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How Disney Invents Magic

and Thousands of Patents Per Year
Brett Friedman

The Company

The Walt Disney Co is the world's 2nd most loved brand. They own ~33% of the total film market and own 40+ media and content production companies such as ESPN, National Geographic, and Pixar. To say they know entertainment is a shocking understatement - they are both the standard and the cutting-edge, the mainstream and the niche, and with 223,000 employees, the makers and the consumers.

The Experiment

And like the FAANG companies who boast mass-scale experimentation across departments, Disney asks us to "Remember that inventing is an iterative art." And they do a lot of inventing. In fact, according to JUSTIA, the patent authority, Disney owns 6,248 trademarks, 2,141 granted patents, and 1,139 patents pending for a total of 9,528 legal 'inventions'.

Many of these inventions were groundbreaking achievements, to name a few, Steamboat Willie (1928), the first synchronized, sound-enhanced animation, 1938's Snow White i.e. the first-ever full length animated film, Disneyland, EPCOT (the city of the future), and, of course, Animatronics (those moving, sense-respondent animal robots).

But there are also hundreds of new concepts trailing existence, such as dry water rides, mood sensors that change your experience of a ride, drone lighting, and active conversations with holograms.

While their storytelling system is surprisingly formulaic, it's the Imagineering department that follows a strict iterative process to create so much of the magic we love on impact. Unsurprisingly, they use a multivariate testing system.

There are three steps as described by Christian Edwards, an ex-Disney Product Designer:

  1. Remove Ego and Listen to Data
  2. Formulate Multiple Iterative Solutions
  3. Fail Fast

These three simple principles are all it takes to succeed in innovation. That being said, success is easier said than done, and it requires thousands of creatives applying the same rigorous process of ideation, testing, destruction, and regeneration to incrementally make something unbelievable believable.


The Results

But the end results are worth it.

Each Disney ad campaign creates a whole new category of potential for them. For example, they let fans:

These campaigns are just a few representatives of the hundreds of genius marketing plays Disney has made. In a way, as a media company, every movie they make is another long-form commercial for the strong emotion and attachment you feel for their brand. And that's why they net over $11 billion in profits each year.

The Application

The easiest way to apply Disney's techniques is to follow their principles or their storytelling formula when building ad campaigns. The harder way is to do the work of innovation and adamantly, unrelentingly generate new ideas. If that's the path you choose, here's a little primer on the attempt. We're in this with you.


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How to Run a Multivariate Test

The Beginner's Guide

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How to Run a Multivariate Test
The Beginner's Guide

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