Sandblog Header

Disney Imagineer Jargon:
“Berm” & “Contradictions”

The Imagineers at The Disney Company, the folks who dream-up theme parks and make them a reality, have created their own terms that allow quick understanding.

The Imagineer Terms

Berm – A raised earthen barrier, typically heavily landscaped, which serves to prevent visual intrusions into the Park from the outside world and block the outside world from intruding inside.

When you’re in the fantasy world of a Disney theme park – Disney didn’t want the outside world to break that spell.

Contradictions – Elements that could break the spell and ruin the experience. Walt Disney taught his team to be attentive to details and to think things through to the very end. They don’t leave the experience to chance, it is all calculated.

The Disney Imagineers go to great lengths to eliminate contradictions. They have taken care to ensure you can’t see the future of Tomorrowland while standing in ye olde Frontierland. Cowboys and Astronauts don’t mix. They built ‘utilidors’ – a basement beneath the Magic Kingdom in Florida – that allows cast members (employees) to travel directly to their attraction from beneath the scenes in their themed costume. The guy wearing his silver Space Mountain costume would look quite alien strolling to his shift along Victorian Main Street, USA.

Broader Marketing Interpretation

While we may not worry whether customers can see the outside world, we do have to be attentive to visual intrusions and contradictions within our locations.

Typical examples may include:

Smoking employees – especially if your business has anything to do with food. Yeah, maybe your wait staff or chef needs a break to chill with a smoke… But don’t let your customers see it. And for Pete’s sake as a courtesy – please make sure they wash your hands before returning to work.

Incentive posters – Customers don’t care or want to see employee-targeted posters for your “extended warranty incentive.” How genuine do you think it’s going to sound to the customer – who spots the partly shaded “Warranty Sell to Sail” bar graph – that the warranty is “really in their best interest?”

Sales awards – Don’t let the manager post their 90% secret shopper score award in customer view. Doing your job right is not something to boast to your customers. It’s an expectation. That’s meant for backstage. Note to self… do a post about ‘backstage.’

Drive-Thru Dumpster/Grease Buckets – Garbage, trash and used frying oil are realities of most fast food restaurants. But, when is someone going to invent a drive-thru design that doesn’t parade drive-thru customers past a kid dragging an oozing bag of restaurant waste to the dumpster? A dream I had, while working at Starbucks, was to be part of the Drive-Thru Development team and make the drive-thru experience like no other. A challenge I proposed was: How would Disney do a drive-thru? (My dream was to make it operate like a car wash where you put your car in neutral, and you were guided by the drive thru like a Disney attraction)

Decompression Zone – Paco Underhill the cultural anthropologist and author in his book Why We Buy wrote about “decompression zones.”

This is offering an area at the entrance of a store/business where the shopper can make a transition from one environment to the next. For example, from the main mall to the entrance to your retail store. Think about the first time you entered a new store; the lighting is different, the decor, the music, the smells, and sometimes the temperature. You’re not taking time to read a sale banner or want someone asking, “May I help you?” As a customer you’re simply trying to get acclimated to the new space – get your bearings.

Back to Disney for a great example of a ‘decompression zone.’ And for this one, I’ve even provided an annotated illustration diagram below.

Disney knows the reality of the world doesn’t wear off easily. So, when entering the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida, after you pass the ticket entrance you have to enter the park through two short, slightly dark tunnels. These run underneath the railroad station. When you emerge you are on Main Street USA. However, you still don’t see Cinderella’s Castle yet – the icon of the park – until you’ve started to head down Main Street.

These tunnels serve as a final buffer between the outside (reality) and the fantasy of the park.

Magic Kingdom Entrance

[Fig. 1 Magic Kingdom Entrance • Walt Disney World Resort, Florida]

This article is part of a series I’ve contributed to about Imagineer Jargon. Previous installments include:

This post follows up yesterday’s article about visual intrusions and environmental integration.

Download PDF
    No Twitter Messages.