Case Study: Ocean Park confronts Disney

Category: Resorts and amusement parks

Brand custodian: Paul Pei, executive director, sales and marketing

The problem: Ocean Park had lost around $80 million and a cumulative $200 million and, as Pei says, “the red blood was flowing” by the time he was brought in by the executive team as its head of marketing. Many locals expected the park would close down, particularly as the government had just committed an enormous sum of money to woo Disney to its Lantau Island site. Ocean Park was an old and tired brand and no one knew what it stood for.

The strategy: Pei went back to the basics of sales and marketing, and the four Ps. He ripped out a tired sales and marketing team, energised the ones whom he thought could make it and reversed the sense that Ocean Park was finished by making sure it innovated, through new products that closely tracked what he knew customers wanted. He got aggressively on the front foot to differentiate his product and brand from Disney, and made sure everyone and every communication enhanced that. A series of campaigns were run to build local loyalty like the “Love Ocean Park, Love Hong Kong” work.

Results: Pei says Ocean Park is one of the few regional parks in a neighbourhood Disney has entered that not only didn’t lose the obligatory 20% business but actually added that much business. In fiscal year 2005-2006 a record 4.4 million guests went through the gates, revenues of $538.8 million in admissions and $189.5 million in in-park spending were achieved. The park also experienced a 66% rise in renewal of annual passes.

The story : Not long after taking up the post of marketing chief at Ocean Park, Paul Pei was sitting in the back of taxi riding to the sprawling Aberdeen site, when the taxi driver casually enquired: “So where are you going to work next?” It’s not like Pei hadn’t heard it before. So convinced was Hong Kong that Ocean Park would close, after the announced arrival of Disney, there was no doubt the staff must already be updating their CVs.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that we’d make it but Hong Kong thought we wouldn’t,” Pei, who came to the role from a background in luxury hotels, says.

The first thing obviously wrong to Pei was the people working at the park in sales and marketing. The second thing was the brand…no one knew what it was.

Pei’s back to basics approach initially meant standing out with the rest of the guests and listening to what they were saying about the park. “It was very obvious what was wrong.

We had a product that was old, it was tired it was grey, that’s what everybody said, there wasn’t anyone talking about the product,” he says.

His response:

“I brought in sales people so hungry they must have been starving for years.”

Once there was a motivated sales team in place Pei also developed a public relations team when he found the park had no one to go out and “tell our good stories”.

It was an important time to communicate with the media because with the imminent arrival of Disney Pei didn’t want the public hearing nothing but “Mickey, Mickey, Mickey”.

The marketing and management teams then turned to the ‘product’ and set about fixing up the park, it is currently undergoing major works which will take six full years to complete and will double the parks attractions.

Positioning was the next P. After his grassroots market research inside and outside the park Pei knew the differentiator for Ocean Park had to be the animals. This led to the creation of a lot more opportunities to interact with the animals including spending a day with the giant pandas, breakfast in the aquarium or interacting with jelly fi sh in an ambitious new display.

The animal strategy was then moved into external communications under the “Love Animals, Love Ocean Park” tag and campaign, the campaign was also pushed through new platforms with an SMS quiz which Pei says attracted more than 100,000 responses.

His team also introduced special seasonal events to spike attendance at certain times like Halloween, Christmas and Chinese New Year, and also created an offering of corporate visits to make use of the park in the evenings when it was traditionally dormant.

It was all to try to position the park as different and unique to what the big blunt marketing instrument, that is Disney, was bringing to Ocean Park’s doorstep.

The next P was price and Pei wasn’t prepared to drop his. “You can discount yourself to oblivion but you can never discount yourself to profitability so I said lets concentrate on giving value for the money they pay,” he says.

The annual pass was another differentiator for Ocean Park because Disney (originally) didn’t offer one. Pei likes it because it creates loyalty and a real sense of value.

“I love that you think you are taking me for a ride,” Pei says with genuine delight.

Then there’s promotion and Pei knew he needed something or someone to promote to the public – he needed a Mickey. Enter a sea lion named Whiskers, a sea lion character, who was developed from a live audition of

potential mascots. When people think of the Ocean Park brand now they inevitably turn to Whiskers either the graphic version or the furry suited one – Pei knows this because he went out on heartlands road show tours with him and asked the public who, in large numbers could associate Whiskers with the park.

Pei knows Ocean Park is in good shape as a brand now but knows that’s not just him but the motivated staff, the public’s perception, internal and external communications, all wrapped around a single brand idea.

Conclusion: Listen to the customers, find or reinvigorate the brand idea and relentlessly push that through internal and external communications. Never forget the basics.