Hasbro’s Matt Proulx talks about brands and LBE
interview by David Edmonds
From theme park rides to life-sized board game experiences, physical action zones, family entertainment centers (FECs) and even branded interactive hotels, Hasbro has been leading the charge toward new genres of location-based entertainment (LBE) experiences utilizing their library of beloved brands.
With Licensing Expo 2022 soon to convene in Las Vegas, InPark contributor David Edmonds spoke to Matt Proulx, Vice President, Location Based Entertainment, Hasbro, to discuss the creation of new experiences and the future of branded LBE.
What is your favorite Hasbro experience that has opened so far?
It’s so hard to pick just one! Our team’s goal from day one was to innovate the LBE space and drive our brands to new heights by creating amazing world-class experiences with best-in-class partners.
Our global rollout to date includes the evolution of our Universal Studios Transformers experience at Universal Studios parks in Hollywood, Orlando and Singapore, as well as Transformers Metrobase (a dedicated land) at Universal Studios Beijing. Also, the opening of our first ever NERF FEC in Singapore called NAX (Nerf Action Xperience).
There are also our Monopoly Lifesized Experience (London), our first dedicated Peppa Pig Theme Park (Orlando), our Monopoly Dreams FEC experience (Hong Kong), our PJ Masks Land at Leolandia (Italy), and our Clue escape rooms with Breakout Games, among a whole host of other amazing experiences that have been launched over the past few years.
What about new directions? Where do you see branded experiences going?
Our goal has always been to create experiences that exceed the expectations of our consumers while delivering upon the needs of developers, operators and investors. It really comes back to activating against our Brand Blueprint strategy, which drives us to find new and innovative ways for people to interact with our portfolio brands.
Consumers’ tastes and budgets are ever-changing, and it’s an exciting challenge to find new ways to create engaging experiences for them while supporting our partners across
the business. For example, we have rolled out multiple FECs across the world that require a lower CapEx investment for our licensees, but also are incorporated into high traffic destinations such as shopping malls or other popular “destination” locations in cities or communities. While there has been much written about the general decline of traditional malls, we strongly believe that they will continue to be important destinations for our communities as they evolve from shopping centers to experience centers. We believe that our globally known family of brands is uniquely positioned to be a key driving force to help deliver upon these experiences that today’s consumers are looking for.
Additionally, the world changed with COVID-19 where inter-country travel was limited or prohibited. What we observed was that consumers still wanted to have an out-of-home, group experience with friends and family. By providing a variety of “local” experiences, we were able to deliver upon this need and fill a void in the marketplace. Our belief is that experiences that deliver to local audiences — whether it be shows, events, temporary or fixed experiences — will still be in high demand for years to come and help provide significant growth opportunities.
Tell us about Hasbro’s portfolio of ready-to-go creative concepts and their benefits.
We made a strategic decision to invest development dollars into creating visual representations of how our brands could be translated from the entertainment and consumer product space into physical attractions and experiences. The key to this was to help partners, developers, operators and investors visualize how these projects could meet their needs.
While this is an ongoing process, I believe that sharing these visions has helped accelerate our business significantly. Working with external design partners to conceptualize thoughts into experiences allows us to continue to innovate in the LBE space and push the boundaries so we can continue to exceed consumer expectations.
What are some key criteria you look for in a potential licensee/partner?
Our team believes that when you surround yourself with good people, good things happen. That is the foundation of our approach, especially given that these are long-term relationships. Most experiences within the LBE space will be around 10, 20 or 30 years. You need to make sure that you can always work and communicate with the partner.
Starting with shared corporate values and ideals, we also want to ensure that the partner has a shared vision for what we are trying to accomplish. That critical, shared vision and objective will guide all decisions. We also look for operational experience. There is flexibility, however — otherwise there would never be any innovation within the space. So, we make sure that there is a history of success and quality and then augment with internal and consultant expertise.
What makes Hasbro brands stand out in a competitive market?
Location-Based Experiences are a key growth category for us globally and with our family-friendly, globally relevant brands like Transformers, My Little Pony, Monopoly and NERF, we’re uniquely positioned for expansion. There is truly “something for everyone” within our deep portfolio of over 1,500 brands. For example, if a partner stated that they are looking to create a family experience that is meant to have cross-generational appeal, we would start with several of our game brands, such as Monopoly. This was our approach with Gamepath, who created the Monopoly Lifesized Experience in London.
Our brands also have longevity and timelessness that can anchor long-term partnerships. Most of the brands in our portfolio, like Transformers, NERF, My Little Pony, Monopoly, Dungeons & Dragons, Peppa Pig and others, have been a part of people’s lives for decades, and have continued to evolve to grow in popularity over the years. When you apply that to an LBE experience, you have much more assurance that the brand is still going to be relevant and drive attendance well past any single moment in time. This heritage of our brands also means we can speak to a broad, cross-generational audience.
How does your team stay on top of brand performance in different markets and work with licensees to make the best selections for a project?
The starting point for our team is always about creating a great experience, first and foremost. If you do not have a great experience that exceeds consumers’ expectations you
will fail — plain and simple — regardless of the popularity of a brand. It comes back to understanding your consumer and their expectations. Hasbro’s world-class consumer insights and research team empowers us to understand who our consumer is today and to look ahead as well. This is coupled with the great work that our Global and Local brand teams do every day around the world to ensure that our brands remain relevant, topical and performing at the highest possible levels.
Flexibility, knowledge and sensitivity are key to making a great experience — along with understanding goals, objectives and demographics. However, I would also push all of us to expand our concept of what demographics mean to include cultural awareness and relevancy. Sometimes, as brand owners, we may be rigid in our views of how our brands manifest themselves in the real world — without taking into account local heritage or other cultural norms. So, while we always need to account for age and gender, it is also critically important to know the local consumer so that the needs of the experience and the brands can be tailored to that audience.
The true win takes place as you create the true emotional bond and connection between your consumer and the brand. The brand then transitions from being just another brand to a way that the consumer identifies and represents themselves. They become a frequent visitor and ardent promoter of the experience, helping to ensure not only the current success of the experience, but the long-term viability of the project.
You’ve stated that keeping the experiences fresh and relevant is important. How does your team continue to work with licensees/partners after opening to reach this goal?
Keeping it “fresh” requires several things of our team and our licensees. First, we need to make sure that the facility looks as clean and new as it did on the day it opened. This requires a strong quality assurance program where both parties can document what the experience looked like on day one, so there is always reference material. If the facility is not kept at a high-quality level, consumers will recognize this and choose not to revisit in the future.
Second, it requires parties to map out — and plan for — a reinvestment strategy and to have the discussion at an early stage of the process.
Third, staying “fresh” also means staying on top of trends within the industry. It doesn’t mean needing to strip out the entire facility but could be simply things such as providing those social media moments for consumers or larger capital investments, such as new attractions or experiences. Either way, there needs to be research, discussion and a plan for how this will all be implemented.
Tell us about Hasbro’s LBE team.
We are built around several internal teams:
1) Business Development & Account Management
2) Production, Operations and Project Management
3) Design and Development
We are also supported by our external consultants, partners at outside design firms, and a bevy of others. Our team has evolved over the past eight years as the business has expanded. Each team member brings a depth of cross-functional experience to the group.
The strength of our team has allowed us to focus on being true collaborators — not just licensors — experienced partners who understand the business needs and challenges with a shared long-term view. We work closely with our partners to ensure that they are successful, and it’s the experience of our team that makes that possible.
How does your team navigate trade shows such as IAAPA and Licensing Expo to find new collaborations?
IAAPA and Licensing Expo are great forums to showcase our brands and vision, and our presence at these trade shows has led to meaningful and productive conversations with a whole host of potential partners. Before the pandemic, we had a showcase at IAAPA Expo in 2019 where we presented Hasbro, our portfolio of brands, and our vision for the LBE space. We saw this as a great way to help educate the marketplace about who we are as an organization, how we believe we could make a positive impact on this industry, and where we believe the industry was going. This, coupled with Hasbro’s presence at the Licensing Expo, helps solidify and confirm Hasbro’s commitment to the LBE space.
Hasbro will be at Licensing Expo 2022, Booth #A159. More information: www.hasbro.com, tel. (818) 478-4324 • • •
David Edmonds is a Creative Director and Entertainment Designer from Orlando, Florida. He is a passionate believer in themed entertainment — what it means, how important it is, and how it connects with guests. David has worked on numerous attractions and experiences around the world and loves to share a designer’s perspective on the industry through writing and speaking for industry groups.