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.