Theming the Thrills

Chapter 3: Theme Parks & Service Marketing

This chapter demonstrates the many theories and practices of marketing, in particular relation to service marketing and the extended marketing mix. The sheer size of many theme parks, especially the theme parks discussed in this project, gives great scope for much marketing activity in the business. Theme parks tend to involve marketing activity with the design departments, like many industries, to intensify the marketing strategies and make them more effective in regards to the products.

It is difficult to define theme parks as either products or services as there is a great mixture in what they offer. Although theme parks offer products, in the forms of actual merchandise, food and drink and in respect, rides and attractions, they are more commonly classed as service products. Merchandise, food and drink are tangible products and result in ownership, whether temporary or long-term. Theme parks as a whole, with the main attractions being the rides and shows, offer intangibility and do not result in any ownership. Thus, services have a number of characteristics. Kotler (1999) states that: "A company must consider five main service characteristics when designing marketing programmes: intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and lack of ownership."

(Kotler, 1999, p.647)

In many ways, theme parks have all of these characteristics in different senses. However, if applied to Kotler's tangible-intangible continuum for goods and services (Kotler, 1999, p.647), like fast-food outlets, theme parks would be centered between tangible-dominant and intangible-dominant in a neither-nor situation (appendix 2)

Intangibility occurs at a theme park because generally, the experiences cannot be tested beforehand, they may not even be able to be seen, especially at parks where visitors pay for the whole day on a one-price entry ticket at the entrance, thus buying their rights to the park before they have even entered it. Quality of food cannot be discovered until tried and entertainment cannot be questioned until one has been entertained.

Theme parks, like many service-orientated companies, must add value to their service to make it more tangible. This is often done, amongst many possibilities, by the way in which the product or service is delivered, the perceived length of queues and the 'after-sales' service, which the customer receives (Dibb, 1994, p.681).

Theme parks, like many visitor attractions have to deal with inseparability, which also determines the perishability of the service product: "A major characteristic of services - they are produced and consumed at the same time and cannot be separated from their providers, whether the providers are people or machines."

(Kotler, 1999, p.649)

At the park, the staff, the atmosphere and the attractions provide the service. Without the customers, there would be no service delivery and, as to an extent the service is consumed simultaneously as it is produced there is provider-customer interaction, which is very important in term of smooth operational and total quality management. This however, also means that when a visitor pays to enter the park, they are buying into shared-use rights of the product and the hundreds of other visitors, which visit on the same day, may conflict or harmonize with the individual and the environment.

This may be problematic as there are often conflicting groups such as school parties conflicting with elderly guests, for example. Proficient planning and programming, general staff training and guest monitoring can usually overcome this problem, and the problem of increased demand throughout peak seasons. The high reliance on staff and intemperate machinery in the form of steel rides means that variability can occur with the service product. At theme parks, staff may perform well or may offer poor service at times, rides may fail to operate and weather conditions greatly effect the satisfaction of visitors at these mainly outdoor attractions. This is very problematic in operational terms but methods are often used to help, such as the implemented systems at the Walt Disney theme parks which attempt to mould their staff into specific job routines, which standardize the service, which the visitors receive (Management of Change lecture notes, 2000).

Finally, in terms of service characteristics, when a visitor pays an admission to a theme park, they don't receive actual ownership of anything but the enjoyment of the day and the memories that they take away. Kotler (1999) recommends reinforcing brand identity and affinity with the consumer to resolve this. Theme parks may operate incentives such as discounted entries, free return visits, and season tickets and children's clubs to entice the consumer into repeat visits.

Kotler (1999) developed three levels of product, these being the inner core, the tangible aspects and the final augmented product (appendix 3). Applying these three levels to a theme park is the best way to define what a theme park actually is. Swarbrooke (1995) did this and defined that the core of the product was the excitement and the atmosphere. Theming and design indeed enhances this aspect of the park and so is an integral part of the product.

The tangible products at a theme park are the rides, the brand names (such as Disney, Cinderella Castle (appendix 4), Alton Towers and Oblivion for instance), and the quality of service, the other visitors, the range of attractions and the safety aspects. Finally, the augmented product also entails commercial and ancillary services (catering and retailing), car parking, and services for disabled guests, procedures for handling complaints, opening times and weather conditions (Swarbrooke, 1995, p.40).

There are many ways in which marketing can enhance the experience of the consumer.

"Marketing is the management process involved in identifying, anticipating and satisfying consumer requirements profitably." 

(The Chartered Institute of Marketing)

This indicates that the marketing process can be implemented in many different ways, and indeed many more ways than simply advertising and selling. It could be said that at a theme park, marketing takes place everywhere through many different medium, such as entry tickets, signage, music, entertainment, merchandise, souvenirs, staff, ride photography and aesthetics to mention but a few. To set the scene, upon entry, the consumer will here music that may be recognizable from the television advert for the park, it may be exciting music, cheerful or emotional. Their entry ticket will be printed with the brand name of the park or a particular attraction.

As they progress, signage around the park will be consistent, often standardized and may be themed to particular areas or zones. Entertainers around these zones may provoke emotion from the consumer, a friendly member of staff who is also entertaining may convince the consumer to purchase an ice cream from a path side vendor and still themed music will be heard amongst the other atmospheric noises. In the distance, the noise from a ride can be heard, screams of laughter and exhilaration and a recognizable aspect will be spotted, such as a rollercoaster car just like from the advert which was seen on the television and the newspaper from when the press release was published. The ride will most likely be themed to that particular zone, such as the Dragon Kahn roller coaster at Port Aventura in Spain (appendix 5), with its distinct Chinese feel. After the ride, memories are made tangible by purchasing an on-ride photograph and then the consumer is led into a souvenir shop where they can purchase, for instance, a Dragon Kahn cap and mug from a friendly member of staff, dressed in an imperial Chinese costume and animated to that culture.

This rather clichéd scenario is however, very apparent at many modern theme parks, and indeed in all of the chosen parks discussed in this piece. Theme parks have realized that such standardization is of great importance in both marketing and customer care. Not only does it ensure quality but it makes all aspects instantly recognizable, and in a service context, more tangible.

Branding is a marketing term and Dibb (1994) describes a brand as: "A name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one item, a family of items or all items of that seller."

(Dibb, 1994, p.215)

Theme parks brand themselves with park logos and merchandising yet they also utilize brands through sponsorship. Alton Towers have on-site KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut outlets; they sell Coca-Cola in their shops and restaurants, whereas Drayton Manor Park's 'Shockwave' roller coaster has been sponsored by '7-Up' for the past 7 years. Kotler (1999) states that this kind of practice gives added value to the product by associating them with prestigious companies. Arguably, Alton Towers is now a brand in itself being the number one theme park in the UK.

Parks also tend to brand particular attractions to make them more prominent. Alton Towers' 'Oblivion' roller coaster has been labeled with a distinctive logo (appendix 6), which appears on all 'Oblivion' merchandise in the park, all over the ride, and the area itself. This example, however, even exceeded beyond the park boundaries as 'Oblivion' became somewhat of a fashion label, with designers creating urban street wear clothing to sell at the park, and aftershave products, deodorants and even condoms appeared in selected branches of 'Boots' stores throughout the UK brandishing the 'Oblivion' logo.

American theme parks, especially the Universal Studios parks have used brand names in their attractions for many years now, as is discussed in chapter four. The first Universal Studios Park in Orlando, Florida, opened such attractions as 'Jaws - The Ride', 'ET - The Adventure' and 'Back To The Future - The Ride'. All have been successful and this method has continued and will undoubtedly remain to continue into the future, with chances that it may even appear on our shores. In discussion with Nate Naversen from the Themed Attraction Association, relating to Walt Disney World and movie themed rides: "Brand recognition is one of the most important elements in making a successful themed attraction. Sometimes brands can be built over time without the movie tie-in (as today's wisdom would indicate). Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise and It's a Small World (Disney) are brands in and of themselves." (Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)

Brands like these famous attractions are also appearing in Britain, such as the 'Nemesis' and 'Oblivion' rides at Alton Towers, and attractions such as 'Madame Tussauds' and 'Legoland', Windsor.

Theme parks being service products are associated with the extended marketing mix. This takes into account the physical ambience of the sales base, the process of the selling and the people involved in the selling of the product (Dibb, 1994). Marketing, combined with theming, branding and customer care can all result in consumer satisfaction and can enhance the experience for the guest.

Theming and design is related directly to the physical ambience of the sales base in often very imaginative ways, much more so in this industry than others because of the need to recreate a fantasy environment. The service is given to consumers through the staff with a much greater emphasis on branded customer care, far exceeding the expectations of the visitors to ensure loyalty and satisfaction between visitor and personnel, which will keep the visitors returning again and again. This kind of sales technique, relating areas of secondary spending to the attractions themselves, helps to prolong the experience and thus make it more tangible as an extension as it were. After all, the enjoyment and sensory feeling of a roller coaster ride can be prolonged for years to come through means of memory, for instance if an instant photograph is brought on exit, and of course, the memories will always relate back to the original excitement of the stimulation factor.

"The intent of the theming is to immerse the visitor in an alternate reality, to suspend disbelief that they are in the world which has been created and transported them from the one they were in."

(Eddie Sotto, Themedattraction.com, 10/07/00)

 
 

Continue to Chapters 4

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