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Scrabble's 'smart' above the line move

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 20, 2011
With the recent TVC for the age old and much popular game, Scrabble, Mattel Toys has finally resorted to ATL communication to promote its board games; afaqs! explores the strategy behind it.

Move over PlayStation, old school still rules! One will have good reason to believe so, too, after Mattel Toys India finally decided to take the mainstream advertising route recently, launching the first ever television commercial for its much popular board game, Scrabble.

While internationally, board games have received above the line exposure, it was about time the practice was witnessed in India. After having done extensive BTL (below-the-line) work, particularly since the international version of Scrabble was launched in India, one of the most popular offerings from the Mattel portfolio is being positioned with a tongue-in-cheek remark that one gets smarter playing the game.

Conceptualised by Ogilvy India, the TVC shows twin brothers arriving late for their karate class. As the instructor reprimands, one says that he overslept and is instantly punished. The other brother, portrayed as the smarter one (and a Scrabble player), says he suffers from 'clinomania'. The instructor, who obviously does not know that the word means the desire to sleep more, quickly asks him to rest. Thus, the message conveys that playing Scrabble makes one smarter as it expands one's vocabulary.

"The learning was that Scrabble is not a self starter game and does not feature very high among the kids' favourites, unlike other board games. Therefore, the challenge was to position Scrabble as a fun game that also enhances vocabulary. The TVC clearly communicates that smart kids play Scrabble," says Ajay Mehta, client services director, Ogilvy.

The film has been produced by Old School Films, led by Piyush Ragani. The creative team behind the TVC at Ogilvy include Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia; Sukesh Kumar Nayak and Heeral Akhaury, senior creative directors; and Ragini Singh, copywriter.

Presenting the creative perspective, Chattopadhyay says that it is all about having fun with words, with the subtext being that learning is fun with Scrabble.

Working with a dual message, it appeals to the kids' thirst for fun, while satisfying the parents' desire to teach their children beyond the classroom.

"Infotainment is a much abused portmanteau word. Used in the context of television, it refers to programmes that provide both information and entertainment. However, long before television coined this word, there was a board game that provided infotainment - Scrabble. This delightful game improves children's word power without ever giving them a whiff of its educational value - making not just the children but their parents happy, too," he says.

Nayak says that the piece of communication was the best way to show that education can be fun and not being preachy at the same time.

"We had to make the film such that the kids find it fun and the parents, who are the eventual buyers, see enough reason to justify the expense," he says.

The popularity of the game can well be gauged as the creative team cannot help but delve into their personal associations with Scrabble.

"I think human beings have an innate love of words. It is one of our defining characteristics. Scrabble as a game has stood the test of time. Even in the era of 'gaming', it has relevance and appeal. It is a classic in that sense and merits an ad campaign of its own. I played Scrabble from a very early age. Maybe that is why I am in a job where I work with words today," says Chattopadhyay.

"The more words you know, the smarter you get and this was a great way to demonstrate it. Being a mother of two kids, it has always been a challenge to get them to learn new words. The commercial not only did that, into the bargain, I, too, added some new words to my vocabulary," adds Akhaury.

With Mattel's mainline advertising that has been primarily led by its toys such as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels, among others, Nayak says that a lot of credit also goes to the client, which was brave enough to take the idea forward.

Rahul Bhowmik, head, marketing, Mattel Toys India, tells afaqs! that back in 2003, when the international Scrabble was launched in India, the company had little clue of what to expect from the market.

"We soon found that the appeal of the game cuts across boundaries, age groups and communities. There are the seven year olds learning to play the game and then, you have the Scrabble Association of India, which has the older population enjoying the game, too," says Bhowmik.

"One of the insights was that people tend to perceive the game as something intellectual - something exclusive and not for the masses. The fundamental connect we wanted to focus on was that while the game is rooted in education, it is still about having fun with words and is not an exclusive activity," he adds.

Saying that the game has a huge amount of heritage, he finds very few board games have such developmental value and hence was an obvious choice to take further aggressive steps to push forward.

Adding to the creative team's views, Bhowmik further states that the communication, while being a humble attempt at paying the game a tribute, goes beyond merely appealing to parents and children.

According to him, while parents could chuckle at it thinking of their younger days with the game, children, who are not very familiar with Scrabble, get to know about a game that is fun and goes back a long way.

With television being the lead and the only medium for the campaign, Mattel is leaving no stone unturned. While common perception would expect the films to run extensively on kids' and general entertainment channels, the company is also looking at channels beyond the conventional ones.

"We are on close to 20 channels across kids' channels, GECs, news channels, lifestyle and even niche channels. We have tried to go beyond the usual because the Scrabble playing audience might not just be watching the GECs or cartoons. We understand that. Hence, our chosen mix is fairly robust," says Bhowmik.

Besides the television campaign, Mattel continues to bet big on activation, believing in not just raising awareness but also increasing engagement.

In May 2010, Mattel Toys tied up with Barista Lavazza to launch the first edition of Barista Lavazza Café Scrabble 2010.

The tournament took place across the country, open to all patrons of the store in the age group of 19-35 years, including students and professionals. Mattel had also tied up with book stores such as Odyssey, Crossword, Landmark and Reliance TimeOut for the event.

Bhowmik says that these are excellent opportunities to engage with the consumer. The company also has ongoing school contact programmes.

Not just limited to Scrabble, Mattel also has big plans for the year for the other games in its portfolio, including Uno and Pictionary. Bhowmik, however, refuses to share further details on the same right away.

The media mandate for Mattel is handled by Carat Media.

That's the good word!

afaqs! asked a few experts on their thoughts about the strategy and communication. While critical views were received, all agree that the idea is welcome and rather refreshing.

An impressed Cajetan Vaz, brand consultant, says, "It is a communication well tuned from an execution point of view and a strategy very welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign that I found rather refreshing."

Vaz says that in the current times, when the English language has become as important as never before, games like these need to be pushed with the positioning of being fun, entertaining and yet educational.

Rajesh Sharma, planning head, Mumbai, TBWA India thinks that campaigns such as these were long due in the country.

"It was about time this was done in India. The marketers should have thought of this a long time before. But it is never too late to start," he says.

However, he has a slightly more critical point of view to offer on the film. Although he accepts that the TVC has been well executed, he finds that the idea could have been further sharpened as it has little to offer.

"It is not telling me much about the game. People who already know about Scrabble have the game and are into it already. The children who do not know, on the other hand, are not learning much about Scrabble through this commercial," he remarks.

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