Brandtique Of The Week: The Games Hasbro Plays

Talk about a marketer rolling the dice on product placement. Toy maker Hasbro, which owns Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers board games, seemingly can't get enough. It's sliding Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit into comedies, Operation and Rubik's Cube into reality shows--and, who knows, maybe a deal's in the works for Chutes and Ladders on "Desperate Housewives."

Last summer, the Griffin family on the animated Fox comedy "Family Guy" duked it out with Twister and Trivial Pursuit. A few weeks later, the modern kids living together on MTV's reality "The 70s House" played Operation. Then there's Scrabble, which recently challenged the comedic characters on WB's "Twins" and CBS's "Out of Practice." And on WB's "Beauty and the Geek," one of the geeks last month showed off his agility with the Rubik's Cube.

All marketers are worried about TiVo. But is potential commercial zapping reason enough to go full force into branded integration?



More likely, Hasbro is looking for some cost-efficient prime-time exposure. The brand manager for Yahtzee probably doesn't have a huge national TV budget. And the good news for Hasbro is that it doesn't take much of a script or shoot alteration to pop a board game into a scene, so finding product placement opportunities is easier than if it were, say, Suzuki looking to plug a Quadrunner.

Surely, Hasbro also feels it can create interest in its games by weaving them into storylines, giving consumers an idea of how they themselves can use a board game to depart from the ordinary. Why watch another "Law & Order" re-run on a Saturday night when you can play Risk?

Take the Feb. 6 episode of CBS comedy "How I Met Your Mother." Twenty-somethings Barney (played by the former "Doogie Howser," Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) are hanging in a bar after a game of laser tag (it's not clear if they used Hasbro's LazerTag equipment).

Robin says the ersatz combat makes her yearn for that classic Naval combat game of childhood: Battleship (evaluated and ranked via research firm iTVX as one of the five most effective product placements last week). Besides, she says, she's never lost a game.

Lo and behold, neither has Barney. The likely reason? Both say they cheat. And Robin asks Barney back to her place for "a cheaters' grudge match." At first, it's unclear why Barney would want to leave a bar to play a game popular among the 5-to-8 demo.

Then we find out. Back at Robin's, Barney thinks he's in for a different kind of matchmaking, and strips down. Robin comes out of her room--holding the box with the Electronic Battleship Advanced Mission Game (apparently, the game has been upgraded since 1983)--and is incensed. She thinks they're just hanging out as friends.

Huh, says Barney, "You invited me up to your apartment to play Battleship. Is that not an internationally recognized term for sex?"

No, she says.

"You sunk my Battleship," he says.

The product integration--where Battleship has a role in the plot, makes its way into the dialogue, and is seen in action as Barney and Robin later begin playing--is a hit on several levels. First, when was the last time Battleship crossed your mind? A third-grade slumber party? It's highly unlikely you'd pull a Robin and invite someone back to your place for a game, but Battleship is back on your front-burner, at least for a few minutes.

There's also the potential impact the placement could have on a teenage or collegiate crowd. Watching twenty-somethings on a show that models itself after "Friends" might give them the idea that a night of Battleship with their buddies is good for a few laughs. After all, retro is in.

Third, Hasbro takes a flyer that "You sunk my Battleship" can find its way into the vernacular, perhaps as a good-natured retort for a pick-up line that fails.

Marketing today is a long war, but Hasbro may have won a battle with its latest move.

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