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March 22, 2010

Epcot - Squandering Brand Identity Since 1994

In 1994, the first Disney theme park name change took place. EPCOT Center, the second Walt Disney World gate changed its name to Epcot '94. The name changed a second time in 1995 to Epcot '95. Fortunately, Disney decided to at least forego the annual change in 1996 and simply call the park Epcot. However, the change from EPCOT Center to Epcot represented a significant switch in the park's identity, especially in Future World.

When EPCOT Center opened, Future World had a cohesive vision: to look at life in the 21st century. Each monolithic pavilion had its own circular logo and examined one segment of life in the future. When Horizons opened one year after the rest of the park, it became the embodiment of Future World's theme. Horizons took the themes of all the Future World pavilions and combined them into a possible future. However, as the future began to catch up with EPCOT Center's early 1980s view, Disney and the pavilion sponsors were not as interested in updating the pavilions to adapt to the changing times.

Instead, we began to see the original EPCOT Center pavilions close down. Horizons was the first to close in 1993 after General Electric dropped its sponsorship, although it reopened while Test Track was under construction and Universe of Energy was undergoing refurbishment. CommuniCore was stripped bare and reopened as Innoventions when the name changing began in 1994. The closures, replacements, and pavilion refurbishments have continued all the way through the recent Spaceship Earth refurbishment.

While the animatronic portions of Spaceship Earth have arguably never looked better, the narration has been dumbed down. The interactive portion, seemingly a way to bring the idea of Horizons back, seems to be more of a Jetsons vision of the future than a realistic one. Thrill rides now dominate Future World East between Test Track and Mission: SPACE. The most popular attraction in Future World West is in The Land pavilion: Soarin', a Disney's California Adventure transplant, is a hang glider simulator. The educational attraction Living With the Land is much less attended. Journey Into Imagination with Figment is a shell of its former self, and the accompanying Honey I Shrunk the Audience isn't helping the pavilion.

World Showcase for the most part remains untouched except for the princesses taking over Norway for a character breakfast. Guests can still experience many different cultures throughout the World Showcase pavilions. The biggest new attraction in World Showcase is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. The cell phones beeping are a little annoying, but it's getting kids more interested in the pavilions.

Let's imagine for a moment that Disney chose to update the Future World pavilions to coincide with the original park's mission instead of replacing and dumbing them down. Instead of making "Epcot" a meaningless word, the park is still EPCOT Center and the acronym still has meaning. The public still recognizes the park's mission of looking to humanity's future. EPCOT could be spun off into other media. Instead of the Discovery Channel, Disney could have created the EPCOT Channel. I think the content would be similar to the Discovery Channel or possibly the Science Channel. The channel then creates more interest in EPCOT Center. The new Disneynature series could be tied to EPCOT, The Land pavilion, and The Living Seas pavilion. For a company that looks for synergy and marketing strategy at every turn, I wonder why something like this has never materialized and instead "Epcot" is left to struggle on its own.

How do you feel about Epcot's current situation? Is the park today the direction you wanted? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@scottinwdw).


  1. It's a shame that Disney has lost it's focus on Epcot. It needs a cohesive message. Disney Imagineers have been fighting over this ever since they pushed the two models (Future World and the World Showcase) together and created Epcot Center.

  2. As a relative newcomer to the WDW park scene (first WDW trip in '03 at 27yo), I learned of the original park ideas after the fact. As far as I see it, the original theming to EPCOT on opening day was far different than what Walt had imagined. The 'EPCOT Center' brand had already changed considerably from Walt's models. So, the re-theming and loss of brand focus goes back farther than the renaming years you mentioned.

    EPCOT is a brand in constant flux, but isn't that perhaps true to what Walt had intended?

  3. It's true, EPCOT Center was not the original EPCOT vision. After Walt's death, Disney decided it didn't want to be in the business of running a city. The vision for the city was clear; to be on the cutting edge and develop the future. The original EPCOT Center was in line with this theme. EPCOT Center strived to show us the future and exhibit cultures around the world. Culture is important to examine at all times, so I think it's an important part of EPCOT Center.

    Today, Epcot still keeps the culture aspect, but the future aspect falls behind in my opinion.