Marketing Observations From Being Disconnected

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Even if you drove for twenty minutes back in the direction of Montreal, there is no wireless service (both Blackberry and Internet Access). Welcome to my annual fishing trip (clarification: I said “fishing” not “catching,” and for people who think “fishing” is still evil, I would, more accurately, call it “casting” and end it there). Being disconnected is not causing me any noticeable withdrawal pains (in as much as I simply feel uninformed as to what’s happening in our Digital Marketing world), but I am experiencing some phantom pains that my Blackberry is vibrating (it is not).
One quick observation that led to an engaging marketing conversation came when I noticed that we had both Trivial Pursuit and Risk board games on the coffee table in the common room. I remarked that Parker Brothers (owned by Hasbro) – the legendary creator of both of those games and many more (including Monopoly, Sorry!, Clue, etc_) – really missed the video game revolution, when, in fact, they should have been the dominant leaders and innovators in that space when you consider what they stand for. For a company that was highly specialized in creating the best games, how did they not see the video game industry before companies like EA – Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and the rest got involved?
One of my friends – an MBA graduate with years of extensive work in the U.S. for major corporations – stated that it must have been either fear that creating video games would only encourage people to stop buying the traditional board games (cannibalization) or lack of vision (too focused on what they always did versus being able to see where they needed to go).
I liked both theories of fear and lack of vision, but it was still a big enough gap that it kept me digging (with little progress). Imagine being seen as “the” brand for a specific genre (in Parker Brothers’ case, this is games) and not being able to see an entire industry shift beneath your feet.
Another friend then recounted that Sony faced the same situation by “allowing” Apple to nab the portable audio space with the iPod. Sony had long-been the front-runner with their Walkman and, my friend argued, should have been well placed to continue their legacy.
Was it lack of innovation? Lack of marketing spends? Or an inability to deliver a superior product that enabled Apple to dominate the portable media space in such a short period of time (it wasn’t long ago that Apple announced the sale of their one hundred millionth iPod)?
Marketing professionals need to be constantly looking at the evolution of their industry. Not only do brands morph, change and mature, but entire industries do as well. It’s one thing to understand your brand in the marketplace (“hey, we need to get in on the consumer generated content stuff!”). It’s another to truly have vision for where (and how) your industry – as a whole – will evolve in the coming years (“In five years, people will minimize their playing of board games because video games will be much more interactive, challenging and compelling.”).
Having a clear marketing vision – while experimenting in the newer Social Media and Digital Marketing channels that appear – is more than enough to keep Marketers up at night. Still, my guess is no marketing professionals want to hear that their brands were mentioned in a conversation like the one I just had about Parker Brothers or Sony.


  1. While I think there’s merit to the Sony/iPod comparison, I think the game companies may be more of a stretch. A company good at making board games may not be good at writing software. Even if they saw the trend, they may not have been able to effectively become a software company.
    In addition, while the iPod and MP3 players have replaced CD and cassette players, video games have not replaced board games. In addition to, not instead of, right? Board game sales may be on the decline — and honestly I don’t even know that to be the case, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume it — but there are myriad factors involved, not simply the rise of video games. There are so many more ways to be entertained today, that board games must compete again video games, movies, TV, poker and other card games, and more.

  2. You can find an answer to this in a book called “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. R&D into new products is expensive and often not profitable. If a large successful organization is doing a good job being financially conservative they will never come out with the “next big thing”. Once in a blue moon a company is able to change gears, but the majority of them do it by putting a team in another building in another city to separate them from the rest of the organization.

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