While sales of board games overall have slipped by more than 10% recently, those targeted to toddlers have taken the biggest hit-pre-school game shipments nosedived some 25% from 1997 to 1998.
Now, the marketers of board games are fighting back. Milton Bradley Co. and Parker Bros., via parent company Hasbro, are brandishing an ad blitz as their own kind of virtual reality howitzer.
Hasbro launches a multimillion-dollar campaign this fall to promote its traditional and very manual board games to pre-schoolers and their parents.
The campaign, themed "The best part of playing is playing together," focuses on games for ages 3 and up, including Candyland, Chutes 'N Ladders, Cootie, Fishin' Around and Lucky Ducks.
Grey Advertising, New York, handles. Sales promotion will support.
CAMPAIGNS FOR ADULT GAMES
Hasbro's "first games" ad blitz will be its third following the "Get together games" and "Family game night" campaigns. Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, New York, created "Get together games" and Griffin Bacal handled "Family game night."
Spending was estimated at $15 million and $5 million, respectively, for the first two campaigns. Hasbro executives would not disclose spending for the new effort.
Ed Roth, president of NPD Group's leisure activity tracking, said board game sales overall have been flat, down about 12% from $1.24 billion in 1997 to $1.09 billion in 1998. Though the board game category normally doesn't fluctuate widely, 1998 was a bit of a trough, with better sales expected in 1999, Mr. Roth said.
Pre-school game sales especially have dropped off. In 1998, manufacturers shipped $47 million worth of product, but that was down 26% from $64 million in 1997, according to statistics collected by NPD for the Toy Manufacturers of America.
"Part of the problem is that Hasbro is not competing with other board game companies, but for people's time," Mr. Roth said. "If these ads are directed at the right market and include the traditional games, it should help sales."
RISE SEEN FOR HASBRO
Cheryl Stern, president of Gamekeeper, a chain of 160 game stores, said her company has seen Hasbro adult-game sales rise by 10% to 20% since the launch of the 1997 campaign featuring "Frasier" actress Jane Leeves.
"Can I attribute that increase entirely to their ad campaign? No. But do I think the advertising campaign significantly enhanced that? Yes," she said.
Advertising's effect on game sales can be traced, although not scientifically, Ms. Stern said. For example, with longtime grassroots sellers like Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, sales tend to be small. However, once big toy companies pick them up and run advertising during the traditional fourth-quarter holiday period, sales spike.
Ms. Stern said the same thing happens when games are released early in the year followed by ad campaigns months later. And for games already on the market, advertising is one of the best ways to keep the brand top of mind with the customer.
"We continue to sell the Hasbro classic games at a stable level that doesn't falter. I don't think that would be true if there was no advertising behind them," Ms. Stern said.
And even though Gamekeeper doesn't carry Hasbro pre-schooler games, she predicted the newest ad campaign will have the same effect as the other two. After all, it's the same target audience. "Kids aren't buying the games," she