Santanella puts a twist on Hasbro's marketing makeup

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Just because John Santanella has been seen hanging out with teen showbiz heartthrobs like Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and his brother Aaron, don't get the wrong idea.

As director of marketing for Hasbro Games-overseeing efforts of preschool and children's games under the Milton Bradley banner for classics such as Candy Land, Battleship and Twister-it is true that Mr. Santanella, unlike many of his brand marketing brethren, has embraced the value proposition that is branded entertainment and other forms of nontraditional marketing. But don't tar him with the same brush as those alarmists who have pronounced the 30-second TV commercial as an endangered species.

"I don't see TV ads going away ever; it's a very efficient way of reaching a large group of people," Mr. Santanella said. "What we're trying to do is create additive elements in places that are going to interrupt the consumer and give them a message that is out of the ordinary in television or find new ways to use existing media that are going to be different where the consumer will take notice."

Many of these additive elements are co-driven by Mr. Santanella and Grey Global Group's Alliance CEO Jarrod Moses. Alliance is Hasbro's entertainment-marketing agency and is aligned with the East Longmeadow, Mass., company's ad shop Grey Worldwide. Mr. Moses and his New York-based team have played an instrumental role in identifying and leveraging entertainment platforms.

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For instance, last year, Mr. Santanella inked a deal with Jive Records and created a partnership with the Carter brothers, who record on the BMG-owned label, to launch Twister line extension Twister Moves. The program worked so well that it's being repeated this year, this time with Nick Cannon, also on Jive. Mr. Cannon, who has a Nickelodeon talk show and will appear in this summer's "Garfield: The Movie," will be integrated into the marketing in myriad ways.

Mr. Santanella said that Mr. Cannon has agreed to write a song that will be exclusive to the game and will also be made game-play compatible. Mr. Cannon's face and likeness will be used in the game's packaging, point-of-sale materials and advertising. Mr. Santanella hopes that the Nick Cannon Twister Moves song to be used in ads will also get radio airplay-Mr. Cannon has had hits on Top 40 radio. Finally, Hasbro will also sponsor Mr. Cannon's 16-city tour this summer.

For Twister Moves, 35% of the budget went toward traditional media while the balance was used on nontraditional media. It's hard to miss the parallel between this example and the one drawn by American Express Chief Marketing Officer John Hayes during his keynote address at this year's Advertising Age Madison + Vine conference in Beverly Hills. Mr. Hayes elicited a strong reaction upon admitting that TV advertising had shrunk from 80% of his marketing budget in 1994 to 35% currently.

Mr. Santanella said, however, that this similar model for Twister Moves won't work across the entirety of his product line. "We're not going to bet the farm on anything. We'll do right things that make sense and that's based on our experience, history and understanding of our business."

But he is also working on a product-integration deal for another classic Milton Bradley game with a major TV property, which he wouldn't reveal.

Mr. Santanella moved into the toy and game industry in 1997 when he joined Hasbro Games in Beverly, Mass., as an associate global brand manager. Starting in 1999, he did a stint in Hasbro's London office before returning to the U.S. in 2001.

"You can't fear failure," Mr. Santanella said. "You have to be of the mindset where you're willing to take risks."

Mr. Moses puts a finer point on it by calling Mr. Santanella a "calculated risk taker. ... It doesn't mean you go out blindly. You need to surround your risk with safety nets and plan Bs."

Résumé

Name: John Santanella

Age: 37

Title: Director-marketing for Hasbro Games, responsible for Milton Bradley preschool and children's games.

Who: This Hasbro veteran has tapped into the star power of teen idols such as Nick and Aaron Carter to launch Twister Moves. It worked so well the first time that he's repeating the program.

Challenge: Create additive elements in places that are going to interrupt the consumer and give them a message that is out of the ordinary in TV.

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