EPCOT – Why experience brands cannot predict the future
Because we’re in the future. The future is happening all around us, and most people aren’t ready for it. Those who are ready read magazines like WIRED, only to be made further fun of by people who scoff at the idea of a paper magazine.
EPCOT is an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow; but designing and maintaining an amusement resort has a lot longer planning cycle than the 12-18 months it takes to plan, develop and manufacture small technology. The result: something big and physical that was cool 20 years ago feels dated. Because something small that was cool even 1 year ago can feel dated.
As a hedge, EPCOT had two focus areas; the future area, and the international pavillion. The International Pavillion, for all its hokiness, and its heavy stereotyping of 7 different nations, their architecture, their food and their people, is still a big draw. The reason it works better than “the future” is simple. The past, and the strong mental paradigms people have with countries, are forever. Add a touch of real brands that work wonderfully in those countries, and you make the experience as authentic as is possible for someone who only may (or may never) visit that country.
Japan: Japanese fast food, next to a real Mitsukoshi depahto store with real Mitsukoshi “cute” and cool fare.
Canada: Pretend Rocky Mountains, a pretend Chateau Frontenac, containing Le Cellier restaurant. Le Cellier is Orlando’s best steak restaurant, and modeled on the classic Canadian restaurants in the cellars of the real Chateau Frontenac and Chateau Laurier.
Each country gives people a little bit of stereotype in architecture, food and beer (nice touch) with a classic brand or two from the actual country. It’s not hokey, it’s better than hokey. Stereotypes are easy. Layering those stereotypes with the right brands that give an authentic feeling for the country is the hard part. When the combination is done right, it’s magical.
No matter hard it is to get the right combination, this layered modelling of the past is a lot easier for brands to get right than a long-term model of the future. It’s a nice lesson for any brand: before you try to understand your future, make sure you understand your past, and give people a real sense of what you stand for right now.