Disney World's latest televised campaign poses the unthinkable. As a pair of children sleep through the night, their parents are online, researching possibilities for their next vacation.
"It's $1,600 for a week," the mother says as she prices a deal that includes park admission and Disney resort accommodations for the entire family. "We can do that."
"Oh yeah," the father giddily agrees.
The ad then closes out with a Web address -- disneyworld.com/affordable -- that finds Cinderella's Fairy Godmother directing visitors to the Florida resort's thriftier package alternatives.
The high price of being cheap
Is $1,600 really that cheap? That was a question that heated up our Disney
That isn't the point, though. If $1,600 is too steep, there isn't a lot that Disney can do for you beyond pitching you shorter vacations or encouraging you to stay at a cheaper hotel off Disney property.
You probably won't see Disney shouting those options from the rooftop. It wants you as a captive audience member. Staying at a resort means that you will likely consume all three daily meals on Disney soil and hit its gift shops for sundry items that you may have forgotten to pack. It is why Disney has no problem offering guests free -- and typically convenient -- transportation from its hotels to all four of its theme parks. It is also why the company will open select parks early or close them late exclusively for on-site guests.
I am blessed to have a second home that is just minutes from the Animal Kingdom parking lot, yet even I find myself staying on Disney property from time to time to weave me and my family deeper into the Disney World experience.
Disney has spoiled me that way, I guess. Even when I head out to smaller regional amusement parks, like the ones run by Six Flags
Disney on the cheap
Can Disney be done on a shoestring budget? Of course. You can pay as little as $30 a night for off-site hotels that are within viewing distance of Disney's nightly fireworks. Disney's ticket prices are still high -- and rarely discounted -- but staying outside of a Disney resort opens up thriftier dining and shopping options. You won't get the same experience at a $4 buffet as a $25 in-park character meal, but it clearly gives you more bangers and mash for your buck.
But Disney doesn't want to market that vacation. It doesn't mind filling up its parking lots with day guests, but it doesn't make any money if you head out for dinner at the Golden Corral, shop for snacks at Wal-Mart
The breadth of the revenue-generating power of its park visitors is wide. As long as Disney keeps building new resorts and fleshing out its timeshare program, $1,600 a week is as affordable as Disney wants you to think it is. And, for the record, the "affordable" ad never addresses taking the kids out of school for a week for that vacation. The rates are higher during the peak summer and holiday months.
The upmarket approach
Disney's marketing approach should also be fairly obvious with the new celebrity-anchored print ads that started going out over the weekend. With classy snapshots featuring folks like Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella, Beyonce Knowles as Alice in Wonderland, and David Beckham as Prince Phillip, Disney is trying to pitch its chain of global theme parks to an older audience. Will they find themselves rekindling their admiration for Disney's animated classical characters through the eyes of today's hottest stars?
Perhaps. At the very least, if prolific celebrities think that Disney is cool enough to submit to fairytale photo shoots, then maybe Disney's parks will be perceived as cooler through association.
Cooler by association? Isn't that what Disney achieved when it acquired Pixar last year? Nobody's been talking down the family entertainment giant's animation studio since Pixar's brain trust moved in.
Disney is also leaning heavily on Pixar's computer-rendered characters for its latest park additions. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc. anchor some of the newest attractions. Last week, Disney announced Toy Story Mania, a new virtual shooting gallery ride that will go up in both Florida and California.
Classy branded attractions. Classy celebrity-studded marketing campaigns. Is $1,600 affordable? When you're positioning yourself as a class act, some would argue that it's a beautiful bargain.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on amusement park treks over the summer. He owns units in Cedar Fair and shares in Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.