Scrabble, Scrabulous and Facebook

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Marketing in the Digital Age

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Location: London, United Kingdom
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This blog has been active since: 2007, Feb
Post: Scrabble, Scrabulous and Facebook /15 February 2008

Scrabble, Scrabulous and Facebook

It has amazed me that Hasbro and Mattel have demanded the removal of Scrabulous, the online Scrabble application, from Facebook. Scrabulous was a social marketer's dream; many agencies spend endless hours developing Facebook applications hoping to catch a big social media wave, but very few ever make it. The "stars" reach more than 500,000 active users. Scrabulous was one of that elite group; it reached over 650,000.

So, given that Scrabulous was effectively a social marketing campaign to die for, why did Hasbro and Mattel ban it? Their lawyers have argued copyright was being infringed. Executives at these leading toy companies probably felt that players playing Scrabulous would dent or damage sales of the original Scrabble board game.

Let's not forget that before all this happened, Scrabble was a tired brand. It was a fifties product owned by an over fifties audience. It needed a shot in the arm. I can just imagine the agency brainstorm convened to resurrect the brand. It might go something like this:

Q. What's the business problem?
A. Sales are going down

Q. Why?
A. Scrabble is getting old. The players who bought it in the 60's and 70's are either dead or in retirement.

Q. What shall we do?
A. Let's attract a new, younger audience and show them what fun Scrabble can be.

Q. How do we do that?
A. Well younger and educated audiences are piling into social networking sites like Facebook. Ideally we'd have an effective social marketing campaign on Facebook.

Playing the Facebook application would raise both awareness and consideration of the traditional board game amongst those consumers who'd either forgotten about it and even those who'd never heard of it. There's a very good chance that with the game back on peoples' radar screens and shopping lists, sales would have increased.

It's worth observing that Scrabble has been the beneficiary of outstanding good fortune before. Launch sales back in the 1950's were initially sluggish until the Chairman of Macy's noticed that the store didn't stock the game and placed a bulk order in 1952. Sales then took off. Scrabulous was a chance of similar magnitude.

The Scrabulous Facebook application was one of the best free gifts ever given to a brand. After all, what other ways are there to reach that highly elusive younger and educated target audience free of charge and with such potent credibility? It could have been Scrabble's second coming.

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