Content marketing case study: Viral prank surprises shoppers by showing their 'Disney side'

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What happens when Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Ana, Elsa, Olaf, Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear and other Disney Characters magically surprise unsuspecting shoppers? This viral video from Disney caused a huge buzz in February 2015, getting 5 million YouTube views in the process.

The challenge

With New York in the grips of record low temperatures, Disney decided to inject a little magic into people's shopping trips with a clever marketing stunt that encouraged people to take a winter break to their resort.

The solution

Disney characters hid behind a lit-up screen disguised as a store window at the Long Island, New York shopping mall.

The characters were working behind the opaque windows of the "Umbra Penumbra Magic Shop" at the Westfield Sunrise Center in Massapequa. The name of the shop refers to two parts of a shadow.

The store also claims it was established in 1955, not coincidentally the year Disneyland first opened.

As people walked by, the characters became their shadow, even showing off unique dance moves and miming throwing a ball. At the end of the experience, Mickey Mouse, Minnie and more came out to greet their fans, bringing smiles to both little children and the adults.

The surprise was part of the “Show Your Disney Side” campaign.

“What’s your Disney Side?” Disney’s website asks. “It’s the side you simply can’t wait to share. It’s the side of you that laughs more, screams more and just plain lives life to the fullest. It’s the side of you that comes out to play the moment you and your family step through the gates of a Disney theme park.”

The results

For people living in the Northwest US, hours away from sunny Florida, their Disney sides may seem to be only distant dreams. The prank, and amplification through the YouTube ad, helped encourage people to consider a winter break to the resorts.

“Growing up in the Northeast, right about now, I remember thinking winter will never end,” Victoria Lim, managing editor of Walt Disney World Public Relations, wrote on the Disney Parks blog. “You’re probably ready for a vacation somewhere warm and sunny with a few castles. We here at Walt Disney World Resort wanted to share a little magic to help keep the winter warriors warm.”

The video has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube and earned plenty of press coverage.

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