When It Comes to Criticism, Disney’s All Ears

The Walt Disney Company shuttered its Habit Heroes interactive exhibit at Epcot after an advocacy group claimed that it shamed obese children. Although Disney was swift in its reaction to the groundswell of criticism, in hindsight, a more effective measure might have been to communicate with advocacy groups while the exhibit was still in development.

Disney created the exhibit in collaboration with health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield. Animated characters lead visitors in a fight against villains who represent bad habits such as eating junk food and watching too much television, according to the Orlando Sentinel. It was soft launched in February 2011 in order “to collect guest feedback and test and adjust the attraction prior to its opening,” said Blue Cross spokesperson John W. Herbkersman in a statement.

Adjustments are exactly what the attraction will need following negative responses from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), which decried the exhibit’s use of large-bodied characters as the only ones who participated in unhealthy activities. “It appears that Disney now believes the tool of shame, favored so much by today’s healthcare organizations, is the best way to communicate with children,” said NAAFA in a statement.

In reaction, Disney and Blue Cross have shut down the exhibit and its Web site and pushed back the official March 5 opening. “That’s why we have a soft opening. So we can open it up to others and listen. We’ve heard the feedback,” said Disney spokeswoman Kathleen Prihoda to the Sentinel.

To their credit, Disney and Blue Cross have the right idea in being open to feedback. The sensitive nature of this kind of social issue, though, demands outreach before a so-called soft launch which, in the age of social media, might as well be a parade down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

Follow Sahil Patel: @sizpatel

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