As the pandemic wanes, business is booming once again for location-based entertainment as consumers seek out interactive, in-person experiences they can enjoy with family and friends.
Matt Proulx, vice president of LBE at Hasbro, talks to LicensingSource.net about the company’s plans for 2023 and beyond, and how creating “unexpected moments” is key to bringing brands to life.
With more than 35 open fixed-location experiences and over 500 annual events globally, Hasbro LBE is a major player in the live attractions market – and 2023 is set to be one of the company’s biggest years yet.
Upcoming projects include a partnership with Marriott for a Transformers and My Little Pony themed hotel in Shanghai, outfitted with a Family Entertainment Center and 46 themed rooms; the company’s first flagship project in Mexico – Hasbro City – where families will get to enjoy interactive and VR attractions, rides, play spaces, games and more, and shop at the region’s first Hasbro Retail Store; and Galaxyland Powered by Hasbro in Canada, which features three and a half acres of over a dozen family-friendly rides like the Play-Doh Dizzy Doh-Dohs and My Little Pony’s Flight to Equestria.
“We’re still seeing a really significant demand for these experiences. Yes, there’s a lot of economic uncertainty. That’s something that we have to plan for, and we’re being intelligent about the use of our capital, and how we’re deploying certain assets and resources. But at the same time, the LBE space is uniquely positioned right now. Because of the Covid pandemic, people are tired of being at home, and they want to go out there and share have social experiences.”
With a strong stable of brands with international appeal, Hasbro has a head-start in the battle for consumer engagement, Matt asserts. “Brands are very powerful drivers and, as part of our Brand Blueprint 2.0 strategy, we recognise and emphasise building those brands up through quality experiences. Our brands are They’re a mark of quality; people will say, ‘Okay, I trust this brand, because I know they’re going to do certain things right’. But that means it’s vital that we deliver upon those expectations and deliver best-in-class experiences, so if a consumer has to choose between experience A or experience B, we’re going to be at the top of their list.”
It all comes down to creating unique experiences that defy customers’ expectations – or which, in Matt’s words, “delight and surprise.” A case in point is Monopoly Lifesized in London’s West End, which recently won the Best Location-Based Entertainment Award at The Licensing International Excellence Awards. “It’s been hugely successful, and highly rated, and it was primarily driven by the fact that everyone knows the game,” says Matt. “But if we’d just stuck Monopoly logos on the floor and walls and people just went in and played on an oversized game board, that wouldn’t have offered customers an award-winning positive experience, or resulted in that word-of-mouth spread.”
What the Hasbro team and its creative partners did instead was to provide those “unexpected moments” that capture the core essence of the Monopoly brand and the social side of its gameplay.
Visitors to Monopoly Lifesized take on escape-room-style challenges – including a dance-off battle and assembling 3D jigsaws – as they compete against other teams to earn the most money, buy houses and avoid jail time. It’s fun, sometimes frantic and 100% Insta-worthy. “Millennials and Gen Z are very much part of the experience economy,” says Matt. “They want to have shared experiences with friends and family members, and they also want to be able to share those moments across social media.”
The ‘Wow, that was fun!’ response feeds back into affinity for the brand, especially among younger visitors who tend not to be into shopping for shopping’s sake. “We’re not saying that Millennials and Gen Z aren’t consumers, that they don’t like to buy things, but they do like to have an emotional connection to what they buy,” says Matt. “So the goal is that when they’ve finished the experience, they’ll be more likely to purchase the t-shirt or buy the game because of the emotional bond they feel with the brand.”
Matt is keen to stress that younger visitors aren’t Hasbro’s sole target market. “Everything we do is ‘family first’,” he says. “We want family members of all ages to come together and bond over these experiences, and it all ties back to the heritage of our brands. Nerf is over 50 years old, Transformers is over 35 years old, Monopoly is over 85 years old… These brands have been relevant for generations of people, so there’s a common emotional bond that brings people together.”
Even the soon-to-be-opened Nerf Action Xperience in Manchester is designed for parents and grandparents to participate in – although older visitors might want to keep a few energy drinks handy. “It’s about active play,” explains Matt. “You’re not going to see video games or sit around, it’s about moving, having fun, in a really cool immersive environment. We’re very excited about the way Rocafella Leisure has brought this to life, and we’ll be rolling the concept out throughout the UK, and then throughout Europe.”
While Hasbro LBE is enjoying significant growth in EMEA as well as in Latin America, its core markets are North America and Asia. Recent launches earning rave reviews include the Peppa Pig Theme Park at Legoland in Florida, and China’s first Peppa Pig Play Café in Shanghai, which features six immersive Peppa Pig settings spread over 1,100 sq m, integrating themed dining and over a dozen play attractions. 2024 and 2025 will see further expansion across theme parks and water parks, family entertainment centres, hotels, resorts, touring shows and pop-up experiences.
“My hope is that we’ll continue to launch first-of-their-kind experiences, and then move into the ‘shampoo stage’ – rinse and repeat – where we’re replicating those experiences again and again, in different markets around the world,” says Matt. “I love that we get to bring brands to life in 4D and build out their worlds. That, and the fact that I have such an amazing, talented team, gives me great job satisfaction.”