While Hasbro spent the earlier part of the summer waging its David-versus-Goliath battle with Facebook over Scrabulous , growth within the company’s core brands (including, in addition to NERF, G.I. Joe, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit) helped drive second-quarter segment net revenues in the US and Canada to US$ 467.7 million (an 11 percent increase compared to 2007). NERF has been playing its part in the revenue uptick by upgrading its image, making its presence more known globally, and affiliating itself with sports luminaries to further expose the brand.
NERF was always viewed as a fun, kinetic brand: Think back to the Seth Green commercial from the 80s, which depicted mischievous adolescents wreaking projectile havoc in a local mall. Today, adrenaline-fueled action and sports delivered in a hip, edgy package is the revamped mandate. Gone are the slate-gray vintage NERF Frisbee and such economically titled products as the Nerf Slingshot: Today’s foam firearms come equipped with tactical green night-vision add-ons, sonic whistles, and protective eyewear, and with cortisol-inducing monikers like the N-Strike Recon CS-6 and the Dart Tag Hyperfire Blaster.
NERF’s goal is to build a global lifestyle sports entity, complete with celebrity spokespersons to evangelize for the brand as they toss their Hail Marys. Last year, Hasbro announced a multiyear alliance between NERF and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who will lend his corn-fed good looks to upcoming NERF ads, in addition to putting in face time at promotional events.
In fact, the whole Manning family (including Peyton, fellow Super Bowl champ Eli, and patriarch Archie) made a June appearance at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan for the Father’s Day Football Throwdown, billed as the “world’s largest father-child catch and passing contest.” While the Mannings waxed nostalgic about practicing for their future NFL careers with NERF footballs in the backyard, Hasbro hoped to spur similar memories among consumers by debuting two new pseudo-pigskins: the NERF Peyton Manning Vortex Mega Howler and the NERF Peyton Manning Rocket Pass footballs, which join the premiere Peyton Manning MVP Pro Grip signature version that was introduced in 2007.
But is nostalgia for good old-fashioned dart guns and other spongy sporting goods enough to keep this classic brand in the sights of ennui-affected preadolescents? These days, you’re more likely to glimpse a kid updating his iPod playlists or slumped over his PSP than practicing laterals with dear old Dad in the backyard. How does a technologically driven, more sophisticated culture fare for a brand that prides itself on tactile stimulation and an occasional shot in the backside?
Hasbro is putting its stock into co-branding and licensing initiatives. At this year’s International Licensing Show, the company revealed its first major licensing push for NERF, building upon the popular brand tagline “It’s NERF or Nothin’.” And
to associate the brand with today’s more high-tech recreation, NERF is teaming up with leaders in the gaming world.
Electronic Arts, for example, recently developed a NERF N-Strike video game for the Nintendo Wii system. The action isn’t designed to appeal to die-hard gaming mercenaries of the GTA kind, but to younger NERF fans, and to parents who want a less-violent shoot-’em-up video-game alternative for their trigger-happy spawn. And accessories company Performance Designed Products has plans to expand on its NERF game add-ons, which currently include the NERF Wireless Controller and the DS case.
It may even be fashionable (and smart) to be a NERF aficionado now, since the licensing initiative includes extending the brand into the apparel and educational arenas. Tween boys can now broadcast their NERF fervor with branded T-shirts from Fortune Fashion (with similarly branded hoodies and track pants soon to come). A NERF-branded sports sandal bundled with a NERF ball is also available from Elan-Polo. Even higher education is doing its part to promote NERF scrimmages between classes by selling NERF balls with school logos in university and college bookstores and specialty retailers. Other licensees in the seasonal, publishing, and home décor genres are also on the docket waiting for contracts to be finalized.
NERF is sticking to its core audience (boys between 6 and 12), continuing to concentrate on the indoor-safe high-energy action that’s been its trademark since 1970. But it’s updating its look, upping its hipness factor, and smartly leveraging licensing opportunities as a guarantee that its products won’t go the way of the pet rock or the Furby. The brand known for its soft balls is finally playing hardball.