New My Little Pony & Transformers Unveiled at HasCon 2017

HasCon, Hasbro’s first ever convention included many special events, panels, and autograph sessions with celebrities, artists, and athletes. But at the heart of the show is the toys upon which Hasbro has built its empire. When speaking with staff members, their commitment and passion for the stories and characters built around this merchandise is clearly self-evident. Convention Scene spoke with managers for both My Little Pony (MLP) and Transformers, two of the company’s most stalwart brands.

As both of these properties are entering their fourth decade, the obvious question is how do they stay fresh and remain relevant for generations of fans. Tyla Bucher (Vice President of Global Brand Strategy & Marketing, My Little Pony) explained it thusly, “One of the responsibilities of the brand owner is to make sure that the brand always feels new and different and timely and really all of it starts with our show and the content. We have our main six ponies that are pretty consistent as far as cast go but they’re always having new adventures, meeting new friends, and the way that our writers write them and their personalities is so timely that there’s something about that content that continues enthusiasm and engagement around the brand. We bring that to life on the product side so that whatever you see on the show you experience when you take it home.”

Ben Montano (Director of Brand Marketing, Transformers) said, “Whether it’s Robots in Disguise now or Rescue Bots or the movie universe to G1, Optimus Prime still stands for loyalty and dignity but he’s a little weathered or a different iteration or he may be from a time before the war. That’s where the fun has been, it’s how can we bring those parts of their story to life in a video game or a new animated series.”

As Hasbro continues to expand its brand across multimedia platforms, with animation, feature films, video games, and comic books, the staff emphasized that product is a key component to keeping the story cohesive and continuity intact. “It’s a seamless dialogue,” said Montano, “What’s fun is that I get to work a lot with our partners whether it’s Paramount Studios, Hasbro Studios, or Polygon for Robots in Disguise and those partnerships are great; we all understand that together we make better story.”

Bucher reiterated this sentiment, “Brand integrity and continuity is something that we focus on and I have people on the team. We’re really connected everyone who works on the brand so even though Pony touches on a lot of different businesses all those team are really connected because they want to be linked to the story and the right way.”

MLP in particular has seen a huge resurgence in the past few year with the launch of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. “The content is really what attracts our fans, and we have fans of all ages and genders,” said Bucher, “The timing of the show in 2010, or G4 as people call it, was perfect for people who remembered it from the 80s and now may or may not have kids that they are introducing to the brand, both girls and boys.”

One of the big developments underway right for MLP is the brand new feature film set to debut next month. “We have a movie coming out in five weeks so everything that we’re doing now is driving towards generating excitement for that which is a huge thing for our brand it’s such an exciting thing,” said Bucher “The Ponies are going on an adventure where they leave the Equestria for the first time which is a huge thing if you’re a fan and if you’re not it doesn’t matter because you still get introduced to these Ponies are having a really, really fun adventure. The new form factors are we have sea Ponies we have hippogriffs, we have a mysterious Pony with a broken horn so we’re taking the characters and the worlds of the brand in all these really different directions.”

On the Transformers side, Hasbro has rolled out a new line called Power of the Primes, which allows fans to combine multiple Transformers into a new, unique figure. “One of the things we thought would be magical would be to pay off the idea that a mortal Transformer, like Hot Rod, changing into a Prime, or the thirteenth Prime specifically once they get the Matrix of Leadership,” said John Warden (Design Manager, Transformers) “It’s a fun and challenging transformation and something we’ve never tried before. And as a result where fans are going to get a cool new version of Optimus Prime. So I think in a lot of ways it’s taking the D.N.A. of the character and then adding something that’s revolutionary and fun that plays homage to something that fans know about but have never experienced before in toy.”

Finally both teams credited the passion and savviness of their fans as motivation to create a better product. “Our fanbase is really smart and really engaged with the brand so if you go off the rails they’ll notice that and they’ll call you on it so we try really hard to make sure that all of our story lines and our characters and our Backstory are tied together in a way that if you’re the consumer it seamless,” said Bucher.” Warden stated, “Lots of new stuff on the horizon and I just wanted to say a big thank you out to the fans in your audience. Thank you for being Transformers fans, you inspire us and we’ll keep trying to bring awesome toys for you.”

HasCon Is More Than Meets the Eye

This year Hasbro debuted the inaugural HasCon, a “FANmily” event in which the popular toy and gaming company invited fans to get an in-depth look at their latest products, purchase exclusive collectibles, rub elbows with celebrities, and indulge in their passion for the many brands represented.

The initial impression that HasCon was very different from most public conventions in that most of the main exhibition hall was not devoted to vendors and retailers, aside from the Hasbro booths selling convention exclusives. Instead, there were large pavilions dedicated to the variety of Hasbro brands such as Transformers, My Little Pony, GI Joe, Nerf, and Magic: The Gathering as well license partners like Star Wars and Marvel. Each area was filled with latest toys and games which staff members encouraged attendees to play with. Additionally, they showcased movie props, original design and packaging artwork, and interactive displays.

Located at the Rhode Island Convention Center, directly across the street from Hasbro’s global headquarters, many (if not all) of the staff on hand were employees of the company who were friendly, engaging, and enthusiastic to talk about their work with attendees and show off their latest projects. “We know that we have such a vested audience and so many brands so why don’t we open up our doors and let in everybody in who would love a peek behind the curtain,” said Tyla Bucher (Vice President of Global Brand Strategy & Marketing, My Little Pony), “It’s not so much driving the brand forward as much as it is about creating another point of connection with consumers and fans.”

John Warden (Design Manager, Transformers) echoed this sentiment, “Any chance to actually meet the not just the designers the marketing team like we normally would get at a San Diego Comic Con but also the engineering team, the packaging team, copywriters… We’re all part of the big Hasbro family and really fans have an opportunity to see everything that makes the brand work.”

Another marked difference is that HasCon was incredibly family-friendly with games and activities geared toward children as well as adult fans. There were stylists on hand to give attendees My Little Pony and Troll-themed makeovers, a Nerf shooting gallery to demo their entire collection, several cosplayers in costume to interact with fans and pose for photos, and, naturally, the latest toys. While it may seem obvious to the layperson, the fact of the matter is that most large conventions are geared toward adult fans with kid-oriented events and exhibits being an afterthought, if they are included at all.

“Obviously the big idea around HasCon,” said Ben Montano (Director of Brand Marketing, Transformers), “is to bring all families together, not just the super fan or a collector but also fans who want to bring their kids into a property or they’re already sharing a love of. For Hasbro to be able to do that, not just for fans of Transformers but My Little Pony, Magic the Gathering, that’s absolutely insane and mind blowing and we’ve seen in the last day and a half now fans and families coming in and their kids split off one way and they go another and everyone has something to appreciate and enjoy.”

Shane Wilhelmsen, a local fan and veteran of many comic conventions across the United States, attended HasCon on Friday accompanied by his two-year old daughter. “Honestly, when I bought our passes a few months ago I didn’t have a very clear idea what to expect or how well she would handle the whole experience,” said Wilhelmsen via email, “I had a general sense of what brands were going to be there based on the information on their website, but wasn’t sure what was going to have its own booth, or what sort of experiences were going to be there beyond panels (which I knew she wasn’t going to want to sit through).” However, his fears were soon alleviated as his daughter enjoyed playing with Mr. Potato Head toys, participating in a singalong with Sesame Street’s Elmo and Abby Cadabby, and meeting the Trolls cosplayers at their booth which Wilhelmsen cited as her favorite part of the convention. “She had an amazing time! She was well-behaved and totally engaged from the time we got there to pick up our badges in the morning until we had to leave at 5:00 PM.”

Overall, the first HasCon was a rousing success. There were certainly some organizational hiccups but those occur at any show, and certainly for an initial launch it’s to be expected. But the level of fan-engagement and excitement was clearly evident from top to bottom and fans are sure to want to come back next year to see what new excitement Hasbro has in store.