by Colin Jowell

If you haven’t seen the trailer for “Escape from Tomorrow”, you should click here. The story goes that the film was shot in secret at Disney Theme parks. As I write this, I am still not sure whether I am falling for an elaborate hoax. But considering they have the trailer listed on iTunes and IMDB, if it’s a hoax it’s a damned good one. The latter describes the movie: “In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday.” That black and white shot of Walt Disney in Saddam-Statue like pose. Wow.

What is interesting here though is that Disney have been apparently silent. No law suits. No injunctions. It seems scarcely believable. Unless they were trying to Miley Cyrus up their own brand image in the most short-sighted way possible, how could they allow such an obvious subversion of their brand to launch at the Sundance Festival. And then go unchallenged for its general release in October.

One argument is that under “fair use” precedents, they were unlikely to make a successful case. But precedent is hardly a deterrent in a litigious country and a company with deep pockets. More likely they have learned the ultimate lesson of the internet- your intellectual property really isn’t yours, and one way to ensure a negative message goes viral is to be a big company and try to supress it.

McDonalds didn’t know that back in 2004 when “SuperSize Me” came out. But arguably that was a few years BSM (Before Social Media) where companies still felt that they could control the message. It seemed at the time that the official response of the company to some of the damning claims made about it was overkill- quite possibly more people saw some of that response material than saw the actual movie, which would have only made the problem worse. Had that happened today, and McDonalds responded in Social Channels, imagine the internet trolls lambasting the official response videos. How spoofs and satires would have spread like wildfire.

That’s certainly what happened to Nestle as they initially tried to counter and supress a GreenPeace attack on KitKat’s use of palm oil and the deadly impact that was having on Orangutan populations. The initial protest advert was successfully taken off YouTube, only to reappear in Vimeo, this time with the added appeal of a “banned” message. Views climbed dramatically, and reposted to YouTube by other sources. (You can view it here: warning not for sensitive viewers). A viral bastardisation of the “KitKat” logo as “Killer” began to spread on people’s personal pages. To their credit, they learned their lesson fast, and quickly took action on the issue and negotiated with GreenPeace directly. Peter Blackshaw, who was then recruited to handle matters going forward and was quoted in the Financial Times as saying “On social media perhaps the best measure of success is the resounding sound of silence.”

And by all accounts, Disney has learned this lesson too. Despite the film premiering at the Sundance Festival in January, there has been almost zero publicity until now when the film is slated for official release. With any luck the movie will be met with lukewarm response, minus the fanfare that an attempt to ban it would have almost guaranteed.

Things to think about:

  • Resorting to legal rights may not always be the best course of action- the consequences of protecting your IP may be worse than the infraction.
  • The simple rule of thumb for issues raised in social media is “acknowledge and redirect” – it’s very hard for an irate customer to maintain the rage publically once they have been invited to a personal consultation on their issue