Wham-O's "Champagne Problem": An Embarrassment of Iconic Riches

“Iconic” is among the most overused words in the English language right now. But in the case of childhood mainstays like the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Hacky Sack, Super-Ball, Slip N Slide, and Boogie Board, the term has been well-earned. And back in the day, massive TV spend helped make parent company Wham-O at least as familiar to us kids as the toys themselves. But as the company celebrates its 75th anniversary, can it be more than a fun retro play to grandparents eager to share a piece of their own childhood with the next generation? Wham-O’s Brand Marketing Manager Jessica Wyner gets it. How do you even find these kids to advertise to anymore?

MediaPost: Some may be surprised to learn that Wham-O is still here. 

Jessica Wyner: Wham-O is a healthy, thriving legacy brand, celebrating 75 years this year. Wham-O is fortunate enough to have had many, many positive memories and childhoods. And Wham-O had a resurgence of retro and nostalgic toys, which really had a particular effect during COVID. A lot of our toys promote life-in-motion and less screen time. So, during COVID there was a significant resurgence in all of our brands. People needed to find ways to entertain themselves and their kids. And I think that existing customers and new customers found a bit of positive, playful energy and created some fun memories that we are looking to maintain. 



MP: But what's the biggest challenge for you as you go into the 75th anniversary?

Wyner: Well, I would say that the key challenge is I guess budget, as any marketing person will say. As a legacy company who owns several legacy brands, we're fortunate enough to frequently have celebrations that are decades-long. We celebrated the anniversary of Frisbee recently. We'll be celebrating the anniversary of Super-Ball soon, Hula Hoop next year. It's a challenge to constantly be reinventing and creating excitement around anniversaries of products that have been around for many, many years. But this is really a champagne problem. We have had some great coverage on The Today Show, and with Good Day L.A., and a great article coming out in the LA Times. 

MP: What does your marketing mix look like now, then?

Wyner: I'd like to say, our target consumer is a millennial and a Gen X but there's something to be said about the marketing that they did in the early years. Those advertisements that you talked about that were on TV, I mean, they were so powerful. They were targeted towards kids. And that is a marketing strategy that I'm challenged with right now. Because I do feel like parents’ TVs are not on in the background. So, I think that having our message skewed more towards the parents or the grandparents, and how we reach them through different press and publications, is definitely the route that we're going to. For this year, I would love to get back to how we reach kids, because at the end of the day it’s the kids who make the decision and the kids who ask their parents for the toy that they want. It's just finding them and getting that message through to them is a very, very big challenge that we have to really focus on. And it's definitely something that is in my plan. And for now, I think social media marketing and marketing within the digital realm is where we're going to focus.

MP: You mentioned DTC, but you also mentioned that co-marketing is very important. Tell us a little bit about what you know about the path-to-purchase right now. It sounds as if a lot of your products are impulse purchases at retail. 

Wyner: That's exactly how our brand continues to thrive, and I think that in the future my focus is to have a greater digital presence, for people who don't know what a Super Ball or a Slip N Slide or a Hula Hoop is. But I think that it's important to diversify your marketing. And I think what's great about our products is that they will sell themselves just by being on the shelf. But it's also important to create anticipation for something new within that brand. For example, next year we’re launching a Waterless Slip N Slide. Slip N Slide as we know it, has always required a garden hose and water, which is a very limited, precious resource that we really should be conserving. So, I'm really trying to focus on the sustainability message and also provide opportunities for our products to be used even when you don't have a garden hose, or the weather isn't 85 and sunny and perfect. So, we need to focus the messaging on the innovation within each brand. Educating the consumer is one of the most expensive marketing objectives that one can have. But I think we have a pretty good place in the market, and I think people will adopt innovation. 

MP: Speaking of innovation, I noticed the Wham-O site invites inventors to submit inventions and ideas. Are there products that are already in market that really came through that channel?

Wyner: Absolutely. We receive, and I'm not exaggerating, we receive hundreds of submissions every month. We meet as a team and go through every single submission. One of our recent and most successful inventor submissions is now a brand called Foam Party. So, Foam Party was an invention submitted by an engineer who worked on airplanes and wanted to create something fun for his daughters that involved water and bubbles. Kids love bubbles. And kids really love foam. And he invented a machine that you hook up to a garden hose and it creates foam within seconds. It has been so unbelievably successful. And we're releasing this year an E-Foam Party. We made it battery operated so you don't have to have a garden hose. You can go to the park and take your kids, pour the solution in, a little bit of water, press the button, and a huge amount of foam will appear.  

I was really surprised how much kids love foam. It's a fun, playful, interactive toy that kids can use anywhere. And I love that it came from an inventor, and we take the inventor submissions very seriously. Every single day we are reviewing the submissions. We openly encourage people to submit their inventions and then we partner with them on the go to market strategy. They earn a royalty off of each Foam Party that we sell. We sell these to big box retailers and sell a lot of them. And it's a win for everyone. Sometimes when you're working so closely with products, you can't see simplicity, or you can't see simple ideas that are right in front of you. So, I love opening up the discussion to consumers. And to say the truth, the consumers are the ones that have the best ideas sometimes. I think it makes for a really nice collaborative story, too. 

MP: So, let's quickly wrap by talking about some of these summer promotions that you have planned. 

Wyner: In the next few days we're going to be launching a 75th anniversary limited edition Frisbee. We only have about 2,500 copies of them. I'm really excited about bringing the art world into Frisbee. We're going to be doing a series on up-and-coming artists featuring the artists’ artwork on Frisbee. And we also launched Wham-O Pet Toys in partnership with Jazwares. The pet line is available now at PetSmart and Petco. And they truly are Frisbees that are created for dogs and can withstand the test of time. But the response has been really great, and I think that as much as Frisbees are loved by humans, Frisbees really are loved by dogs. And it really makes sense to have this line. 

The E-Foam Party is definitely going to be really exciting. We're seeing an unbelievable response. We just did a photo shoot a few weeks ago for it. And every parent on this photo shoot was asking for a Foam Party. They wanted to take one home that day. 

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