Our house has been invaded by Nerfs. Not Smurfs from the Northern Hemisphere, but rather the amazing foam-dart-firing-toy-shooter things from Hasbro.
I say 'shooter things', as the games that are played by them aren’t what they would have been when I was little. And that’s a good thing. Then it was all about killing and making sure your playmate was dead. Now, expert brand management of a sensitive subject has made the play experience about how many times you can “get” your friend, how far you can make the dart fly, and accuracy.
Our Nerfdom has become something of a father and son experience and it’s so much fun that it’s become a bit of a habit. Laurence, 9, got a Nerf Rival for his birthday…it’s supposed to be for 14years and above but it’s just too good to pass up if you’re nine and addicted to Nerf.
In fact it’s SO good that I had to buy one as well. Only I got the bigger one with three barrels (the one in the header picture is my one).
On Saturday just gone, we dropped into Toys R Us to feed our Nerf addiction. Just to look, mind you. We’ve just “modded” our first MEGA pistol to become a RIVALS pistol by pulling it apart and changing some bits and pieces, so confidence and swagger are high right now. And this is exactly what a toy brand needs to be supporting at around Laurence’s age - it needs to give the child something more than just a bit of play value. Children move from collation (just collecting for the sake of it) to curation (collecting with strategy and purpose) at around about the age of 8 - and Laurence is about as typical as it gets in this regard. He’s dived headlong into the work of Nerf – the mechanics, the aerodynamics, the backstories and the branding.
And it’s the branding bit that is interesting.
As we arrived at the Nerf aisle, there was abject disillusion from Laurence. This concerned me immediately as right now he’s the biggest advert Nerf have.
I looked where he was looking and immediately shared his pain.
Hasbro has extended Nerf to “Nerf Nitro”. It’s an obvious extension. They’ve taken the core product experience - object propulsion - and combined with an existing “boy” play pattern…vehicles. It’s a modified Nerf Blaster that fires a small foam vehicle at stuff or over ramps.
And of course, as Hasbro doesn't really have an overly effective vehicle line, this - on paper - is a good place to leverage your brand elasticity, power, and equity.
Only it's not.
“That is ridiculous – basically they’re trying to con us out of money by using our love of Nerf to get us to buy toy cars. I am too old to buy cars” says Laurence. But he wasn't done: "And how can they call it 'Chaos'? There's already a Khaos blaster". It's just one letter that's different!"
And that’s kind of all I wanted to say. A nine-year-old devotee of Nerf, the biggest advertising asset the brand owner has, just lost a little of the love and so the slide from advocate to rejector has begun. He’s not a marketer, a branding consultant, planner or toy designer. He’s a fan of Nerf and he feels like Hasbro just sold out. Not only were they trying to get him to play with cars when he is far too old for such trivial things, they also gave it the name of the latest most powerful Nerf Rival - Khaos! So, the question becomes at what point does the elasticity of the Nerf brand reach what physicists call the “point of ultimate tensile stress”? At which point does the brand snap and the extension no longer benefit the business?
The irony is that it’s made it into the top 25 of the Amazon Christmas list…and that’ll be because it’s got the word Nerf on it. It’ll shift tonnes of units because Amazon will make sure it shifts tonnes units – and it’ll be a success. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.
I get why it's done, I understand the economics of it, in fact, in terms of squeezing your assets and capabilities you could say this was a masterclass. Someone did the numbers, someone did the research, someone developed the product, someone designed the extended branding and someone else sold the line into retail. Marvellous. Happy days, business as usual.
Except children are brighter than that. Laurence doesn’t know at which point “Ultimate tensile stress” is reached – and if he did, he probably wouldn’t give a monkey’s. What he cares about is that he is a Massive fan Nerf and now the brand he loves has lost a little of its cache.
He’s really not very happy about it at all and has already told three of his friends at a play date on Sunday. They are now all considering a move to the Boomco system in protest.
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