Universal just premiered their latest extended advertisement, and it is awesome.
The commercial hits all the right beats: “We have two theme parks, an entertainment complex, on-site hotels, and a water park. We’ve got your favorite characters and you can visit their worlds. We’ve got the coolest rides, anywhere.”
And it’s got a stellar tagline, to boot: “Vacation Like You Mean It.”
This ad represents the epitome of the resort being at the top of its game. But what about the days before Transformers, Cabana Bay Beach Resort and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Let’s take a look back at six vintage Universal commercials and see how they’ve developed over the years.
6. “It’s the Greatest Hollywood Production Ever” (1989)
Before there was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or even Islands of Adventure, there was only Universal Studios Florida. Dreamt up as a competitor to neighboring Walt Disney World and as a natural expansion of the successful Studio Tour concept out west, the Florida park was to be more than just a working studio with trams: it was to have fleshed out, headliner attractions like KONGfrontation, Jaws, Earthquake, and the E.T. Adventure.
Expectations were high for the park, leading to bold advertisements like this one. This ad aired in 1989, a year before the park opened its doors. Watch carefully: you can spot Hollywood’s King Kong animatronic as well its infamous “Carrot Teeth” shark from their tram tour Jaws Encounter. The rest of the ad is filled with B-roll and clips from relevant films (E.T., Jaws, Hanna Barbara cartoons), meaning the Florida versions of the attractions weren’t quite ready for their close-up.
5. “No one makes-believe like we do!” (1991-2)
What a difference a few years make! This trailer is chock full of actual ride and show footage taken from the Universal Studios Florida park, including extensive moments from extinct favorites like KONGfrontation, the Ghostbusters Spooktacular, Earthquake, The FUNtastic World of Hanna-Barbara, Nickelodeon Studios, and Back to the Future. Also present is rare footage of an earlier version of The Horror Make-Up Show featuring the remake of The Fly. Doc Brown even gets name-dropped, since the time traveling simulator was, at this point, the park’s new star attraction!
While it’s difficult to put an exact date on this ad for the Studios, one can surmise it aired in 1991 at the earliest (the year Back to the Future opened) but before 1993. the lack of the Jaws ride – the attraction closed for a several year redesign following massive technical failures shortly after the park opened in 1990.
Also of note is the lack of the “Ride the Moves” tagline despite the emphasis on placing you “in” the movies. Instead, they use “No one makes-believe like we do!”
Not nearly as catchy.
4. “Ride the Movies!” (1993)
There we go. This ad may mark the premiere of the beloved “Ride the Movies” tagline. This ad reuses much of the footage from the 1991-2 version, but includes a few new worthwhile moments: glimpses of the short-lived Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, the vintage Studios Gates, the original Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, the Dynamite Stuntacular, and the Harry & The Hendersons walk-around character.
The emphasis is putting you in a cinematic experience, hence the long list of action verbs. Still no Jaws, which would debut later this year – but remember when Fievel from An American Tale and I Love Lucy were among the key selling points for the park?
3. “Universal Studios Escape” (1998)
Prior to “Universal Orlando Resort,” there was “Universal Studios Escape.” If that seems confusing, you’d be right – Universal’s initial resort branding was ambiguous and sounded more like an expansion to Universal Studios than a fully-fledged, two-theme park complex. Go back and watch again: notice how the narrator never explicitly mentions that Islands of Adventure is a separate theme park from the Studios, or that the resort now has two theme parks.
On the Studios end of things, you can begin to see the recycling of old footage, with two major additions: key moments from the still-new Terminator 2:3D (which debuted in 1996) as well as an extended clip from Twister, which was new that year.
There are a few gems hidden in the Islands of the Adventure half of the ad, as well. Notice the early Cat in the Hat CGI model that would eventually see usage in the “mirror” early in the ride. Marvel Super Hero Island has a different logo, referred to as “Marvel Universe.” And the Pharos Lighthouse has a slightly different design, with a continuous flame billowing out of its peak.
2. “Are You Ready?” (1999)
It’s hard to imagine Islands of Adventure before Hogwarts dominated its skyline, but when the park first opened, it depended on three key franchises: Marvel, Jurassic Park, and Dr. Seuss. The three disparate properties were tied together with an ambiguous “Are You Ready?” theme, where the characters would begin to seep into the everyday world.
You can see the execution is mixed, at best. The Spider-Man ad is a fascinating pre-9/11 era oddity; never mind how Spidey and Doctor Octopus managed to get on the wing of that plane. Having the runaway triceratops be named “Cera,” after one of the in-park dinosaurs at the now-defunct Triceratops Encounter, is a nice touch. The Cat in the Hat puppet/costume is nothing short of terrifying; let’s be thankful they settled on a different “look” for the character for the actual park.
The biggest problem with these ads is they don’t really tell you what to expect within Islands of Adventure. Sure, Marvel heroes, Dr. Seuss characters and dinosaurs will be there, but what rides are there? How can I interact with these characters? The ads don’t really tell you. And there’s the pesky “Universal Studios Escape” again, failing to make the distinction between the original “Studios” park and the new “Islands of Adventure.”
1. “A Vacation from the Ordinary” (2003-4)
These plodding advertisements dissing on Disney more than actually selling the merits of the Universal parks dominated the mid 2000s, when the resort’s various apathetic owners didn’t really know what to do with the place.
Most of the commercial airs on awkward at best, creepy at worst, with long, drawn-out shots of people aping Universal characters. People spend more time eating in this commercial than actually having fun or showing off the park’s attractions. Universal was clearly trying to court a more adult audience, hence painful stingers like “Fairy tales and pixie dust not your thing?,” but the message seems confused at best. Who wants to be hit on by Frankenstein at a bar, anyway?
Revenge of the Mummy was the park’s newest headliner at the time, and the resort finally ditches the “Universal Studios Escape” name. The tagline, “A Vacation from the Ordinary,” is actually quite clever – it’s a shame the rest of the ad isn’t.
Universal Orlando’s advertising has certainly come a long way since 1989. Which ad campaign has been your favorite? What convinced you to first check out the resort? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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