In 2016, the Walt Disney Company launched Shanghai Disneyland--the company’s first theme park in mainland China. Entering mainland China poses significant political and cultural challenges for American companies. To address these challenges, Disney pursued a “glocalization” strategy -- it accounted for local norms and values in launching Shanghai Disneyland. This paper examines how Shanghai Disneyland constructed its brand narrative to negotiate tensions in this glocalization process. A semiotic analysis of two Shanghai Disneyland commercials illustrates the ways in which Disney tapped into culturally meaningful themes of harmonic balance and collective identity to produce the park’s brand narrative--“China’s Disneyland.” A thematic analysis also considers how Chinese citizens engaged with that brand narrative on the popular Chinese social network, Weibo. Citizens engaged with this brand narrative in ways that deviate somewhat from Disney’s messaging, such as by avoiding depictions of people in the park. Still, even these deviations aligned with and reinforced the cultural values in the “China’s Disneyland” brand narrative. The study underscores the importance strategically adjusting brand narratives for new markets and accounting for users’ engagement with those narratives.

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Journal Semiotica
Cheung, M., & McCarthy, W.M. (2019). 'Authentically Disney, Distinctly Chinese’ and Faintly American: The Emotional Branding of Disneyland in Shanghai. Semiotica, (226). doi:10.1515/sem-2017-0059