Arts & Culture » Eye Drive

Big Mickey is watching you



M -- I -- C ...

See ya real soon!

K -- E -- Y ...

Why? Because we've found the key to your personal entertainment preferences by tracking your every inquiry and Mouse-related purchase for years now. And we'll soon begin using these files to make more ...

M - O - N - E - Y ... for the Walt Disney Co.

The amassing of files on its customers (real and potential) may smack a little of Big Brotherism. But not to Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who happily unveiled the corporation's plans for a new "customer-relations management" program at last month's annual stockholder's meeting in Hartford, Conn. The CRM, as it's called, will allow the company to form an even "deeper two-way relationship with our biggest fans," according to Disney President Bob Iger.

Translation: We're looking for the CRM to generate some serious cash for the corporation. Using a series of semi-comic slides (which showed the Snow White family making a return trip to Walt Disney World), Iger walked stockholders through a hypothetical scenario that illustrated how the CRM could be used to help enhance a guest's vacation experience:

"During the `Charming Family`'s stay, preferred reservations are made at their favorite restaurants; advance FASTPASS tickets are provided for their favorite rides, and -- one morning -- a cupcake with a candle is brought to their room in honor of their daughter's 8th birthday."

Sounds fairly benign -- even kind of fun -- doesn't it? Just wait. It gets better. Or creepier, depending on how serious you are about privacy issues.

Iger continued: "When the Charmings leave the resort, they indicate in their guest surveys that they particularly enjoyed the 'Peter Pan Flight' attraction. Shortly after arriving home, they receive a note thanking them for coming to Walt Disney World and offering them discount coupons for the video of "Peter Pan" and for the film "Return to Neverland," playing at their local theater. Later in the year, they receive promotional materials offering them a family package on the Disney Cruise Line, mentioning that Captain Hook will be on board. And, at Halloween, they are sent discounts for Peter Pan and Tinker Bell costumes at the Disney Store. When they return to Disney World, they are notified of a character breakfast that features the Peter Pan cast."

By this point, the family probably has forever sworn off flying fairies and boys that won't grow up.

Sure, the target audience for the CRM -- hardcore Disneyana fans -- may be delighted with this new program. But for the rest of us, who may already be uneasy about how much the Mouse seems to invade our daily lives, the notion that the Disney corporation will send us advertising mailings based on something we may have said during an exit poll is not exactly a laughing matter.

So, where is Disney getting all the raw information it needs for its CRM program? Some sources may seem fairly obvious. If you've ever stayed at a Disney resort hotel, signed up for a "Disney Club" discount card or even bought your child a subscription to Disney Adventures magazine, you're already in Mickey's data base.

Other sources might surprise you: If you've ever sent in the consumer-registration card you'll find inside every Dimension or Miramax Films VHS or DVD, congratulations! You're on file at the Mouse House. If you've ever sent a postcard to ESPN in an attempt to win one of the sports cable network's "Super Fan" competitions, you, too, are in Disney's database. Have you dropped by anytime in the past few years? That means Mickey has your number (or, to be more specific, your e-mail address).

To be fair, Eisner told the Hartford meeting that the CRM would be "completely voluntary and guests are welcome to decline to participate." But given that the Walt Disney Co. already has all of this information on file about our likes and dislikes, buying patterns, etc., isn't the very concept of privacy moot at this point?

That may explain why Disney is still being cagey about when it plans to roll-out CRM. (Company insiders suggest an autumn debut, probably tied in with the launch of the next "Platinum Collection" VHS and DVD release of "Beauty and the Beast"). Disney's problem: How can the company make core customers aware that it already has access to their data without offending them and/or raising red flags about how the Mouse seems to be watching their every purchase and/or move.

Up until now, Disney has loved to end its films with the phrase: " ... and they lived happily ever after." But -- with the CRM on the horizon -- perhaps a new slogan is in order:

"Orwell's that ends well."

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