Hasbro CEO on Idea Generation & How Innovation is Structured

By Patricia Riedman Yeager |  September 19, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series covering our interview with Hasbro Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner, from our Fall 2018 magazine. To receive a free copy, make sure we have your address by filling out this form.

In the first part of the series, Goldner discusses the importance of storytelling, how to think globally, and taking a “digital-first” approach. 

InnoLead: Hasbro has tried several idea-mining techniques, from hackathons to a crowdfunding collaboration with third-party provider Indiegogo. Would you elaborate on what you’ve done and what’s currently working for you?

Brian Goldner: We do all these things. … We just did a crowdsource product for Star Wars through our HasLab (, which was a $500 Jabba the Hutt Sail Barge. (From “Return of the Jedi,” when Leia and Luke overtake Jabba’s sail barge on Tatooine.) It’s always a fan favorite scene, and we realized the only way to make a product that would be fully rendered and the size and scale and scope that we hoped to create would be to involve the fans. We decided to make a $500 product that’s got every detail; it’s a work of art. It also can either be for play or display. And we then went out to fans and said, “If we can get 5,000 of you to sign up, we’ll make the product.” In fact, we got almost twice as many people to [commit.]

And then we took them through the journey of what it was to create [it.] We showed them the blueprints, and we created a coffee table book that’s going out to people who have signed up. They get taken along the journey of designing the product, of rendering the product, building the product, manufacturing the product, and then getting the product to them. That’s literally, in a microcosm, an execution of the brand blueprint, where you are connecting to characters, story insight, modern digital commerce, and you’re enthralling and delighting your most ardent fans by bringing them along as your co-conspirator. In essence, that’s the nature of our business.Executing that blueprint for Mr. Potato Head probably wouldn’t work as well, and that’s why the blueprint that every brand leader executes is based on the insights and the understanding of their brand and its role in a consumer’s life. It’s not even about price point. It’s about play pattern, it’s about age of the audience, it’s about so many things that come into play, and that’s why the consumer insights that we gain and the investment work. We have a team called the GCI team [Global Consumer Insight] Team. It has been an area we’ve been investing in since 2000, when we restructured the way we look at the business. I came on board in 2000 and we’ve really started to take on audiences and consumers in a rather thoughtful way.

IL: Hasbro last year established a similar team, called “Quick Strike,” hoping to turn social media trends such as viral videos into marketable games. Could you elaborate on how that’s going?

Goldner: I’m going to give you an example of the latest one. It’s called The Lost Kitties. It’s off to a great start—we’ve literally just launched it. We found a social media trend online where people were making Play-Doh eggs. They take a plastic Easter egg shell. Before they go on the camera, they put something inside it and they cover the egg with Play-Doh and then they unwrap the egg on their video and open it to reveal whatever surprise is inside. And when I tell you there are hundreds of thousands of these videos online, I’m not exaggerating. And then there are millions of views of these videos. So we took that insight and created something called Lost Kitties. It’s sold in a package that looks like a little milk carton. Inside of that package is “milk,” which is a type of dough. You dig through the dough once you open the package and you find the Lost Kitties and their accessories. … The fun is collecting all the kitties, digging through the dough and then sharing what you’ve discovered, both the process of unboxing, as well as sharing what you’ve discovered and filling out your collection. …We went from idea to marketplace in less than six months. That’s the way Quick Strike works.

Similarly, we saw a grandfather and grandson playing this little game called Pie Face. [Pie Face was launched in 2014 by a British company called Rocket Games.] It was basically like a little spinner that said how many times you could click a wheel — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The wheel had a hand on it, and the hand was filled with whipped cream. You had to put your face inside a frame and then you had to spin the spinner and whatever number you got, you had to click that many clicks. There’s a chance the hand would release and the whipped cream would go into your face. And of course the winner was the one who survived by not getting the pie in the face. And what’s so fun about it is that it’s fun to play, but it’s also fun to share. [Hasbro bought the rights to the game in May 2015.] What we find today is that our social media-oriented games are really compelling to everyone, and that 50 percent of people who play one of our social media-oriented games also make a video and post it online. …That’s one of the criteria we apply to Quick Strike. It’s not just fun to play; it’s fun to share.

IL: How does innovation dovetail with the company’s mission?

Goldner: It’s really based on … the mantra of the company, which is a deep-seated love of ideas and an innate curiosity. So we apply that curiosity to everything. If we don’t understand a business, learn about it. If we know a little about it, we want to know more. Once we know more, we build a skillset internally; once we have that skillset we begin to profitably experiment, test, and learn. Once we’ve tested and learned, we expand. And that’s how the process of innovation works at the company.

IL:  How is innovation structured at Hasbro?

Goldner: We use a multi-level approach. It’s oriented both by time-to-market as well as by brand, as well as by audience. Let me explain.

IL:  How is innovation structured at Hasbro?

1. The chronology of time-to-market means we’re looking at ideas in a technological format that could be three-to-five years out. That might mean we’re working on AR (augmented Reality), MR (mixed reality), VR (virtual reality) and looking at what the latest and greatest techniques and technologies could provide us in the area of play and immersive experiences. … We might not even know the brand it’s going into yet. It’s bringing in great technologies and looking at the ways to connect through play patterns within our company.

2. We’re also working with incredible partners in the area of retail. It used to be retail was maybe viewed by everyone but us as a sleepy area of development, but in fact our retail partners are some of the most technologically-savvy people on Earth. They’re also developing technologies and techniques for how people want to consume content and connect that to a shopping experience…

3. For long-range types of technologies, we also look at long-range plans within brands. Each brand leader … will go out three-plus years and look at…how they see the future of play and storytelling. And then we’ll build product ideas, along the lines for each brand. As we get closer and closer to market, those ideas get more fully formed, and then … literally take form in a three-dimensional model, and then we’ll go into some kind of research; we’ll build story around it. … And then it ultimately becomes a packaged product for sale, or it might become an app that might be offered to a consumer or it might be a mobile game. Because we’re not just developing analog products, we’re developing digital ones.

If we don’t understand a business, learn about it. … Once we know more, we build a skillset internally; once we have that skillset we begin to profitably experiment, test, and learn. … [Then] we expand.

— Brian Goldner, Hasbro CEO

IL: How does innovation fall into different job responsibilities?

Goldner: There’s no innovation director, but there are specific teams. Innovation is not an add-on to anyone’s job. It’s their job, and it’s embedded into everything we do. From there, we have some very unique teams that help to encourage certain kinds of connectivity.

One team is what we call the iPlay team, which is connecting digital and analog play. Their whole goal is how to make that play move from a Transformers robot to an online app, from a virtual gaming experience to an analog play experience; and they’re connecting technologies that enable the child or fan to play with a robot and transform it. By transforming the robot in real time you’re transforming your character in a digital environment.

We then have a team that takes our brands to camp. We have something called Camp Nah-Paw-Tuckey. (It’s a play on Pawtucket.) It’s where we’ll take a brand that we feel is under-represented in the market and we take it to camp. We have a cross–functional team look at that brand and take it apart and then bring us back what they would do if it were just up to them. We recently went through that process with Baby Alive, where it was a brand that was doing OK, but it wasn’t really setting the world on fire.

We took it to camp, and they came back with a whole host of recommendations a few years ago. Now Baby Alive is one of our franchise brands, which means we see it as having the potential to be hundreds of millions of dollars in size, and global. That came as a result of that team cross-functionally looking at the brand differently, and they brought us a whole host of recommendations from product to marketing to distribution to experiences that unlocked a whole new way to think about the brand.

Camp [is] a place they literally go outside the office, in one of our other offices. The team meets separately from the rest of the company. … The reason we call it camp is because we typically pick one brand, and we do it over the summer months. We have a whole host of other teams.

We have a team working on new technologies out of our Wizards of the Coast offices, located in Seattle because of the technology hub that’s there. They’re working on VR and AR and MR products for our business.

We have outside resources. We have a group of people that go around the world and talk to inventors and technology partners. We have a global online team that’s working with our best online retail partners who are forming all kinds of new techniques in voice-enabled technology and other digital technologies. We’re seeing how to embed those into our products. We’ve done that with some of our games. We have voice-enabled games now with Simon, and Trivial Pursuit was done with a voice-enabled technology so you can play with Alexa.

There’s a whole host of teams I haven’t even talked about working on more proprietary things that I wouldn’t share to how we approach the business. … I’d say there are a dozen different approaches we’re taking to innovation, and I’ve described three or four of them, but there are probably another six or seven ways we’re looking at innovation through the lens of our audience and consumer.IL: How do you accept employee ideas from across the company?

Goldner: We have a Grand Idea Fair at the company where everybody gets to come up with innovation, and we look at everyone’s idea because we think ideas can come from anywhere. Any employee can show their ideas at our Grand Idea Fair. We’re all involved, myself included, in looking at the ideas and picking ones. And most years there’s something that goes into our product lines directly from our broad population of employees.

One of my favorite [approaches] … we call “Bring out your Dead.” So, what happens in any great innovation-oriented company is you bring out an idea whose time has not come yet, but everyone thinks is a great idea. The architect of that idea might say, “Maybe not today, but someday.” We’ll occasionally say to people, “Bring out your dead.” So we look at ideas we may have come up with in the past few years … They show it to us again in light of the way the consumers are looking at the world, because of the technology that’s now available, because there’s a way to tell a story that we hadn’t had before. Whatever it might be — a new interpretation. We want to make sure that idea still gets its opportunity in this contemporary setting.

From my experience with the “Transformers” movies — we couldn’t have produced the movie we produced until 2007 because the techniques we applied to that movie and the story we told, and how real those cars and those robots looked on that screen, the technology just wasn’t available until that time. If you’d tried to make that movie 10 years earlier, it wouldn’t have looked the way it looked and it probably wouldn’t have performed the way it performed because the technology hadn’t developed to such an extent.

This is part two of three of our interview with Hasbro Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner.