For one day, Miami believed in mermaids…here’s why...


In April 2000, Disney on Ice presents The Little Mermaid turned to Weber Shandwick Worldwide to launch a branding campaign aimed at increasing ticket sales for the South Florida leg of their ice show.  To create a successful media stunt, we partnered Disney on Ice with the City of Miami Police Department Marine Patrol to produce an April Fool’s Day stunt.  The local Marine Patrol claimed that officers had spotted an unidentified aquatic animal in Miami’s Biscayne Bay.  According to local authorities, the sea creature, resembling a mermaid, was picked up at 6:30 a.m. on April 1st and was under observation at Marine Patrol headquarters.  A morning press briefing followed the distribution of media advisories by the Miami Police Department and a mock photo of the early morning sighting.  The rescued “mermaid” made an appearance at the press briefing on board a marine patrol vessel.  Spokespersons included an officer from the local police department and the show promoter for The Little Mermaid.




The challenge in creating an event of this nature was twofold: 1.  Establishing credibility in the eyes of the media.  2.  Drawing cameras away from the highly-televised Elian Gonzalez crisis.  


The first obstacle faced was securing the sponsorship of the City of Miami Police Department in order to make Disney’s claim credible.  It was essential for Weber Shandwick Worldwide to develop a tie-in that would entice the local police department to participate.  After several meetings, Weber and police representatives decided to stress the “No Wake Zone” message.  The Marine Patrol wanted to highlight their image as good corporate citizens while underlining the importance of obeying no wake zones and respecting the waters.


At the time Little Mermaid was arriving in Miami, the eyes of the world were on the little Cuban boy – Elian Gonzalez.  Local television outlets were exhausting all their resources and working around the clock on this story.  This obstacle alone weighed in heavily on the success of the April Fool’s Day event.




Weber conducted informal surveys of marine patrol officers and conducted a media search to identify the pressing issues that the police department would identify with.  By doing so, Weber was able to “pitch” the idea of emphasizing “No Wake Zone” laws to the marine patrol.   In addition, the success of our proposed event lay in a timely delivery of information to the right outlets.  Weber Shandwick Worldwide was generating a list of weekend and early morning media contacts.




There were a number of key logistical elements that needed to be ironed out in order to ensure the triumph of faux police announcement.  As previously stated, Weber Shandwick Worldwide met with the City of Miami Police Department Marine Patrol in order to determine the message points for the stunt.  Weber, when creating a timeline of events for the press conference, utilized these messages. Internally, the P.R. team at Weber Shandwick Worldwide obtained feedback from trusted media contacts regarding the impact that our planned event could have.  The team also created a mock photo of a mermaid sighting on South Beach to accompany the police media advisory.  This was created by the internal graphics department and positioned the “mermaid” at the exact location of the planned press conference.  Finally, Weber Shandwick Worldwide conducted screenings for the ideal “mermaid” and secured the most realistic costume for the stunt.   




Weber Shandwick Worldwide identified three objectives for the April Fool’s Day event:

  • Generate awareness for the arrival of Disney on Ice presents The Little Mermaid
  • Spur ticket sales for Disney on Ice presents The Little Mermaid
  • Position the City of Miami Police Department Marine Patrol as advocates for the preservation of South Florida’s marine life




  • Secure credible alliance with the City of Miami Police Department Marine Patrol
  • Launch a highly targeted media outreach effort to early morning broadcast media
  • Employ 21st century communications tools to reach media effectively and in a timely manner




Weber Shandwick Worldwide used the clout of the City of Miami Police Department Marine Patrol to generate interest and thus increase revenues for Disney on Ice presents The Little Mermaid.  In this way, Disney on Ice was able to separate itself from the daily mass of local public relations stunts. 


In the same way, Weber planned the event for the early morning in order to beat the daily Elian Gonzalez coverage.  We targeted television and radio outlets because at this time, these were the most influential media, with South Floridians listening and watching day and night for Elian updates.  




In addition to helping Disney on Ice boost ticket sales, Weber Shandwick Worldwide delivered on its goals to highlight the “No Wake Zone” laws for the local marine patrol.


Ticket Sales – Disney on Ice presents The Little Mermaid had record sales in the South Florida market.  Due in part to the strength of advertising and the complete PR program by Weber Shandwick Worldwide, six out of nine shows were filled to capacity – a record in the South Florida market!

Media Placements and Impressions – Weber Shandwick Worldwide generated twelve positive media placements that reached a television and radio (including NBC, ABC, FOX and Univsion) audience totaling 2,394,000 with an estimated ad equivalency of $21,000 for an ROI (return on investment) of more than 10:1.