacation and have the convenience of “touching Mickey head to Mickey head.” Disney has always strived to create a magical and seamless experience for guests. The MagicBands certainly sprinkled a bit of pixie dust on our trip, but how would these bands benefit Disney?
Then it hit me.
Disney was using the MagicBands for marketing research. It started when I entered our information on MyDisneyExperience. I’m a 24 year old male from New York. I invited my 29-year-old sister and my 60-year-old parents to join in on the plans. Already, Disney had our demographics. With every purchase and every swipe, Disney was collecting our preferences. They were able to track what we purchased and how much money we spent.
No credit card linked? No problem.
Through the long-range frequency, Disney was able to track what parks we went to, what rides we preferred, and how much time we spent in the parks. We used our MagicBand to access our meal plan and restaurant reservations. By doing so, Disney knew our restaurant preferences and our eating habits. They know that we drank at least one alcoholic drink at a nice restaurant, always order dessert, and are suckers for sharing appetizers.
We were destined to be a part of a marketing research report. In a few short weeks, a marketing team will sit in front of their superiors and read the Q1 results.
“Well, males between the ages of 24 and 35 prefer a mixed drink while dining at a signature restaurant”
“We’ve found that older families prefer to spend their day at EPCOT, while younger families opt for Magic Kingdom”
Or even worse…
“We’ve found one older family that still takes pictures with the characters…”
The new MagicBands have gained a lot of positive and negative attention. Many guests have given glowing reviews, very much enjoying the new personalization and convenience. Government officials, however, have called into question the legalities and security of tracking guests and sharing informaiton.
What many have failed to see is that a version of MagicBands have been around for ages. Grocery stores have long tracked demographics and spending habits through reward cards. The stores have then used this data in buying inventory and improving the store. Disney is doing the same with MagicBands. The only difference is that instead of earning a free turkey at Thanksgiving, guests are receiving a personalized and much more convenient vacation.