Absolutely Scrabulous ~ Brand Mix

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Absolutely Scrabulous

For a great example of what happens when the worlds of new marketing and old marketing collide, tune in to the debate currently raging about Mattel and Hasbro, joint owners of Scrabble, asking Facebook to remove the Scrabulous application from its site.

Scrabulous is one of the ten most popular Facebook applications with 600,000 active users, 2 million people signed up and 70 million page views a month. It's huge. But, unfortunately, by name and design, very similar to Scrabble.

So how should Mattel/Hasbro look at this? The way they appear to be going, the traditional way, is to put their crack legal teams on the case and get the application shut down for infringing copyright and intellectual property. It looks like an open and shut case and the only question is: Why did you wait until the game got so popular before you pulled the trigger?

But another perspective, a perspective that takes into account the marketing and corporate reputation angles is, now that someone has developed a real, huge, massively popular Web 2.0 hit, wouldn't you be better off to work with the flow than against it?

The launch of this application has generated energy and passion for Scrabble that couldn't have been bought with millions of dollars of PR and advertising. There are pages and pages of comments being posted by Scrabulous players concerned that they are about to lose "their" game. Already some people are forming boycott Mattel sites.

Yes, Mattel/Hasbro, you have the right to shut Scrabulous down. Yes, you may also have an agreement with EA about an online version and you may have something in development (according to reports). But, my advice, take a long hard think before you go down that path. The goodwill that you could generate by partnering with "the brothers" (as the developers are affectionately called by their fans) may be worth by far more than a legal victory can deliver.

Some links:
1) CNN Money article and comments: "Will someone please start a Facebook group to save Scrabulous?"
2) Someone did: A Facebook group


Anonymous said...

Not sure on that logic. If people play the online game for free via Facebook and never buy a product from the original inventor/ marketer, how is PR of any value? If it's such a hot online game, give it its own name and brand and let stand on its own.

Martin Bishop said...

Two thoughts on the comment "Not sure about the logic..."

1) Business: From what I read, the success of Scrabulous has driven sales of the original product as people have rediscovered their love for a game, previously somewhat forgotten.

2) Reputation: This will be the difference between some goodwill if they partner vs. a huge amount of consumer disappointment and anger if they don't. That may translate directly into lost sales (especially if a boycott happens to any extent) or more generally into a dilution of brand value.

My overall point is that this may not need to be a zero sum game with one winner and one loser. Playing together may be better.

BIG said...

I agree, why steal a game? It's not cool and the trademark laws were set up for just this. Sure they'd be better off working it out but c'mon they stole the game. Not cool.

Phil Darby said...

I don't like Facebook and its clear that they stole the game and should not have done so. The real point though seems to be that Hasbro/Matel have been slow to predict and respond to what was clearly a customer need, so maybe they deserve the consequences. Hey, its hard ball out there!

You are right though and if I were them I'd be more concerned that their current actions are inconsistent with their brand promise. It all looks a bit corporate from Hasbro/Matel, quite the antithesis of the friendly, familly community that, as a game brand, I expect they need to develop.

Could be a shot in the foot here!

Anonymous said...

hasbro should be thrilled that millions of young consumers feel so passionately about the scrabulous. why? because although the name is different, the gameplay is the same as scrabble. that tells hasbro that their product is still relevant to these consumers- which is far from a given, and a great piece of intelligence to have.

their next move should be to sponsor a scrabulous contest and perhaps figure out a way to make scrabulous into a scrabble-branded product- preferably in a way that they can monetize, but that shouldn't be a dealbreaker if they can't figure it out.

bottom line is, if consumers are excited about your product, the worst move you could make it is to squash that enthusiasm.

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