Surprising Changes in Disney's PR Strategy for Tiana's Bayou Adventure

Surprising Changes in Disney’s PR Strategy for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

Disney introduced a new strategy when promoting Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, The Princess and the Frog-themed attraction coming to Disney World and Disneyland. Usually tight-lipped with new attraction details, Disney Public Relations has opted to share plenty about the Splash Mountain replacement. Fans have been treated to behind-the-scenes videos showcasing the ride’s music, stunning Auto-Animatronics, and deep New Orleans connections. Dozens of Disney Parks Blog articles have kept anticipation high. And Disney released a complete ride video, one month before Tiana’s officially opens.

Sharing the video was particularly surprising. And it’s a risky move, according to Danielle Ernest, a digital strategist and content creator and a former Cast Member. “The main issue with showing all the ride footage is that it discourages people from experiencing the ride and its magic firsthand. Personally, I avoid all spoilers to preserve that magic,” she said. “Disney sharing so much about this attraction ruins that experience for me. While I can block keywords to avoid spoilers, it still diminishes those awe-inspiring moments.”

There is no shortage of Disney ride videos on the internet, but most are shared by influencers and fans. It’s easy to avoid those accounts to prevent spoilers. It’s not as simple when Disney is the one doing the sharing. Interestingly, the footage wasn’t what you’d expect from a company known for producing epic films. I haven’t watched it, but the reviews are underwhelming.

Would Disney have shared the ride footage if Tiana’s was an all-new attraction? Danielle thinks they should have treated it as if it were: “Disney needs to incentivize people to go to the park. This is different, though, because it’s a reskinned ride. If I’ve ridden Splash Mountain 1,000 times and watched the spoiler videos, why should I go on it again?”

Danielle’s question isn’t for Annual Passholders and Disney super fans. It’s for the guests who visit much more infrequently, those who plan their Disney vacations around the openings of attractions like Rise of the Resistance, TRON, and Cosmic Rewind. If they watch Tiana’s ride video and don’t like what they see, will they make alternate plans? That could be a real possibility.

Disney has rebranded several big attractions in recent years. None of these received the coverage Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is getting:

  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway replaced The Great Movie Ride in Hollywood Studios
  • The Incredicoaster replaced California Screamin’ in Disney California Adventure
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout replaced Tower of Terror in Disney California Adventure
  • Frozen Ever After replaced Maelstrom in EPCOT

So what makes Tiana’s different? Why did Disney change their PR strategy for this reimagined attraction?

Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain

On June 25, 2020, Disney announced that Splash Mountain would be reimagined as an attraction themed around Princess Tiana. The country was reeling from George Floyd’s murder while also dealing with a global pandemic. A new Disney ride should have been a welcome distraction. But the announcement was anything but. While many celebrated an attraction based on Disney’s first Black princess, Splash Mountain fans were despondent that their favorite ride was going away. Disney was labeled “woke” on social media and cable news shows.

The negative reaction was inevitable, but it didn’t deter Disney. Splash Mountain had to go away. The ride’s source material came from Disney’s most controversial film, Song of the South, which is based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Uncle Remus, a former slave living on a plantation in the Reconstruction-era South, tells the tales of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear to Johnny, a young white boy. The movie has faced widespread criticism for romanticizing the post-Civil War South for Black Americans. For a deeper understanding of the film’s troubled history, I recommend reading Karina Longworth’s interview with Rolling Stone.

Disney placed Song of the South in its vault in the late 80s after its fourth theatrical release. It looks as though it will stay there forever.

“I’ve felt, as long as I’ve been CEO, that Song of the South was, even with a disclaimer, just not appropriate in today’s world.”

Bob Iger, Disney CEO, to shareholders in 2020

Splash Mountain didn’t include the Remus storyline. Instead, it focused on the Brer characters. Many fans questioned why Disney would close a ride that didn’t feel racist to them. And they’ve been vocal about it, responding to Tiana’s stories with negative pushback. It’s been exhausting, and it got worse when Disney shared the ride footage. Remember, the video wasn’t particularly compelling. A single camera mounted on a ride vehicle could never capture the vibe of Tiana’s. Comparisons to Splash Mountain were inevitable, but Disney sped up the timeline by sharing the footage 27 days before the ride officially opens. And they did it with little production value.

Perhaps Disney wanted to control the narrative and prevent the “Save Splash” crowd from hijacking ride previews or opening day with their negative commentary. But I doubt the early release will prevent anything. Hate-baiting posts targeting Splash Mountain are never-ending. And with the ride’s overwhelmingly positive early reviews, those accounts are doubling down with their message. While none of those people have ridden Tiana’s, they’re convinced that Splash’s replacement is inferior. No amount of Disney PR will change their minds.

Disney had legitimate reasons to tweak their rollout campaign for Tiana’s. It remains to be seen if that strategy becomes the blueprint for an updated Test Track and the Encanto and Indiana Jones attractions coming to Disney World. I hope they rein it in. Like Danielle, I want to preserve some of the magic for that first ride.

For those fans who love positivity, I present @drewdisneydude. Drew has documented Tiana’s construction in Magic Kingdom for the past five months. His positivity has been infectious. Today, he rode Tiana’s for the first time. Watch his reaction here.