You may not realize that a single company makes most of the iconic board games that you played in your youth, from Monopoly to Twister to Battleship to Magic: The Gathering.  They also produce toys like Transformers and GI Joe.  Hasbro has traditionally done a lot of advertising concerning specific products, informing children of the fun that specific toys and games can bring them.  For example, Hasbro spent $40.1 million on Nickelodeon and $14.8 million on Cartoon Network in 2008.  Yet, the enjoyment you got from any given toy or game was largely independent of the company that made the game, so there was a logical reason why these products were not tied together from a marketing standpoint.  Why would someone who plays Twister necessarily be interested in Magic: The Gathering?  However, in a world where children are increasingly being pulled toward digital games, Hasbro has been forced to reconsider its strategy.  As with brands in other sectors, they are finding that a strategy informed by the strong values their brand represents gives them the best chance to compete in a world with seemingly infinite entertainment choices.

Hasbro’s strength is in the nostalgia that its brands inspire.  These days, anyone can produce a game and distribute it to millions of others through their mobile phones. New games like King’s Candy Crush Saga, can reach millions instantaneously and create wealth for game developers at speeds that inspire thousands of imitators. While Hasbro has attempted to modernize some of their offerings through online partnerships like Monopoly Bingo, researchers have found that children are still willing to play traditional board games.  Indeed, board games can provide a welcome break from online life and allow parents and children, who may be distracted by their laptops and cellphones during meals, to refocus on quality time together.  With this in mind, Hasbro has been consciously attempting to tie together their individual games around the theme of a “family game night”.

Is this working?  Leveraging ValueBase’s view on the interest graph, we examined Ranker, Facebook and Twitter data to see if people who played individual Hasbro games were interested both in other Hasbro games and in products that indicated a nostalgic psychographic.  On Facebook and Twitter, fans of Hasbro games such as The Game of Life, were also interested in games like Twister and Candyland, as well as in classic movies like Disney’s Snow White and One Hundred and One Dalmations.  A similar pattern was found on Ranker with dense correlations between various Hasbro properties as well as with classic TV shows like Tom and Jerry and Friends.  In contrast, people who were interested in Candy Crush Saga showed none of the same correlations with interests mainly in other similar online games.

Leveraging nostalgia is now creating new opportunities for Hasbro.  For example, the company spends millions on licensing fees to make toys based on movies, but is realizing that nostalgia drives a great deal of movie interest (e.g. the many movies based on 80s comic book characters), and is now profiting by turning popular toys such as Transformers and GI Joe into movies.  Nostalgia allows Hasbro’s products to stand out in an age when there are fewer and fewer differentiators between actual products, given the fall of distribution and production costs.  Hasbro’s game experience is now as much about recapturing something from the past as it is about the game itself.  According to one analyst, “What Hasbro has done is to put media at the centre of its communications process.  It is…building brand properties and personalities and linking its communication across the products, instead of looking on them as individual unconnected products.”

The Social Values Project was created because modern success is no longer simply based on a superior product, given that economies of scale are no longer as defensible and anyone can compete with big companies’ abilities to produce and distribute goods.  Successful products also serve the psychological needs of consumers and provide them with a coherent reason that the products they buy fit into the lifestyles they choose and the narratives of their daily experience.  Playing a board game is no longer just fun, but also meaningful.  Tapping those motivations has enabled Hasbro to grow steadily in the digital age, avoiding the fate of newspapers and record labels that failed to adapt.  These deeper motivations will differ for each company and the values that work for Hasbro (nostalgia based tradition-seeking) may not work for every company, but every company that wants to succeed in a post-materialist society would do well to identify the brand values that resonate with their core customers and expand upon those strengths.

- Ravi Iyer