Is Universal Orlando Ripping Off Apple?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) (NASDAQ: CMCSK  ) Universal Orlando theme park resort in Florida is lavishing Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) with heaps of praise. 

Universal Orlando's new commercial features a teen girl at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure with her parents and little brother. She appears disinterested, buried in her smartphone as her family enjoys coaster rides, character interactions, and a dip in the pool at one of the resort's on-site hotels. 

The spot closes with her texting her parents -- BEST VACATION EVER!!! -- with a slideshow of the snapshots that she's been taking of her family during the trip.

Yes, it's sweet and endearing, but it would have probably been more effective if Apple hadn't done exactly the same thing last month. Apple's "Misunderstood" spot features a teen boy who appears disinterested at a holiday family reunion, buried in his phone. He then uses iMovie to create a video of the clips that's he's been recording all along.

Universal argues that it's merely an unfortunate coincidence, claiming that it was testing the spot since July and went into production in October. So, no, it's not ripping off Apple, even if that may be the initial reaction from folks who watch the commercial. One can also argue that Universal Orlando doesn't really need to work all that hard on the marketing end of things this year. The long-anticipated expansion of its Harry Potter area -- efforts that will connect both parks via a Hogwarts Express train ride -- is slated to open to the public this summer. Universal Orlando's closest neighbor -- SeaWorld Orlando -- is also confirming that tourists hit Central Florida in record numbers this holiday season.

SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS  ) announced this morning that SeaWorld Orlando experienced record attendance during the quarter. This comes as a welcome surprise because SeaWorld Orlando's attendance was trending lower this summer, and that was before the Blackfish documentary created a backlash of negative reactions that resulted in several bands backing out of upcoming concert appearances at the marine-life park. If SeaWorld Orlando is holding up just fine, one can only imagine how well the season went for Universal Orlando a few exits northeast on I-4. 

Apple's marketing has historically been top-notch. It's been copied before. It will be copied again. However, would it have been so hard for Comcast's resort to have tweaked its spot to be a little more different? Maybe instead of a slideshow, we could have pried into her Foursquare check-ins, gushing tweets, and Facebook friends all liking her positive status updates.

Guests raise the bar once the Hulk coaster ride is done. It's a shame that Universal Orlando couldn't do the same.

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