Saturday, April 17, 2021

Hasbro: Toy Stories

Hasbro bolsters its family play experiences as brands expand into LBE markets

InPark exclusive interview with Matthew Proulx, Sr. Director, Global Branded Experiences, Hasbro by Judith Rubin

ABOVE: Fans experience the Autobot Alliance Experience from Victory Hill Exhibitions. Courtesy Hasbro.

The international attractions industry and the public alike will be seeing a lot more of Hasbro and exploring its many beloved, family-friendly brands as the company’s LBE-dedicated team reaches out to new potential partners, and those partnerships develop into new guest experiences and venues.

The company describes itself as having evolved into an entertainment company from having been a toy company. Can you tell us something about how that evolution took place internally, and the time period?

Yes, Hasbro has evolved from a traditional toy and game company to a global play and entertainment leader, and developing our storytelling capabilities through Allspark Pictures and Allspark Animation has been a significant component to realizing that vision. Our focus is on taking inspiration from some of our iconic brands to telling engaging and creative stories in new ways while giving us greater control of the content creation process.

Within the past few years as an entertainment company, we’ve released new stories featuring TRANSFORMERS (TRANSFORMERS: CYBERVERSE, Machinima’s PRIME WARS trilogy), MY LITTLE PONY (FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC and EQUESTRIA GIRLS), LITTLEST PET SHOP, HANAZUKI and more. In 2017 we released our first full-length animated feature, MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE, distributed by Lionsgate. On December 21, 2018, we are releasing BUMBLEBEE, starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena.

Do you take a holistic approach in developing experiences around your brands, visioning multi-platform development in tandem with product development? What are some examples? What is your ideal model?

Matt Proulx

We certainly take a holistic approach to our brands. The Brand Blueprint is our strategic framework for bringing
our brands to life in exciting new ways. Through insights, storytelling and innovation, we are bringing meaningful brand experiences to life for audiences around the world.

Our one-of-a-kind omni-screen storytelling strategy that utilizes our brands and characters to drive innovation in entertainment is an important strategic differentiator for Hasbro. We’ve rapidly built expansive, multiscreen storytelling capabilities – globally reaching kids and families everywhere that they are consuming content, in many forms and formats, across films, television and new media.

We’re also always searching to expand into new categories, audiences, channels and platforms – and live entertainment and experiential licensing is a priority for all of our brands. Fans around the world feel a close connection to brands like NERF, MONOPOLY, TRANSFORMERS and MY LITTLE PONY, and live event experiences allow us to bring them inside those properties in new ways.

We’ve brought our fans closer to beloved properties with theme park attractions such as the TRANSFORMERS ride at Universal Studios and a TRANSFORMERS experience in China from Victory Hill Exhibitions. Live events have also been successful for our brands. On the retail side, earlier this year, we collaborated with eight Indonesian designers to create looks inspired by MY LITTLE PONY which were sold at a pop-up shop in addition to traditional retail.

We’re flexible in how we work with partners and platforms, and we have relationships with Paramount, a joint venture with Discovery, an original series with Netflix and our own animation studio in Ireland.

We recently announced the world’s first MONOPOLY Hotel, Monopoly Mansion by Sirocco, located in Kuala Lumpur and a partnership with Kingsmen to create, build and operate NERF family entertainment center attractions across Asia Pacific.

Which brands does Hasbro see as most eligible for LBE platforms, and why? How does this play out internationally?

In terms of our advantage to potential clients and partners, we have a very significant stable of Hasbro brands – such as Transformers, My Little Pony and Monopoly – that are a good fit for almost any LBE space. These brands have three key attributes: relatability, shareability and repeatability.

Relatability means that everyone understands or has a general sense of the brand. People have grown up with these brands and have experienced them over time which makes them relatable to fans. Fans also share these brands with others and create experiences around them. For example, Monopoly has been around for 86 years, and multiple generations of people have been setting the game up on the family table. Now, they also have the opportunity to go to the Monopoly hotel opening in Kuala Lumpur at the end of this year. For newer generations, our brands provide several interactive and social elements. As for repeatability, this means that people want to come back and engage in an experience over and over again – that’s the dynamic nature of what our brands are, whether for entertainment or gaming. For instance, Nerf is an active play experience for friends and family – it’s not preprogrammed, and the outcome is different every time.

Beyond Monopoly and Nerf, there’s a whole suite of game brands, such as Connect 4, Battleship, Clue, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders… the list goes on and on.

Our brands are all proven in ways that dovetail with what makes LBE successful, and that’s true on a global level. Our brands and IP are global brands and IP. There are fans around the world for Hasbro game products, and development has already been taking place.

Do you see Hasbro brands and IP as having an advantage over other IP, in terms of the LBE market?

Our brands have longevity and power. Hasbro has brands turned on 365 days a year. We are continually marketing and advertising and creating stories and content.

Transformers is a box office blockbuster and one of the biggest franchises of all time – but that’s just one part of what we do. We also have TV shows for older and younger consumers and are developing video games and novels. We are reaching consumers anywhere they want to consume content.

When you consider the value of an IP, think about repeatability. Will it work 5-7 years from now? We keep investing and reinvesting in our brands. For example, Mr. Potato Head was the first TV-advertised toy in the history of toys and games. He continues to be relatable today and we utilize him wherever we can; for instance, he was a long-term spokesperson for Lay’s potato chips. He’s an iconic toy, product and character.

Rendering of the World’s First Monopoly Hotel: Monopoly Mansion by Sirocco, Kuala Lumpur, coming in 2019. Courtesy Hasbro.

You’ve mentioned the Monopoly Hotel. Can you talk more about Hasbro’s embrace of hospitality platforms, which of course tie directly into the integrated resort model favored by many entertainment developers?

We see hospitality as a great opportunity to have that stay-and-play model, helping to create memorable experiences and continuing to evolve the business. A playthemed hotel provides a decision factor that goes beyond the room rate to the quality of experience. It’s a great mechanism for operators to differentiate themselves and create a long term sustainable model. Hasbro has multiple alliances with hotel operators and we are currently building My Little Pony and Transformers hotels that will feature themed rooms and play experiences within the hotel. We see it as part of the continuing rollout.

How might a Hasbro collaboration unfold, if you were approached by, for instance, a creative wanting to pitch a Hasbro-branded experience to a client; an entertainment operator looking for compatible Hasbro brands and ideas to develop a new attraction or guest experience; a developer of traveling museum exhibits; or a specialty cinema producer looking for content to create a media-based experience?

We’d talk to any and all of them, first of all! We’re willing to work with any well-qualified partner or type of individual across the board. We want to ensure that they understand how to work with brands and can bring our brands to life. It’s not just about today, but we ask ourselves, can they continue to develop the IP and work with us over a period of time to ensure an experience is highly repeatable?

If it’s a creative, for instance, we’d work with that creative or design firm hand in hand, making sure it’s not just pretty pictures but that there’s a practicality: how are these brands expressed in this experience, and does it deliver on everything the developer needs? A collaborative process, holding hands day-to-day, makes sure of the best chance to succeed. Let’s have the conversation!

What in-house resources and experience does Hasbro bring to the table, in addition to the brands themselves?

It’s important that we understand what we do and don’t know. We do know our brands and their consumers and fans. We have regional leads around the world dealing with regional tastes and needs on a day-to-day basis. On the global side, we are also dealing with design and project management to ensure consistency. We partner with franchise teams and internal brand teams to understand their brands and iterative impact, to help us determine where to go in the future with brands.

We surround ourselves with the right consultants, such as, in the LBE space, Dave Schmitt of Management Resources, and George Wade of Bay Laurel Advisors. We make sure we understand the nuances of what a developer partner needs. Holistically, we have created a team, and we do what is necessary to ensure we are working in good collaboration and to fill any knowledge gaps.

Hasbro finds the LBE markets valuable enough to have made it a core business, to have a company vertical in place. What do you find exciting about the out-of-home markets?

As we look ahead, Location-Based Experiences are a key growth category for us globally. With our familyfriendly, globally-relevant brands like TRANSFORMERS, MY LITTLE PONY, MONOPOLY and NERF, we’re uniquely positioned to expand our LBE business. We found that there is so much potential for LBE to help grow our brands and engage both new and latent fans.

We’re particularly excited about the NERF family entertainment center attractions Kingsmen is building across Asia Pacific. The collaboration will allow us – for the first time ever – to offer a wholly immersive and true play experience that unlocks a totally new and exciting way to experience the NERF brand for fans of all ages. With the first location to open by 2019 in Singapore, each standalone indoor entertainment facility will feature multiple activity zones, merchandising and food & beverage areas that will engage and entrench all family members into the fun and action of the NERF brand.

What excites us about the LBE space is that it provides another touchpoint for consumers to interact with our brands. We can see the impact this has for audiences, along with the ability LBE has to drive business for our partners.

Transformers attractions at Universal Studios theme parks had a huge attendance impact and broke attendance records when they opened. Before that, when people thought about Transformers, they could only imagine what they had seen on movies or TV, but didn’t get to see a 20 foot robot up close and in person. When we had the Bumblebee character show up in person to the global licensing show a few years ago, people were literally standing in line and jostling one another for the photo opportunity. You get a sense of the size of these brands when you give people a chance to smell, touch and feel them. The excitement we see when people are able to interact with their favorite characters is amazing.

For the operators and developers, Hasbro is a company that understands who its consumers are and what they want, and we can deliver this unexpected wow factor that we believe has not been experienced in this space before. That’s due to the breadth and iconic nature of these brands. My Little Pony is just about 36 years old now; think about generations of parents, girls and boys and how this generational sharing connects and binds people together.

People want those shared experiences. Ultimately, that’s what our brands bring to the table, and that’s
what’s exciting to me. We bring families together to have that true family experience. We are a family company that is about bringing families together through play.

In our company mission statement, we talk about ourselves as being a branded play and entertainment company, creating the world’s best play experiences. We’re not just about toys and games, and that ties directly into LBE, which is about play and the fun activities that bring families together, which is at the heart of what we do. Table top gaming and face to face connectivity – these foster emotional connections between families and generations, and we’ve enabled those brands and the multi-generational experiences around them to cross platforms. • • •

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