Disney’s Magic Bands: Brilliant or Marketing Miss?

As a marketer, I’m fascinated by the conversations taking place around big data, analytics, personalized experiences…and privacy. Since I first heard about the Disney Magic Band project, I’ve been anxiously watching from afar. This is an initiative that is so fabulous on one hand while so very controversial on the other. On the surface, the new program from Disney takes the best of big data to offer the ultimate in personalized consumer experiences. The privacy concerns surrounding the program, however, are already sparking quite the industry – and consumer – debate.

Disney Magic Bands
aim to reinvent the guest experience at Disney parks. Imagine a world where you can reserve a time for your favorite rides in advance; no cash is required anywhere in the park; you and your family are greeted by name everywhere you go; and, Buzz Lightyear makes a special effort to seek out your son or daughter for a quick photo opp since “Mickey knows” that is your favorite character.  With the introduction of these personalized “bracelets” this experience can be yours…for a price 😉

Each Magic Band is assigned and personalized for every individual in your group – including children.  The bands contain RFID technology, so not only can you use the bracelet to enter your hotel room, gain entrance to the park, and purchase merchandise and food during your visit, every move you make is tracked by Disney via these wearable devices.  If it is your birthday, Mickey and friends will know and may break out in song as you enter Tomorrow Land.  Fall in love with the cozy sweatshirt embroidered with Winnie the Pooh? No problem, just swipe your band and the sweatshirt is yours! Even waiting for a FastPass is a thing of the past. With the Magic Band, you can reserve a FastPass time on your favorite rides up to sixty days in advance and gain entrance to the ride with the swipe of your wrist.

In examining this program from an integrated marketing perspective, Disney has thought of every detail…from the messaging, to the packaging, to the online experience, to how the program comes to life in the park. Here is a video that walks through one guest’s reaction to the “Incredible” package:


While this personalized experience sounds wonderful on so many levels, I can’t help but wonder how consumers will respond long term.  As a marketer, the ability to track this level of “move by move” data is fascinating.  As a consumer, however, I must pause and ask how much is too much? Who will have access to this data? How long will they keep this data? What else besides the “obvious” is Disney tracking that I don’t know about? How do they plan to use this data?

One article on the new Magic Band program, in particular, raises some interesting questions. John Foreman, Chief Data Officer for MailChimp blogged about his MagicBand experience and extends the conversation to what other companies are doing with sensor data, cell phone data and other types of tracking technology to not only influence the online experience, but the consumer experience in the “real world.”

With the recent Google acquisition of NEST, for example, Foreman points out that Google not only knows when we’re online, they can now tell when we’re home. Hmm. As a NEST user, I’m not sure what I think about that…

Forman also describes an in store experience where the sales associate may offer to show you a pair of earrings to go with that necklace you purchased last week…how did they know?

While I am the first to admit to being a technology geek and am personally *very* excited about the new applications now possible by advancements in sensing technology, I can’t help but wonder if we’re starting to go a bit too far? In some cases, my view is yes. In other cases…sign me up! I personally think Disney’s Magic Bands will be a hit since the whole Disney experience is meant to be over the top. I’m just not sure I want my “real” life to feel like a Disney experience every day.

I’m with Foreman on this one.  Data and personal privacy is the new frontier. While there are some novel and interesting applications on the horizon, as an industry, we have a lot of work to do to figure out where to draw the line.  And, as marketers, we need to drive the conversation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please post your comments here or shoot me an email at kelly.schwager@usc.edu. You can follow me on Twitter at @kellyschwager

Tweetable Takeaways:
“Data and personal privacy are the new frontier. As marketers, we need to drive the conversation” @kellyschwager

Barnes, B. (2014, January 7). At Disney parks, a bracelet mean to build loyalty (and sales). New York Times. Retrieved on January 19, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/business/media/at-disney-parks-a-bracelet-meant-to-build-loyalty-and-sales.html?_r=0

Beyond Main Street (2013, December 19). Disney’s My Magic Bands – Experience + New Package with Flash Drive Unboxing [Video]. Retrieved on January 20, 2014 on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTTftMHRjAQ

Disney (2014). My Disney experience. Disney.com. Retrieved on January 14, 2014 from https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/bands-cards/

Foreman, J. (2014, January 18). You don’t want your privacy: Disney and the meat space data race. GigaOm. Retrieved January 18, 2014 from http://gigaom.com/2014/01/18/you-dont-want-your-privacy-disney-and-the-meat-space-data-race/

Murphy, A. (2013, November 4). The good, the bad, and the ugly of Disney’s Magic Bands. Theme Park Insider. Retrieved on January 14, 2014 from http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201311/3756/

Smolan, R. (2014) The human face of big data. Website. Retrieved January 20, 2014 from http://humanfaceofbigdata.com/

Storm, D. (2013, January 9). Big brother Mickey Mouse to monitor behavior via Disney’s MyMagic+ RFID wristbands. Computerworld. Retrieved January 19, 2014 from http://blogs.computerworld.com/privacy/21610/big-brother-mickey-mouse-monitor-behavior-disneys-mymagic-rfid-wristbands

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8 Responses to Disney’s Magic Bands: Brilliant or Marketing Miss?

  1. Misty says:

    Kelly, thank you for giving me a peek under the tent of the new MagicBand experience from Disney. It’s something I have been looking forward to for some time, as my trips to Disneyland with my son are very important to us each year.

    I agree that marketers need to drive the conversation regarding data collection and use. The primary reason is obvious: Who else will care enough at this juncture? I think that the typical consumer is far more interested in getting their money’s worth with a customized experience than thinking about the consequence of that personalization. In the case of the MagicBand, it reminds me a bit of the scare of identity fraud. Some invest heavily in ensuring their information is protected at all times. Others regularly email or share their credit card or other identifying information via phone without a blink.

    For me personally, I am aware of the risks of providing every ounce of information to a company in exchange for a weekend’s worth of a customized good time. However, my fascination with the idea of truly maximizing my park experience wildly overshadows that concern. After all, from layman’s perspective, we assume that there are people out there policing the sort of thing, right?

    I suppose, though, that this swings back to your comment about marketers driving the conversation and ensuring that companies are using best practices when it comes to data/insights gathering and exploiting those elements. I do think that in the short-term, there will be heebie-jeebies that occur when you do walk into a store, online or off, and the virtual or live service seems to know exactly what you’re shopping for and what you’ve done in the past 24 hours or week or so.

    However, I don’t think it’ll be long before this level of personalization will actually be an expectation from consumers who already secretly want a more me-centric experience in shopping, advertising and the like. After all, wading through impersonal noise is a time-suck, and time is our most precious commodity. This desire may come at a cost if marketers are left unchecked, but I believe consumers will be the last one driving the efforts.

    • Kelly Schwager says:

      Hi Misty,
      Thanks for your comments. It will be certainly interesting to see where the industry lands on this. I think you’re right – consumers may very well come to expect this new level of personalization. When the recommendations are spot on and the experience feels almost “magic” I think many consumers will share a view similar to yours – bring it on! I wonder, however, where the line will need to be drawn to ensure people aren’t freaked out or offended by all of this personalization? When is it too much?

      While I am very excited about what the future holds, I do think marketeers need to really be thoughtful about the use of this data, the protection of this data and the choices we make in the quest to win the consumer. While there are some similarities to the data already captured by credit card companies, the combination of purchase history and interests with location data is quite powerful. We’re entering new territory where there is even more reason for consumers to be aware of what they are sharing with whom.

      With that said, I just received my invitation in the mail to try Magic Bands. Sign me up! 🙂

  2. Pete LuPiba says:


    Top notch choice of discussion!

    I was born in Torrance, CA – about 20 min. from Disneyland. The sign outside the park in the 1970s and 80s said “the happiest place on earth” and I still believe it to this day. Saw it in my two year old daughter’s eyes this past December upon her very First visit. This is the magic, right – your topic? To personalize, to convenience. Or some might say NSA-like (Comrade E. Snowden, again!)? Too much knowledge of personal behavior and life. But tracking is the same as watching on a screen what is purchased by your credit card each week, every swipe, right?

    However, we are now in a society and generation that wants now and now, and don’t bother worrying about your neighbor’s issues. Not much conversation or much community? That might be a 50/50 split like this country on politics and political parties – perhaps even more razor thin than that (…calling Florida’s hanging chads!). I believe you spark debate – and is it really consumerism meeting technology? But where does liberty (behavior, your way!) and privacy (protection) take its place in this discussion? It is not necessarily a one ‘versus’ the other argument.

    But most assuredly, they are at the same table with the consumers and providers.

    Fight On!


    • Kelly Schwager says:

      Hi Pete,
      Thank you for your comments. I definitely think this is going to spark a lively debate! I do believe technology has reached a point where we can bring together data and information about consumers in some very cool ways. I’m just not sure this works if we look to tackle the challenge from a liberty or freedom angle…with regulations. I’d like to think the approach lies somewhere in the middle of industry ethics and consumer education. Such an interesting time to be a marketer. I think it is our responsibility to think through – and recommend – how this plays out.

  3. Beth Kurylo says:

    Hi Kelly! Great post. I was not aware of Disney’s Magic Bands. Because I am in Atlanta, we are closer to the Disney property in Orlando, Florida. I’m sure they have similar plans. Reading your post reminded me of an interview I heard recently on NPR’s Fresh Air. Dave Davies interviewed investigative reporter Julia Angwin, who wrote a book about her attempts to regain her privacy, which had been invaded via her computer and smartphone. Her book is called “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.” Her basic premise is that we are a society in which nothing is private anymore, and most people have no idea that we are under constant surveillance. Disney can package it up and make it attractive, and I’m sure charge extra for the privilege. But it all serves the bottom line and that’s why I’m so skeptical about it. Thank you for writing about this. Very interesting and a little scary. Beth

    • Kelly Schwager says:

      Hi Beth,
      Thank you for the comments and for the book recommendation. I will definitely check it out! This is a topic that I believe will continue to gain traction as more and more of these types of “personalized” offerings become available. I agree…it is both interesting and scary. With that said, however, I do believe that all of us as marketing professionals can help to shape how this technology and data is used and hopefully lead the charge in ensuring programs like this are rolled out responsibly.

  4. Maru says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Very interesting post! I had heard about the Magic Bands, but didnt really know what it was all about until I read your blog. Privacy is certainly a major issue that consumers do not get much of these days. Cookies enable marketers to see a consumers every move on the web, you will get geo-targeted coupons sent directly to your mobile device, Facebook knows your every move…when will it stop? However, despite all the privacy issues we currently have, I think families will be willing to pay the extra money in order to give their children an experience they will never forget. That in the end is what parents will see as worth the extra money which will in turn make the children happy. And if the children are happy, the parents are happiest seeing their children enjoy Disney, which in turn prompts them to indirectly want to come back and push for the annual pass sales.

    I personally think this is genius of Disney. The more personal you can get and the more of an experience you can provide will allow consumers to look past the already costly tickets. I feel with such an iconic brand such as Disney, consumer are more comfortable providing more information. Great post!

  5. Michelle Dennison says:

    Wow, Kelly. Your line about someone offering to sell me a great pair earrings to go with the necklace I bought last week gave me chills. I love great customer service, thinking ahead and making you feel you are receiving special concierge service. However, when a salesman begins throwing facts out about my buying or spending observations, I may be more creeped out than thankful for such great service. Definitely feel this is a fine line we are walking on with these innovations.