Toymaker Finds Second Selling Season Away From Fourth Quarter

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hasbro Games wants children to find not just candy, but Candyland in their Easter baskets. But some are bemoaning the continued secularization of religious holidays by marketers.
While Hasbro sees Easter as a selling season second only to Christmas, some religious groups object to the further commercialization of the holiday.

Encouraged by sales figures that show the second-biggest bump for game sales after Christmas is at Easter, Hasbro last year tested use of free-standing inserts themed to the holiday in the Midwest offering $1 to $3 off its classic games. The result, said Mark Stark, VP-marketing for Hasbro, was a several-fold increase in sales.

National effort next month
That success prompted a national Easter effort for 12 of its top Milton Bradley and Parker Bros. games that includes another use of free-standing inserts for April 9 and a TV campaign breaking April 2 suggesting that parents “Think outside the basket” when it comes to Easter gifts. The commercials, from WPP Group’s Grey, New York, show the Easter Bunny’s “paw” sawing a cutout in an Easter basket to accommodate a game. In another, he duct-tapes to an Easter basket a cardboard box containing a game.

“We’re always looking for ways to balance our year so we’re not completely dependent on the fourth quarter,” Mr. Stark said. Moms apparently said they were game to buy games at Easter, according to Hasbro marketing research, so now roughly 15% of the games division’s budget will focus on getting them to do just that. Hasbro spent roughly $108 million in measured media on its toys and games in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. At least 85% of that is focused around the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas.

Though the games/puzzles category of the $21.3 billion toy industry fell 9% to $2.4 billion last year, according to NPD Group, Mr. Stark said Hasbro’s sales for core games including Trouble, Operation, Sorry and Life were actually up in '05.

Grassroots response
Some aren’t so happy to see the Hasbro push, though. Janice Crouse, senior fellow for conservative public policy organization Concerned Women for America, said she is “appalled at the idea of Easter baskets as a marketing tool” and the attempt to use Christianity for marketing purposes. “The Bunny is to Easter as Santa is to Christmas, and it’s very definitely getting worse,” she said. Sadly, Ms. Crouse said, secular marketers aren’t the only ones to cash in on the commercialization of the holiday.

Alison Mark, features editor for toy industry publisher TD Monthly.com, said religious toys in general are growing, including items such as plush Baby Jesus and Noah toys from marketer Holy Folks and ABC Bible Stacking Blocks from Alphabet Alley.

Alex McFarland, director of apologetics for Christian ministry Focus on the Family, acknowledged the rise of marketing around Easter and praised it, so long as efforts don’t overlook the real reason for candy and toys being given.

Evangelical customer loyalty
“Evangelical families are very loyal and Easter is a very important event in the Church calendar so [marketers shouldn’t] be afraid to acknowledge it,” he said, whether through the sales of products sold along with a white chocolate cross or mention of “Happy Easter” in their ad copy. The payoff, he said, is big in that “it could pay a lot of dividends in terms of customer loyalty” among members of America’s 500,000-plus churches.

Hasbro spokeswoman Pat Riso said the initiative to drive Easter sales is less a religious push than acknowledgement of the “secular celebration of spring and the Easter Bunny.”

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