The revival of toys from childhoods gone by is fairly common practice among marketers. Trading heavily on nostalgia, reboots seem to crop up once a toy’s original target reaches parenthood. The wistful "remember whens" get translated to gifts under the tree and a new generation has a largely similar experience with that toy that their parents did. Lego did it. Star Wars did it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did it. This year, Furby accelerated that generational bump and has become an it toy 14 years after it first appeared.
And for Furby—that chattery little owly-hamstery animatronic creature—the return to market may have more than mere fond memories going for it. One of the earlier interactive toys, introduced in 1998, Furby’s latest incarnation benefits heavily from the last decade’s technical advances. The original Furby, which sold over 40 million pieces in its first three years of production, came out of the box speaking Furbish and could be taught English over time. Now, Furby has the capacity to learn and develop a distinctly pleasant or prickly personality based on an owner’s love (or lack thereof), has LED eyes that convey a wide variety of emotions, and has an available companion iOS and Android app that feeds the little fur ball and has an English-Furby dictionary and translator.
Hasbro SVP Global Brand Marketing, Girls Portfolio, Samantha Lomow, says the company’s research has shown that kids want a toy companion that evolves based on how they play with it. "We decided to keep Furby in the vault until the timing was right where we could re-imagine it with the same level of 'magic’ that we delivered in the original Furby," she says. "As the technology came within reach we were able to create a unique experience and deliver on our promise. As the original Furby creature was a technological marvel that "learned" English the more you played with it, it made sense to relaunch the Furby brand as the creature that develops a personality based on how you play." Be kind and Furby becomes sweet and lovable. Be rough and tumble with it and Furby takes on a mischievously evil persona. In all instances, Furby gets a little crazy-possessed when it changes personalities.
So, what does it take to market an old toy after 14 years? When that toy happens to be one of the early digital innovators, you employ all the modern bells and whistles you can. "Having a product like Furby that resonates so well with kids and adults helped. But the innovation of the product and the ability to reach and demonstrate its personalities through digital channels really enabled us to tell a rich and dynamic story," says Hasbro VP Digital Marketing, Victor Lee. "Through digital media, search, social, and exciting creative we were able to drive the awareness needed while demonstrating the product in a fun and playful way."
The most-searched toys for the 2012 holiday season, according to Google:
2. Build a Bear
3. LeapPad 2
5. Easy Bake Oven
6. Lego Minecraft
9. Doc McStuffins Toys
10. Lego Ninjago
The relaunch campaign is centered around Furby.com, which, like the product, displays different personalities with each new visit. The site also uses online video and interactive game play to showcase Furby’s new functionality and includes customization tools. Lee adds that after the site strategy was in place, digital media elements were layered on with unique programming across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube and BuzzFeed. "Through our YouTube page where we created an interactive Furby gameshow, our Facebook page that showcases relevant content and has true interaction between fans and Furby, or our display advertising that broke frame; we wanted our entire digital presence to engage and tell the product story."
As a strategy, it’s working well. Furby ranks among Google’s top searched toys in a list that includes generational mainstays like Crayola and hot tech toys like LeapPad2 (see sidebar). The list is significant in that it represents what consumers are actually searching for (versus industry-led top-toy lists), and highlights the need for a sound digital marketing strategy.
"Toy marketers have realized that the way people research and shop for toys has changed dramatically—a trend that has escalated over the past two holiday seasons," says Katie Rottier, Head of Industry, Toys, at Google. "Whether the purchase happens in a store or online, more than 68% of all toy sales today are influenced by the web. This means that toy manufacturers are essentially marketing to a very different audience. Brands are realizing that they’re missing out on connecting with shoppers if they don’t engage them weeks before the purchase is made."
For a toy like Furby, this early connection with purchasers is arguably even more important. Those brave parents in search of the fluffy creatures aren’t buying a mere toy. With the promise of having a mind of its own, an independently developing attitude, and a habit of being spontaneously vociferous if left alone, Furby is a toy for the committed. Thankfully, as Lee explains, the digital marketing campaign "offers consumers the ability to completely immerse themselves into a self-selected experience that lets the consumer drive the conversation and experience the product and brand on their terms, not ours." So, if your little tyke’s Furby-ownership skills lead to a Furbish-spouting hellion, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.