The Brand Radar: Nerf, Gramercy and how to succeed in specialist markets

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how toy brands have embraced licensing, highlighting a partnership between Hasbro and Gramercy that fired Nerf into the dog toy space.

There has been a long history of toy companies extending their brands through licensing, with some good recent examples including Monopoly and Cluedo.

When I first started working in licensing in the 1990s, the agency I worked at managed Hasbro’s outbound licensing, which included Monopoly, Cluedo and My Little Pony. All three brands had active licensing programmes ranging from deals with estate agents – I am sure you can guess for which brand – through to Murder Mystery nights… Again, I’m sure you can guess!

My understanding is that toy companies see licensing as a way of allowing consumers to experience their brands in new ways beyond the toy shop. In many ways, licensing is a means of developing toy brands as lifestyle brands and can help reinforce key brand attributes and themes. Of course, licensing also creates new marketing opportunities, brings additional income and insulates against competition.

Fast forward to 2021 and toy brands remain part of the licensing landscape. My Little Pony and Barbie play in the fashion aisle, while Monopoly is also well established in licensing, particularly in the promotional space with McDonald’s. Elsewhere, brands like Rubik’s Cube use licensing to supplement their own developments in the core toy category.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar
Licensing of toy brands throws up interesting products and developments. A great example of this is what Hasbro have done with Nerf.

Nerf has been licensed into categories such as apparel with a Nerf fashion line for children sold into retailers like Sainsbury’s. This range features Nerf’s signature colours, design icons and is created as ‘active wear’. It’s a good example of a brand coming alive in the apparel category with well thought through design and a clear purpose in mind. Nerf is an active brand and thus active wear is a natural fit.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar
But where else can you take a brand like Nerf? I’m sure Hasbro looks at opportunities within the wider toy category on a regular basis, while Nerf also seems a good fit for theme parks, adventure playgrounds and holiday companies.

While looking for where else can Nerf play, I’m sure Hasbro evaluated play occasions with an eye on licensing opportunities. So, in a way, it’s no surprise to see that Hasbro have licensed Gramercy Products to be their exclusive partner for Nerf dog toys.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar
As a dog owner myself and a frequent visitor to pet shops, I’ve noticed the Nerf Dog toy line before, but on a recent visit the range seemed to have grown. It includes the signature Nerf gun, which in this case acts as a playball launcher – it should help reduce cases of Dog Owner’s Shoulder! – and other items such as tug toys, discs and Nerf balls.

The range uses the signature brand colours, devices and packaging style, which ensures it has a great impact at retail and stands out on what can be a very crowded fixture. The Nerf brand in this context gives consumers the chance to buy into a brand that they know, trust and has well established play credentials.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar
The licensee has developed a range that caters for large, medium and small dogs, so is comprehensive in its reach and suitability. They have worked hard to develop a collection where the product is durable, functional and, of course, dog friendly and appropriate to the category.

The Nerf dog toy range is a great example of clever licensing by Hasbro. They have recognised their brand can travel into the category, but also that they need to work with a specialist manufacturer who knows the market, has an established distribution network and boasts credibility within the pet trade.

They have managed to extend their brand’s usage into another area of play but have done so in a responsible and credible fashion. It’s a fun product range, but one that’s also fit for purpose and functional.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar
The Nerf dog toy range is a great example of how licensing can and should work. It is also a reminder that there are licensing opportunities in specialist market categories. It’s worth noting that to succeed in this specialist categories, IP owners need to respect those categories and understand them properly.

Simply put; to succeed you need to have sector appropriate ideas and a partner capable of delivering within the category.

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.