The recent news of a Nebraska boy’s devastating encounter with an alligator at Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort is making every parent hold their children closer. Lane Graves, just 2 years old, was wading through the shallow waves of the resort’s beach when the reptile burst out of the water and snatched him from his family’s care. Graves’ father wrestled with the alligator and fought to save his child’s life, but to no avail. Such a tragic incident is guaranteed to create ill-will toward The Mouse, but will this PR nightmare make a real impact on one of the world’s largest corporations?
It’s not likely.
The Walt Disney Company is an iconic brand that people look to with nostalgia and joy— their theme parks are referred to as “the happiest place on Earth” for crying out loud. But that doesn’t mean they’re impervious to mistakes. Disney was subject to instant scrutiny when reports of this horrific event brought to light that there were no signs warning beachgoers of alligators in the lake.
Alligators are found in all 67 counties in Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advises that swimmers “assume there are alligators in every area of freshwater.” That’s a lot of gators.
Due to Disney World’s global reputation as a favorite vacation destination and massive attendance rate, it’s highly probable that many park goers had no idea of the dangers that lurked beneath the water. Sure, there are a couple signs that enforced ‘No Swimming” near the beach, but Graves was only walking through a foot of water, and the family had been on the beach after an outdoor movie night planned by the resort. Shouldn’t people who visit the resort—especially a family from Nebraska—be notified that their lives are endangered when standing in water that barely goes up to their knees?
As is the case with the aftermath of many scandals and tragedies, more controversy for The Mouse is being brought into the spotlight. Disney “cast members” have revealed a history of park guests feeding the wild reptiles, as well as subsequent safety concerns that were raised and dismissed by upper management.
When consumers are duped or at risk, bad things happen to the brand. This certainly seems like a death sentence for the park’s profitability and the Disney moniker, but industry experts believe it won’t affect either in the long term. Disney’s pull with all age groups is too strong and engrained in society. It’s nearly impossible to slow down what equates to a locomotive of good feelings and fun times.
Still, doesn’t it feel a little wrong that Disney will most likely escape this incident scot-free? Regardless of the morality behind it all, and in spite of the surrounding tragedy, it seems that a rock-solid brand can save a company from even the darkest controversy.
James Orlay is a Public Relations Associate at Flackable, a national public relations and digital marketing agency supporting the communications needs of registered investment advisors (RIAs) and other forward-thinking financial services firms. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com. Follow James on LinkedIn.