Almost 10 years ago Walt Disney management discovered that Disney World Florida was in real danger of becoming a thing of the past, with a high percentage of visitors saying they would not be returning due to crowding, long lines for rides, and the overall magic and wonder of the park being ruined.

This crisis moment forced Disney to rethink how they did things and to reinvent their offering through the MagicBands and their online program, MyMagicPlus.

This billion dollar idea came from a handful of Disney insiders, nicknamed the “Fab Five”, a humorous nod to the Original Disney Gang (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto). They wanted wearable tech to be the future of the Entertainment Park, a way to improve the experience of every visitor as well as to bring them invaluable feedback on how the parks are being used.

So what is the MagicBand?

The MagicBand is a rubber accessory worn around the wrist, containing a RFID chips and a radio, similar to those in a 2.4-GHz cordless phone. The battery life on a band can last up to two years, meaning unlike your smartphones there is no worry of it dying half way around the park.

Though simple in its appearance the band connects the wearing to a vast and extremely powerful system of sensors around the park (the company had to install more than 30 million square feet of Wi-Fi coverage, an area equivalent to the city of San Francisco).

The point of the MagicBand is to make the guests experience as hassle free and magical as possible. The band enables the cast members and park itself to anticipate your every move, know your names, what you want, what you need, where you will be next, and how long until you arrive. The prime example of this would the Be Our Guest restaurant, which leaves those unaware of the full capabilities of the band… How did they know my name? How did they know where I was sitting? How did they bring my food straight to me? Bookings, preordering, and sensors are what make this dining experience so magical.

The MagicBand expands past its initial application, also becoming a Skeleton key to the park for the guests. It is used to aid in a swift and easy checking in process, serving as a room key, with more than 28,000 hotel door locks being replaced to make it viable. It can also be linked to your credit/ debit card and can be used to purchase food and memorabilia.

In addition to enhancing on the individual’s experience, Magic Bands also collect an immense amount of data, but not just the basic location data of the masses. Disney is able to collect very specific data, down to who exactly each person is at the park, where they go throughout the day, what they buy, drink, eat, at what points of the park are most used to go toilet etc. From this standpoint, the bands can be seen as a source of a great fountain of data that could be used to target the consumer in a very effective way.

Despite a later than expected launch the MagicBands and MyMagicPlus have been a great success. Disney have succeeded in making its customers data-friendly, happy to exchange their data for all the benefits it brings them. And the result? Well, in the first quarter after the launch of the Magic Bands, attendance at the parks increased by 7%, resort hotel bookings were up by 8% and overall revenue was up by 20% to $805 million. So the signs are very good that they’re heading in the right direction.

What can DOOH learn from the Magic Band?

Within the walls of a Disney adventure park the expectations of the individual are very different to in the everyday world. Guests view that world very differently and this might explain why its guests are so happy to share so much of their information. But there is a trade off and by sharing their data the customer gets conspicuous benefits. And this is key. When there are tangible benefits to sharing data, the customer is placated; it’s when they feel looked-in-on without anything in return that alarm bells ring.

Sharing data in the real world is a challenge and how to invite consumers into the screens around them is DOOH’s challenge. With all the hoopla that surrounds the question of privacy, what will it take for people to allow their every move, tastes, interests, private personal data to be constantly monitored, as the Magic Band has managed?

Perhaps conspicuous kick-backs is the key. What Disney’s Magic Bands suggest is that as long as the data-sharer can see the benefits then they’re happy to be involved. People.io is the latest company to gamble on this trend. The Shoreditch-based start up is pioneering a form of data licensing as opposed to traditional data harvesting. It’s out in the open, consensual, so already it’s better.

By signing up to people.io individuals can ‘allow’ ads to come their way in exchange for credits with tangible benefits. This sidesteps the rising use of adblockers (whose use rose by 82% in the last year) and gets consumers on side, in a mode to be amenable and therefore more receptive to the ads they view.

Consent may just be what the modern art of persuasion needs, after all, the grease on the tracks for a boat to be able to launch. That said, it’s a business model that’s proved hard to make work in the past, with Blyk and Samba Mobile examples of previous ad-promotion enterprises that failed to be sustainable. It’s an interesting experiment though and one we’ll be keeping our eyes on.


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