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At the Intersection of Brilliant Branding and Child’s Play

brand marketing

by Kenneth Rudich

In case you missed it, Hasbro, maker of the iconic Easy-Bake Oven brand, has announced plans to unveil a black and silver version of the toy in February of 2013.

At first blush, this may come across as hardly eventful.  Almost like a bell that remains quiet after being struck by a feather.

In this case, however, the news of this soon-to-be-released color scheme rings with authority because of the narrative that’s behind it.  It’s a story worthy of being told in any discourse about best practices for modern brand management.

A Branding Tale

As reported by Emanuella Grinberg from CNN, it starts with thirteen year old McKenna Pope’s failed quest to find an Easy-Bake Oven for her four year old brother.  He wanted it for Christmas.

The deterrent in Mckenna’s path lay with the conspicuously feminine orientation of the packaging.  It seems every oven she came across featured the colors pink and purple, and never any boys.  She feared these two traits might prompt her little brother – and for that matter, other boys like him – to shy away from playing with the toy.

The recognition of this built-in bias spurred the New Jersey teen to petition the toy maker to offer gender-neutral colors that would appeal to both boys and girls, and to perhaps add pictures of boys on the packaging that didn’t currently have any, including the pink and purple ones.  After putting the petition online, she got more than 40,000 signatures and also won the support of celebrity chefs.

To its credit, Hasbro responded in a manner that was designed to be a charming reflection of just how much the company cares about its brand and its customers.  Check this out: “We value input from our consumers and given the widespread interest in McKenna Pope’s story, we extended an invitation to McKenna and her family to visit Hasbro and meet with our Easy-Bake team,” it said in a statement.

As for her part, McKenna responded back with a statement on the website she used to publish the petition: “I was so excited when Hasbro asked to meet with me.  I wanted to make sure they were hearing the feedback from 40,000 people who supported my campaign.  I’m thrilled that they not only recognize the importance of a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven, but also, they’ve committed to launching one in 2013.  Now, boys and girls can choose any color oven they want!”

In this technology-driven age of online exuberant interaction, this story has to be one of the finer examples of modern brand management you’ll ever see.  It’s interactive, it taps the power of positive association, and it’s likely to resonate with a much bigger and broader audience than the company could have otherwise drawn with a paid advertisement.  It’s like a bell that rings surprisingly loud and clear after being struck by a feather!

Plus, it’s just brilliant business savvy.  After all, the move to provide a gender-neutral color scheme for the brand nearly doubles the potential size of the customer base for it (Though the company did not say whether it would change the packaging to also include boys in its marketing, I suspect you’ll see the idea at least tested for the gender-neutral product).

A Final Branding Thought

As a final note, CNN’s Grinberg observed, “McKenna’s petition generated national conversation about how packaging and marketing might enforce gender stereotypes and discourage children from playing with particular toys.  Others, including the Toy Industry Association, said toys come in different colors based on feedback from consumers and retailers.”

BTW, is your marketing inadvertently guilty of doing something similar?  That is, inadvertently excluding customers or dampening its appeal to them?

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