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The Roots of Native Advertising: Sports Illustrated Remembers “I’m Going to Disneyland!”

The idea of seamlessly weaving advertising into its surrounding context is getting a lot of attention these days. As hot a topic as “native advertising” is, the technique is at least as old as having Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz hawk cigarettes during commercial breaks on the I Love Lucy TV show. Today I was reminded of one of the earliest such ads that I can personally remember – a spot that was shot during the celebration on the field following Super Bowl XXI, with MVP Phil Simms delivering the now famous line: “I’m gonna go to Disney World!” before the sweat from the game had even dried.  

As part of its lead-up to Super Bowl 50 (I’m so glad we don’t have to use Roman numerals anymore), Sports Illustrated is running a “series focusing on the overlooked, forgotten or just plain strange history of football’s biggest game.” One of these articles is a look at the origins and evolution of the classic “I’m going to Disney World” commercials.

It was an idea that was generated spontaneously, developed quickly and edited overnight in the pre-digital era to run on network TV the next day. I remember that when I saw it on the tube TV in my parents’ living room, I was amazed: I had just watched the game and here was Phil Simms, saying his next stop was Disney World.

The idea was brilliant – you’ve just hit the top of your profession and probably your life, and what more is there to do? Bang. Disney. It didn’t hurt that the spokesperson was a personal hero of mine, of course. But the spot was so great that it even lent an air of legitimacy to a child’s theme park (not normally at the top of a teenage boy’s must-see list). And of course, it spawned an endless series of follow-up commericals. Heck, the phrase mutated into a song (Dizz Knee Land) and has become part of everyday speak, meaning you’ve just accomplished something great. That’s pretty strong branding right there.

This serves as a great reminder that when it comes to native advertising, it’s not enough to simply “be there.” If you really want to make an impression, the idea is still everything.

~ Adam Schnitzler, CCO & Founding Partner, The S3 Agency


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