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Q&A: Wham-O CEO Wants To Get Kids Back Outside

For a certain generation, Wham-O is synonymous with youth. The maker of Frisbee, Hula Hoop and Slip-n-Slide (to name a few) meant hours of outdoor fun. With parents looking for a way to reduce their kids’ idle screen time, Wham-O CEO Todd Richards sees an opportunity to bring the company’s products to a new generation.

Richards, who had previously served as vice president of sales for the company in the early 2000s, returned to the company last December to see this vision through as CEO. Here, he talks with Marketing Daily.

Q: What has been your mission coming back to the company?

A: As a kid growing up, like a lot of people my age, I grew up with Wham-O products. I saw this opportunity to bring back to the forefront of consumers the products we have, like Frisbee Slip-n-slide, Hacky Sack and Hula Hoop. These are products everyone knows around the world. I [also saw] a generation of kids that aren’t familiar with Frisbee or Slip-n-Slide. There’s a huge opportunity to reach out to this new generation of kids and let them discover something that a lot of us took for granted for so long. That’s my drive and promise, to bring Wham-O back to a generation that may not know about it.

Q: Why has it fallen off the radar for kids?

A: The biggest reason — and it’s not just Wham-O — if you look at anything with kids being outside and interacting with each other and being active has really dropped off considerably. We’ve created a generation and society that can get done whatever they want to do with the screen in their hand. The thing about Wham-O is it’s the opposite of that, it’s not about technology. 

Q: How do you bring that appeal back?

A: We’re approaching this in a way where we’re going to reach out to truly focus on reaching Millennial parents through social media, [to use] Pinterest Facebook and our website stressing the importance of getting your kid outside. We’ve found that Millennial age parent knows what Frisbee is and Hula-Hoop is and what Slip-n-Slide is. They played with them and they want to see their kids playing with them. 

Q: How much of your marketing will be reliant on nostalgia and how do strike the balance of nostalgia and current interest?

A: Right now with that Millennial age group, nostalgia is a big thing. Reaching back to old stuff that’s now new again. At the same time, we have developed apps for your phone — even though I want to get people off them. We have a Frisbee app that you can download onto your phone and play a game on your phone, and we’re working on how to bring that back outside. 

The nostalgic part pulling into the new part will be through technology, innovation and new ideas. Frisbee is one of the most recognized product names anywhere in the world. We’ve worked with a developer that has a design that is something like no one has ever seen before. It’s going to radicalize and revolutionize what a Frisbee is. That’s the kind of stuff that has me excited. 

Q: You mentioned an app. How do you strike the balance of kids being up and running without a technology component?

A: We recognize where the culture is. The culture is on their phone or iPad or computer screen. The Pokemon craze got people nuts and walking around. They’re still not off the screen, but maybe the app is the gateway for it. 

Q: Will you be using things like Pokemon Go and the popularity of fitness wearables to do that?

We’re definitely going to explore every collaboration opportunity there is. Right now, there’s a hula hoop app. Hula Hoop is a big fitness craze that is built into several different gym programs. Maybe in an ultimate Frisbee game, it’s measuring how far you rand during the game. Technology is going to be a big part [of our success], we know we can’t escape that. But the nostalgic and real part of Wham-O is unhackable and old-school, and we have to find the things that tie the two together. 

Q: How has reaching kids and their parents changed in terms of the media? 

A: The good old days of Wham-O had us run a Saturday morning commercial during the prime time of cartoons. And those we would always end with “By Wham-O.” That’s not realistic anymore, but YouTube channels, Instagram, Pinterest, [Facebook] contests questioning where I am in the world with my Frisbee — those are all what we’ll be doing that’s more in line with what consumers are used to. 

Q: How does this all change your messaging?

A: We have to approach the platform that’s there and what people are using, and using that platform to say “let’s go back in time a little bit.” Put your phone down and run around a little bit. Get your Hacky Sack and see if we can get it to go around the circle and someone taking a picture of it and posting it to Instagram. We don’t want it to be your mom or dad’s brand, or you grandpa’s brand. We want to be your brand.

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