Disney Parks had a huge presence at last week’s Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans. Essence Fest is a three-day celebration of black culture, music, food and more with more than a half-million visitors. Disney’s theme throughout the festival was “The Power of Joy” — and no department exemplified that more than Disney Parks.
Going to Disneyland and Walt Disney World consistently since 1995, my eye tells me the black community has not latched onto Disney with the same intensity as some other communities. If my eye is right, it’s clear that Disney is trying to change that. Many additions and changes around the resorts the past few years have been made in an effort to reach out to the black community. “Came to Play” is Disney’s newest marketing campaign in that arena.
During Essence Fest, I had the opportunity to attend an offsite brunch, with other media and social media influencers, where Disney introduced “Came to Play” and discussed some of their existing products in that arena. Sybil Crum, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Strategy at Disneyland Resort, and Sivonne Davis, Vice President Marketing Strategy Walt Disney World were on hand to tell us all about it.
Crum began by explaining the reason “Came to Play” was introduced at Essence Fest is that the festival is all about love, honoring black culture and heritage and honoring who we are. She continued, “We wanted to intentionally invite our people to come to the parks and to feel something, to be invited into an experience that’s curated for us by us. The people who created Came to Play are us and it’s created for us. So when you see these experiences …. it’s about inviting our people to come to Disney, to experience black stories, our black culture, our black music, our heritage and our Disney theme parks. … It’s about you, it’s about you coming to join us and coming to play. “
“Came to Play” is set to officially launch this fall with last weekend being just a preview. Throughout the brunch images on the screens showed black people and families enjoying Disneyland, Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line. But as I mentioned, “Came to Play” is just the latest move in a continuing push.
Crum continued by talking about Celebrate Soulfully which has been happening in the resorts the past few years. “Celebrate Soulfully is a celebration of black joy, a celebration of our stories, black heritage, black culture, and, to be honest,, I stole it from Sivonne. It started there [Walt Disney World], she curated it with the great team from Yellow Shoes, and created this product that could represent us, reflect our culture, reflect what we do through art … it’s about product that really expresses who we are and what we want to see in the parks.”
Davis gave a little bit of the history of Celebrate Soulfully. “We celebrate soulfully every day. What I’m proud of over the last four years – we’re going into our 4th year now – we’re continuing growing, learning from one another and figuring out new stories to tell, because the number of stories we have to tell are unlimited. So whether we’re talking about art or the perspective of food or music, it’s all about a reflection of joy.” Another example she gave was cooking and how they highlight some of the authentic foods around the resort created by black chefs.
Crum also explained that this goes beyond specific celebrations like Celebrate Soulfully and into the attractions themselves. She gave Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln as an example. “We worked with National Geographic to change the expression of how we told the story of Lincoln and the enslaved people and our freedom. It wasn’t just about Lincoln freeing the slaves, because he didn’t. It was about Frederick Douglas, who really worked to convince him of our need for freedom. “
Crum also talked a little about her history with Disney and how that informs what she’s doing now. “I’ve been coming to the park since I was a kid and I haven’t always seen our product reflect who we are. So, whether someone wants to hear it or not, it’s about them getting that smoke, no matter what”
On the convention floor, the always-popular “Came to Play” booth further invited guests to come to Disney Parks. Inside were several backdrops where guests could pose for pictures in familiar scenes. Every guest that entered was also given a rose gold Minnie Mouse headband.
Davis summed up the goal by using a famous quote by Maya Angelou, “People will always remember how you made them feel.” “So when I think about how I want black families to feel coming into our parks, I want them to feel like they belong, I want them to feel the genuine commitment to celebrating black culture and feeling like they were welcomed and they were intentionally invited.“