When my daughter was around eight months old, she received five Disney books in the mail. What a great idea I thought. I relate to this shameless promotion by Disney in two ways:

1)   I wished my daughter could grow up in a “logo + brand free” world. Although I think this is unobtainable in today’s society, it would be a beautiful place. Children could grow up as their unique selves without having pressure to belong to “the cool” and most popular brand tribe of that moment.

2)   As a branding expert, what Disney did is brilliant marketing. By offsetting the cost of a few books in exchange for many years (if not a lifetime) of loyalty to Disney, the kids would buy Disney merchandise and apply consistent pressure on their parent(s) to take them to Disney World, etc. in the future.

Fast forward eight months.

Disney called saying that they had never received payment for the books; this was confusing. What payment? The representative explained that the books had come with a payslip, and that they were required to have been paid for or returned several months prior. The choices given were to pay for them right then or to return them. Neither option was agreed to; why on earth would I pay for postage and packaging for an unsolicited product in the first place? Fortunately, the lady was polite, kind, and eventually suggested that the books get donated to the library. Again, a brilliant strategic move; many children could enjoy/become hooked on the wonders of Disney.

Brands are built on a collective experience of a particular company or product. Disney’s brand is that they “deliver magic” and people’s experience of them is fun. After this episode, my experience of Disney shifted. They are cheeky and advantageous. They caused frustration, confusion and wasted time, especially since those books were returned honestly to the library.

Will this experience prevent me from ever interacting with their products again? No, probably not. However, it has left a bad taste in my mouth. Like any reputation once tarnished it takes something extra special, sometimes something extraordinary to make up for the initial disappointment. Maybe this post will trigger a response from someone at Disney. I will wait and see “if the magic comes my way.”

The lesson here is to be consistent. Don’t try to be sneaky or try to get away with something that is slightly “off-brand.” Your customers are smart consumers and will notice when what they have come to rely on is not being delivered in the way that they now expect.