Foster's draft

Hasbro's marketing director Mark Foster outlines his marketing plans and what the firm is expecting from what promises to be an extremely challenging year for the trade...
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Firstly, run us through what sort of year it has been for Hasbro. What have been the product highlights and what products that have under-performed?

In the context of an incredibly challenging end to the year, we are pretty happy about how the year shaped up. We will be up on last year, which is what we’d planned for, but is still a real achievement in the current market.

Transformers held up supremely well after last year’s movie and the Star Wars line, despite a disappointing performance of the Clone Wars movie, continued to deliver as planned.

We’ve had some real successes in games that the category needed: Monopoly World Edition was a stand out, of course, and Pictureka! turned out to be a bigger hit than we had predicted.

Biscuit the Dog was a sales and PR highlight (reportedly saving department stores’ Christmas) and contributed to another good year for FurReal. The rest of the girl’s category was a bit tougher for us, both in nurturing dolls and collectibles, but we’ll be back with new launches and bigger plans for 2009 to make sure we continue the progress we’ve made over the last couple of years with Baby Alive, My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop.
Nerf was a priority for us and we put of lot of effort into getting this away in 2008. This has paid off and we are feeling very confident that we can build on the platform we’ve established now.

Does that mirror the usual sort of year for Hasbro or was 2008 different in any particular way?

Hasbro’s strength is the breadth of our portfolio and it’s inevitable that we’ll have some winners and some also-rans within our range – it’s the nature of the business. Where I’d say we’ve been successful in 2008 is to pick and back more of the winners.

But there were a few factors unique to 2008 that affected everyone: a very late start to the peak sales season, Woolworths’ going into administration, and an economic downturn that really accelerated towards us. Trying to market products in the midst of this and the retailer’s strong promotional activity I think was a new challenge for us all.

Marketing support was strong on TV, as ever. Have you had to make any adjustments in spend or the way in which it is spent?

We had a number of new launches in 2008 and TV is always an important communication tool for us. We spent significantly more on TV year-on-year, but we have also responded to the growing importance of other media, particularly online.

There seems to be a lot riding on the boys action market in 2009 with Transformers, Marvel and GI Joe, moreso perhaps than in recent years. Deliberate move, part of an ongoing increased commitment to that sector, or simply down to the film schedule?

Great toy movies are bit like proverbial buses… We’d love them perfectly time-tabled but that’s not how it happens. But we remain committed to this category regardless, particularly as Transformers and GI Joe are Hasbro’s own properties and are developing into long-term movie and entertainment franchises.

Transformers and GI Joe seem to be huge ranges. Is there a danger that perhaps there are too many lines?

I really think we’ve got the lines right. We obviously have a lot of experience on Transformers, before the first movie even, but what the movie did was bring the property to a new generation. The range reflects the desire for different play patterns and collecting patterns. GI Joe is a tighter line by comparison to reflect the particular opportunities and objectives we have for the UK market.

Expectations for the new Transformers were presumably higher than the previous range, has this been tempered somewhat by the downturn and if so, what is the expectation from the range now?

We are very, very confident about Transformers and think we can put over 25 per cent compared to the first movie. We definitely missed some sales in 2007 and the new movie is looking stunning – it’s got a bigger production budget, a bigger marketing budget, a whole new cast of characters and the toy line is frankly awesome.

What about other areas of the business? Last year saw a great emphasis on Playskool, how did that perform?

Playskool was an emphasis for us last year and remains so for the coming year. The re-launch was a great success. Not everything worked admittedly, but it has given us great insight and confidence in the brand. It’s a busy, tough category with some big players, but we are in for the long haul.

And what about girls? What’s new for 2009?

As well as continuing to support our existing brands – Baby Alive, Littlest Pet Shop and My Little Pony, the great news for the category next year is the return of Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. Like we have shown with other classic brands we’ve brought back, we’ll be bringing innovation in both product and marketing of these lines that bring a new generation of consumers to these fantastic properties.

And what about the rest of the games range? More new versions of established products?

As ever, our Games line-up and support will be a mixture of refreshes of classic lines, extensions of our great brands and some exciting new launches.

We’ll be bringing to market ‘reinventions’ of Connect 4, Battleship and Trivial Pursuit, fun new extensions of last year’s hit, Pictureka, and more news on Monopoly to anniversary the success of World Edition. There are also a couple of new launches… actually we’re on for a busy year on games this year. And research tells us these are just what consumers are looking for in these more prudent times.

What about forecasts for this year, is there optimism towards growth or would maintaining what you have be a good performance?

We always back ourselves for progress each year. This year’s looking a bit harder to judge as we are in unprecedented times and there’s uncertainty about the impact of Woolworths. Despite this, we still believe we have the strength, brands and plans to have another good year in 2009.



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