Hasbro’s VP consumer products Marianne James on becoming a pre-school powerhouse

When Hasbro first made clear its plans to take over the Entertainment One entity at the end of 2019, the writing was pretty much on the wall that 2020 was going to be an atypical year for the world of children’s entertainment, licensing, and toys.

No one quite knew exactly how different things would turn out, and yet the licensing and toy industries have persisted and here we stand, on the edge of the first virtual Festival of Licensing in place of our usual Brand Licensing Europe, where Hasbro is about to unveil a whole new slate of content for Peppa Pig, new toy lines for PJ Masks, and its latest plans for Ricky Zoom.

Alongside all of which, we hasten to add, the global powerhouse of children’s entertainment and now one of the world’s biggest players in the pre-school space, will also be rolling out the latest franchising, licensing, and merchandising plans for that staple portfolio of brands such as NERF, Power Rangers, Transformers, Monopoly, My Little Pony… the list goes on.

It should come as little shock that Hasbro is now not only looking to put its stake in the ground in the global pre-school market with Peppa Pig and PJ Masks leading the charge, but developing way beyond the current flagship IP to turn the pre-school space into its own veritable playground.

Here, Licensing.biz catches up with Marianne James, VP of consumer products at Hasbro to discuss the integration of the Entertainment One property over the course of the year, how 2020 has forced the global entertainment house to evolve to the next level, and just what else Hasbro has cooking now that it spans the entertainment spectrum.

Well, Marianne, it’s been one eventful year, and one that all kicked off with the acquisition of eOne. How has Hasbro’s licensing division adapted to and moved with the changes of the past year?

The biggest major change we made from an organizational perspective is that we’re now one fully integrated Licensing team following the acquisition of eOne last year. At the beginning of the year, we devised a new organisational structure to support our expanded portfolio across EMEA.

It has been a real benefit, allowing us to leverage the vast talent pool from the eOne team while combining it with the Hasbro team. Together it is a true powerhouse that has strengths in so many different areas and a portfolio that is second to none.

In terms of adapting to the vast changes that have occurred externally in the past year, we were quick to pivot and pause our licensing activations during lockdown and create a suite of digital assets for families to enjoy at home. Going forward we recognise the need to be flexible and offer a diverse category mix that can evolve with the changing needs of the world. Our retail approach will focus more closely on e-commerce and the value channel in reflection of what we’re seeing in the marketplace and we’re ready to embrace those opportunities with our product and promotional offering.

2020 has seen Hasbro take on the position of powerhouse in the pre-school space, and you’ve already given us a taste of what’s to come for Peppa Pig, PJ Masks, and Ricky Zoom. How much has the acquisition informed Hasbro’s approach to the licensing space this year and going forward? Can you talk us through plans here?

The acquisition of eOne dramatically enhances our storytelling capabilities and franchise strategies through TV, film, digital and other mediums. The new content creates greater opportunity to deliver amazing stories for all screens and audiences. Anytime you acquire a stable of IP as notable as eOne’s, your approach to the business must reflect that; such is the case here. With a strong foothold in the preschool space, we are now particularly excited to dive deeper in that area and explore themes and play patterns complementary to our existing brands.

You mentioned Ricky Zoom, PJ Masks and, of course, Peppa Pig, as the standouts and I can only say that we have more pre-school brands in development now and these will be given the opportunity to leverage the success of those brands.

What is the vision for Hasbro now it spans all entertainment markets, from pre-school to adult? That must be a very exciting dominion for you to be looking after, too…

It is quite exciting. Right now, we are working towards a smooth and compelling integration of our combined portfolio into the retail market. With a repertoire of brands that span every age, demographic and category, organization and careful planning become paramount.

We are always striving to find new ways to work with our retail partners to maximize the breadth and depth of our portfolio. Our goal is to bring a high level of expertise, of knowledge, to every demographic and play pattern. In today’s market there is no substitute for expertise, it is crucial that we stay on top of all areas in order to be the best partner for retail that we can be.

We know that our brand portfolio is our strength. It will set us up for success in 2021 as we work to activate in every imaginable retail channel from the traditional and beyond. Our goal is to lead the market in a 360 approach from CP, digital, experiential, content and brand marketing.

Away from the eOne brands, Hasbro has a portfolio of massive IP like Transformers, Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Hasbro Gaming, NERF… can you talk through some of the biggest developments for these brands? How will Hasbro continue to push the envelope of innovation in the licensing space through the development of this IP roster?

There is a great deal going on! We always like to mark milestone anniversaries, and next year we have the 35th anniversary of Transformers. We also have the 85th anniversary of Monopoly commencing later this year. Both events give cause for timely celebration and will be leveraged with exciting collaborations, consumer promotions and retail activations.

Owing to our growing understanding of the changes in consumer behaviour, Nerf is also a property that we believe will enjoy a rapid expansion across multiple categories next year. Its growth will continue to cement our position as a leader in the active lifestyle and sports category. The Nerf franchise will benefit from significant above the line investment in 2021 with soon to be revealed experiential marketing initiatives set to bring the brand to life like never before.

The way we approach our CP program is guided by what we call the ‘Brand Blueprint’. This refers to our strategic framework for bringing our brands to life in exciting new ways to create immersive, 360-degree experiences for our audiences. Right now, we’re focused on deeper consumer engagement, innovative brand and product experiences and increasingly expansive opportunities for our portfolio.

It’s really all about leveraging these great story driven properties like Power Rangers, My Little Pony and Transformers by giving fans new and exciting experiences both at retail and online.

What are some of the key emerging trends within the licensing/consumer product space, and how is Hasbro aligning itself with them and maintaining its position of strength in the field?

Following lockdown, the importance of digital content and e-commerce platforms really came to the fore and that’s a key strategic focus for us. In a very short space of time, access to entertainment and retail via digital platforms really accelerated at an unprecedented rate and given the uncertainty surrounding the next year that’s something we need to be mindful of in every aspect of the business.

We are always monitoring and evaluating all the information we can gather regarding widespread changes in consumer behaviour. There is real value in being able to not only react but anticipate consumer behaviour.

There are fundamental changes that occur that will have reverberations for the industry, so we strive to keep on top of it. Currently, growth is evident in Food, Health &Wellness, Personal Care, Puzzles &; Games, Home Goods, and Classic Play. As always, we will work to service the growing demand and find good fits within our brand portfolio.