Importance of "Characters"

Saturday, July 22, 2006 9:51 PM
Howdy folks!

I took "preflux" and his mom to our local mall for a Pokemon event (thinking ahead of time that this will be a small deal, little line and not too much to see or do).

Wow was I wrong! There were lines up to 45 minutes long for people (mostly males aged 6 - teens) with Gameboys in hand waiting for a free download of a character for their systems. I won't go into too much detail here , but there was a large critter walking around, card game demos, movie and DVD trailers, a travleing retail spot (That also had a huge line) - etc. This little event was attended by I would easily say a couple of thousand people.

The point?

Do you think that theme parks are properly targeting the characters that they use (and probably spend a ton of cash on) to the right audience?

Cedar Fair (At least in Dorney Park and Cedar Point) uses the Peanut characters. Many young kids today may not know who these characters are.

Six Flags has the Looney Tunes, who just aren't that big with the young kids, tweens and teens. Granted they also have the justice league (Supes and Batman had recent films out).

The Nick Stuff is probably the most popular "crew" out at the parks, and I will assume that they are well-recieved. Kids love Nick and even adults could laugh from some of the lines from shows like Odd Parents and Spongebob. (We're doing the Nick Hotel thing at the end of August, so I'll have a better understanding of how these characters are used.)

This is pure speculation, but I feel that Sesame Place & Disney are probably the only park who wouldn't survive without their characters. (Disney might survive, but not to the level they have built)

Point Again...some questions...

1) Do you think that there are better sets of characters that could draw people in?

2) Are kids really excited about the current set of what is out there in the parks.

3) Are there better and more creative ways for parks to use characters.

4) Do you (enthusiasts) feel that characters are important?

Thanks

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Saturday, July 22, 2006 10:02 PM
I'll be happy to tackle #4 because I think I have a pretty good answer:

As far as costumed characters walking around the park - yeah, they're wicked important.

Here's the thing, there are certain things that make kiddies happy. Coasters *may* be one of them. Shiny cool rides in general *may* be one of them. Characters are virtually always one of them, unless the kid is scared of them and then you're looking at trauma and therapy for life (another thread) ;) .

My general gist is that when I observe families at parks with small children the most effective attractions are often the simplest. Meeting a character and getting a hug counts. A large playscape/play structure counts. Fountains where the kids can get wet ALWAYS count, in a waterpark or otherwise. That's why you see most Disney parks loaded with all of the above.

I have clear memories of being about 6 years old, having my parents plunk down some serious cash to take me to some pretty cool parks (I was hardcore about parks even then!) and spending most of the day getting wet in some fountain or getting pictures taken with whatever character.

Its those small, entertaining events that I really think bring return visitors in a big way, not neccesarily rides that only last 30 seconds.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006 11:37 PM
My youngest liked the looney tune characters at SFWOA, but you seldom ever saw any.

Out of second SF season there, I think for 16 trips to the park, we saw Bugs about 3 times. All that did was make her wonder where Bugs was the other times.

I told her he was sleeping. :)

yeah, i think they're important. It's part of a brand image. Hey, when i was a kid, i loved seeing my fave characters in person. We use to invade the Malls to see them.

Well, maybe video game characters would make kids more excited. Lara Croft, Duke Nukem, Aya from parasite Eve, Mario, Sonic. The list is endless, but i think it could work. Kids of all ages know them better than Looney Tunes characters.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006 11:53 PM
That is one of the things SF has screwed up on in the past - they didn't use the characters to their advantage.

Take CF and the Peanuts gang at GL. You will always find one or two hanging around the main gate at opening greeting kids or as picture opportunites. Before the "Peanuts Rockin' Party" show you'll find Snoopy and sometimes Sally out front of the "theater" greeting kids. They are part of the overall experience when visiting a park.

I think the characters help create an identity for the chain parks. You say Nickelodeon and you think Paramount. Peanuts and you think Cedar Fair.

X Factor

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 12:11 AM
Yep characters are great when you are child. I remember when I was a child, I only liked to go to Knott's Berry Farm to visit Camp Snoopy just to see the Peanuts gang, now you can find them in any Cedar Fair park.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006 12:14 AM
I agree that characters are very important for parks.

To answer number 2 most kids don't seem to have a lot of exposure to some of the park's characters. SF needs to be showing episodes of Looney Tunes in the queue lines and other places in the park. You hardly ever see Looney Tunes anymore now that Cartoon Network is filled with so much trash.

Number 3, yes! I think parks should consider bringing in Chuck E. Cheese. I've seen parents throw away probably thousands of dollars on birthday parties - why not at Six Flags? Chuck E. Cheese is very well known by parents and kids alike.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 12:36 AM
Personally I hate character themed rides. It's an easy way for Six Flags to slap a Batman logo on a B&M invert and call it themed. Parks are capable of having a decent theme (PGA Demon's used to be spectacular), without a character involved.

I would agree the Nickelodeon theme is definitely the big hit right now, though.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 12:37 AM
I absolutely think that characters are essential to the parks. Myself, being best friends with some of them at Disney, our job is enteraining.

While you may think people just line up to get a simple picture or autograph, its so much more for the kids. Its the simple interaction they get. Whether Mickey Mouse gives them a high five or Captain Hook lets you shake his hook, its those moments that kids remember. Parents who rush the characters to take a picture don't make them happy, its all about interaction moreso than a possession of a picture or autograph.

For Disney, the characters are expected and essential. Six Flags are starting to learn from Disney that the characters lighten the atmosphere while adding so much to it as well. They may be big stars, but they take time from their busy schedules to meet with their fans. I don't expect Six Flags to run a daily parade, but having set times that characters will be out is a great start.

And its not just kids that enjoy characters, adults do too. Every dad gets picked on, being the Goofy one, when meeting the real deal. Plus, who doesn't love a free hug, and not be awkward. Ha.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 1:01 AM
Here's to the Opryland musical instrument characters, Holidog, and Marvel McFey.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006 1:12 AM
I think the fact that Disney characters are still popular kind of deflates the "kids don't know Peanuts/Looney Tunes" theory. While I support that myself, and believe that CF and SF need to update their character sets (if possible), when was the last time you actually saw Mickey Mouse or Pluto or Donald on any regular TV show, or in a movie, or anything that kids get regular exposure to? Yet, at Disney, the lines for these characters is still a mile long.

I think the real attraction lies more in something that's not scary, but big and "fluffy", rather than a character that kids can really relate to. So, after that, I guess I should change my position on Snoopy and Bugs!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 9:31 AM
IMPORTANT? More than ANY of us could imagine....hits SQUARELY at the demographic parks are looking for, the all-important "kids too young to go by themselves" category. (These kids, they bring parents, parents bring....$$$).

Nick and Disney have the best "character sets", but all of them are mucho importante...the accountants at SF at the end of the year, they'll back me up on that... ;)

A logo or a cardboard/plywood cutout don't make a RIDE themed, but EVERY little bit helps in the appearance of the park in general.

Finally, I miss KD's Singing Mushrooms (and yes, you can call me old)... :)

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 10:50 AM
Just a question, but I've seen pictures of Knoebels with people and King Knoebel and Kozmo, yet every time I go I never see them wondering the park, how often do they do this? I think it would be cool, Id get my picture taken, I just never saw them there lol.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006 1:37 PM
Personally, I think that a kid getting his picture with a character in a park will have much more effect than any of the rides he/she will ride during the day. With that being said, its obvious that I think it's extremly important to have characters walking around all the time.

Also, when I was at SFNE I saw 10000 different characters walking around. All of the Batman characters, looney toons and a bunch more.

To awnser number 1 and 2: I think older people are attached to some of the characters more. I saw alot of late teens early 20s getting there pics with bugs and daffy 'cause thas what we grew up watching.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 3:04 PM
I think the people who perform the characters are really doing an art form - they are walking the narrow path between entertaining people and falling on their nerves -
Personally, I like to watch them, but not interact with them, but I guess there are a lot of people who will enjoy a certain "animation".
For kids it can be scary.
At Phantasialand they had this gang with guns running around enacting scenes from "high noon" with random park visitors -
I was pretty glad I got past them unparticipating.
The most successful characters are those to me that just look absolutely amazing but wander around just like they inhabit the park.

They need to have a very good intuition about who can take a nudge and who is better off if left in peace :)
It's an interesting topic.

*** Edited 7/23/2006 7:17:06 PM UTC by superman***

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Sunday, July 23, 2006 11:12 PM
Impuls-ive stole my line, at least the part about big and fluffy characters. I think smaller children can relate more to something they can run up to and hug rather than someone they just saw on TV last weekend.

I remember my niece who wasn't even 3 at the time, going totally nuts over the Rolo character at Hersheypark. Now she had no clue what a pack of Rolos were, or that this thing she was hugging was a 7 foot tall representation of a pack of candy. But it was huggable and totally non-threatening to her. Nowhere other than in this park do you see these particular characters, so she didn't learn this from any TV program or advertisement. So I don't think they care about how old Peanuts or Looney Tunes characters are, they just want to hug Snoopy.

On the other hand, I think little children would be more wary about an actual person of actual size wearing a super hero costume. Maybe there's some kind of instinct that tells them to beware of a "real" person wearing a disguise, while they don't know that the big goofy plushy thing they're hugging is a real person underneath as well.

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