Ad attack: The rise of toys and games in advertising

Born Licensing's David Born looks at why more and more firms are turning to iconic toys and games, like G.I. Joe and Operation, to help drive advertising campaigns.
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Born Licensing's David Born looks at why more and more firms are turning to iconic toys and games, like G.I. Joe and Operation, to help drive advertising campaigns.
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It’s not uncommon to see toys and games in advertising.

In fact, switch on any kids TV show and the ad breaks are packed with commercials for the latest action figures, games, dolls and play-sets.

What is uncommon however, is seeing toy and game brands used for advertising other products. Though this is something that advertisers are slowly catching on to.

I experienced this recently while working on a project with Subaru Australia, who brought a G.I. Joe action figure to life in their latest TV advertisement.

The tagline cleverly encourages viewers to ‘Do Something Out of the Box’, as we see G.I. Joe taking a ride in a Subaru, chopping wood, practising karate and riding a jetski.

Last year Amazon Prime launched a heart-warming campaign about a shy young boy attending his first day at a nursery. His dad observes him having problems making friends, and the next day we see that the father has bought his son something that will help him conquer the new environment.

That gift was the instantly recognisable Superman costume. The boy’s confidence grows and the children flock around him as his father watches on feeling quite chuffed.

US insurance provider Geico recently featured classic board game Operation in a hilarious campaign.

The spot starts out like a typical dramatic hospital scene, the mood tense as a patient is wheeled into surgery. The surgeon and his team are focused as he leans towards the patient with tweezers in his hand. Suddenly, a loud ‘BUZZZZZ’ is heard, and it is revealed that the patient is actually Cavity Sam from the game Operation. 

So why are more and more advertisers choosing to feature toy and game brands in their campaigns?

The advertising world has changed dramatically over the last decade, and continues to evolve. Traditional advertising methods are being tested as digital platforms become more influential. Consumers have more power than ever before, and it is becoming increasingly harder for advertisers to engage with their audience.

Advertisers now more than ever are developing campaigns that are memorable and are able to cut through the noise. They want viewers to watch it, engage with it, talk about it and then share it.

Classic toys and games like these have very strong brand equity, high brand awareness and represent happy times. They are linked with nostalgic feelings that remind people of fun family times and tap into cherished memories.

Subaru saw the value in leveraging an iconic action figure like G.I. Joe, knowing that it would get people talking and sharing. With over 90,000 views across various social media channels within the first 2 weeks of launching, it has certainly done the job.

There are a number of other examples we’ve spotted, such as Mr. Potato Head for Lays, Rubiks for Kohls, Twister for Toyota and Gumby, Strawberry Shortcake & G.I. Joe for Honda.

Have you spotted toy brands in advertising? Tweet me @bornlicensing!

David Born is Director of Born Licensing – a licensing agent focused solely on licensing for the purpose of advertising and marketing. David can be contacted at


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