Inside Hasbro’s Digital Transformation Into a Modern Toymaker and Advertiser

Fueled by ad tech, social media and omnichannel marketing

A character from Hasbro's whimsical Hanazuki series that appears on YouTube. Hasbro
Headshot of Christopher Heine

You may sell toys to parents, but you actually market to their children. That was Hasbro’s modus operandi before late 2012, when the maker of Monopoly, Nerf, Play-Doh and many other toys and games got serious about data, eventually transforming its advertising  and social media strategies. Indeed, company research showed Hasbro had not adequately been paying attention to “kids of all ages,” meaning moms and dads.

“We started really understanding where consumers were shopping,” said Ginny McCormick, vp of integrated media and promotions at the Pawtucket, R.I.-based giant. “We’re now leveraging analytics to create a frictionless and relevant experience for the consumer.”

McCormick and her team’s results speak for themselves: The company has, during the last four years, incrementally grown sales by nearly $1 billion, hitting $5 billion in 2016 for the first time in its 93-year history. Digital is at the heart of such success. For instance, working with ad tech player Criteo, Hasbro is driving sales by advertising products—potential impulse buys, specifically—toward the end of the purchase path on major retailers’ sites. It’s an old brick-and-mortar, end-of-the-aisles merchandising trick given new life by data targeting.

“When a preschool mom is shopping for clothing or books for her children, we can encourage her to add Play-Doh to the cart,” McCormick explained. “In many cases, they are products that millennial parents themselves have engaged with as a child. And they want to share those experiences with their [kids].”

Hasbro’s makeover has involved plenty of social, running ads and creating audiences on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat. What’s more, it’s ramped up its content game online and offline. In January, it debuted whimsical characters for a YouTube series called Hanazuki, which was inspired by Amsterdam-based artists Hanneke Metselaar and Nicola Stumpo. And the company’s cultural footprint will be measured this September with its first Hascon, a ComicCon-styled, family-oriented event (at the Rhode Island Convention Center) that will celebrate the toy maker’s iconic brands, including My Little Pony and Transformers.

“Hasbro has transformed itself into a media brand,” remarked marketing consultant David Deal. “[It] is mastering the art of community building, online and offline.”

Hasbro’s key building blocks for digital transformation:

Ad Tech

Better targeting has been critical, as Criteo’s system improved Hasbro’s return on ad spend by as much as 1,100 percent while delivering 63 million impressions. “We know when consumers are shopping across multiple retailers and looking for specific toys or game categories,” McCormick said. “We can put those items at the top of the list, which can really tip the scales and get a parent to convert.”

Omnichannel Embrace

Constantly honing online advertising and offline merchandising chops with retail partners is also driving sales. For the upcoming release of Transformer: The Last Knight movie, it’s working nationwide with Walmart to create experiential store tours as well as digital activations. Hasbro is also teaming with Amazon for a program called Game Night Delivered that promises the company’s board games at customers’ door steps within two hours of ordering. Additionally, McCormick and her colleagues partnered with Toys R Us to exclusively launch their drone blaster Nerf Terrascout, putting together an integrated media and content strategy.

“We talk a lot about what omnichannel means with our retail partners now,” McCormick said. “It’s something we focus on as consumers’ options for shopping tools literally change weekly.” And like so many marketers nowadays, Hasbro is off the last-click-attribution train when it comes to determining what influences both ecommerce and store purchases. “We ask, ‘How did those ads impact a sale in that cycle?’” she said. “There’s not a linear path to purchase—consumers are coming in at different points.” The omnichannel emphasis is partly why Hasbro’s investors see such a bright future, with its stock price ($106 at press time) up 140 percent compared to four years ago.  

Social Media

For social, Hasbro has largely focused on Facebook, and its seven core brands—Transformers, G.I. Joe, Nerf, Monopoly, My Little Pony, Magic: The Gathering and Play-Doh—have used a series of interactive campaigns to attract 20 million fans. It’s managed to draw 1 million subscribers on YouTube, where the aforementioned Hanazuki’s first episode garnered nearly 4 million views. The games marketer also complements its social presence with paid opportunities on platforms like Snapchat, where it launched the first branded game on the app.

“The speed of innovation isn’t limited to just social media,” said Victor Lee, Hasbro’s svp of digital marketing. “The speed in which we can gather and process data, and build out programs, creative testing and media buying has changed the entire marketing landscape.”

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.