As teams, fans and marketing executives gear up for the 2023 Super Bowl, I wanted to reflect upon an ad so ingrained and so beloved that we don’t even think of it as an ad. It’s an axiom, an answer you already know before the question is asked.
Once the last play has been called and the confetti has covered the field, someone will ask the 2023 Super Bowl MVP “What are you going to do next?” And the exhausted, delighted answer will be “I’m going to Disney World!” or “I’m going to Disneyland!”
This tradition started 36 years ago. If, suddenly, no NFL player is asked that famous question in 2023, it would undoubtedly make news as people wonder what happened. Indeed, in 2005 Disney put a pause on the longstanding tradition and journalists speculated as to whether it was due to Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.” The ad resumed in 2006, and has continued since.
The simple question-and-answer ad originated quite organically back in 1987. According to Michael Eisner’s 1998 memoir “Work in Progress,” he, his wife and George Lucas were at dinner celebrating Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who had just become the first people to fly nonstop around the world. Jane Eisner asked them, now that they’d reached the pinnacle of success, what could they possibly do next? Rutan responded, “I’m going to Disneyland!” without missing a beat.
Before the moment passed, Jane Eisner told her husband, “You know, that’s a good slogan.”
This is a perfect example of an extemporaneous brainstorm, with three people contributing (though they didn’t realize it at the time). One asked a question, one answered and one had that spark of realization — here’s something with potential.
A few weeks later, Phil Simms of the New York Giants became the first Super Bowl MVP to answer that question on camera. Both he and rival quarterback John Elway had agreed to utter the phrase after the game if they won, for a fee of $75,000. Nowadays, it’s not just the Super Bowl quarterback — those proclaiming they are “going to Disneyland!” have included not just other athletes but also Miss America, “American Idol” winners and Santa Claus. The context is as important as the words: the question must be asked in the moment, right after someone has achieved their greatest triumph and is surrounded by fanfare.
Not only has the phrase crossed over into pop culture, it also resonates as an organic, spontaneous utterance in most people’s memories. I asked my husband if he knew the origins of the question-answer ad, and he said, quite honestly, “Didn’t one of the Apollo astronauts say that when he got back from the moon?”
You simply cannot put a price on having a slogan work its way that deep, retroactively even, into cultural memory.
But it makes sense! Disneyland is the logical place to go after you’ve accomplished something huge — whether that’s flying around the world (or the moon), winning the Super Bowl or passing your eighth-grade biology midterm. This authenticity has power. In 2016, Peyton Manning said the phrase even though it was not part of the ad buy for that year’s Super Bowl — again, because why wouldn’t he?!
I’ve told clients that when you hire a good marketing team you really are getting them to work for you around the clock, in a way. An idea or solution could hit you in the shower, while driving or while you’re at dinner and recognize an off-the-cuff remark has some serious potential.
Celestia Ward is Imagine Communications’ PR coordinator, and between client projects she is planning her 4-year-old son’s first trip to Disneyland . . . but please don’t tell him, it’s a surprise!