Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is Donald Trump an "ism"?

During my corporate days working with new products and inventors to find a mega-hit, (or at least a game that would justify a multi-million dollar TV promotion budget), there were certain directives offered by the Marketing Department to guide the new product search. I dubbed those directives, "isms". "Isms" were usually light on specifics for a new product's form but rather more suggestive of what to avoid in a game theme as envisioned by our marketers. After all, they had the research on game consumers' pulses as the basis for these "isms".

For inventors, "isms' were cautionary flags on what not to design into their new ideas. A wonderfully unique new game could be judged unsalable and rejected during the marketing selection process simply because the inventor stumbled onto an "ism" and unknowingly designed it into the new game idea.

Examples of "isms"from those years included: "Pirates won't sell". This "ism" prevailed in the days long before Johnny Depp starred in the popular Disney's series, Pirates of the Caribbean. The "ism" "Space won't sell", was wiped away by George Lucas as he created a toy licensing cash cow with his cinematic magic in the Star Wars block busters. An "ism" that may still prevail is "Clowns won't sell". Perhaps clown appearances in too many horror movies makes them less desirable as playthings.

Fast forward to more recent times when I had a neat co-development opportunity on a politically themed game somewhat similar to a former party game titled, "WWJD". Before progressing too far, I ran the idea by a highly respected and experienced game sales executive. Yikes, his reaction was yet another "ism" - "Politics won't sell". It seems a trade buyer's political party bias and the divisive topic of politics for U.S. voters were enough "ism" specifics to squelch the idea.

Today with non-stop news surrounding the 2016 POTUS campaign, we have the surprising emergence of a controversial personality who has made past appearances on mass-market games. Donald Trump was central to the theme of Trump: The Game released in1989 and again in 2004. The strength of his billionaire status and his Apprentice TV show were enough star power to get him onto games that did not deal with politics, Both were more related to Monopoly where acquisition and negotiating of properties generated mega-wealth. Who better than billionaire developer Donald Trump on a board game to let players fantasize about basking in billions? The games did not sell particularly well, and experienced only mediocre ratings from boardgamegeek and gamersalliance. They had short lives and quietly faded from retail store shelves.

Now with Donald clamoring around the prime time political scene, will a toy marketer ignore the "politics-ism" and give Trump another chance in the world of play? Perhaps Trump on board games was not the right fit. President Trump: The Game might make a provoking adult party game. Maybe Donald is better suited to non-game categories. A bloviated gobbledygook spewing action figure seems appropriate. Or a Dashboard Donald novelty with AC air ruffling his iconic mane might find a place on cars everywhere.

Trump's entry into the POTUS political arena will be a true test of the "politics-ism".  In Donald Trump's world, that test will be whether "HIS Politics will or won't sell" to a market much bigger than the one for toys and games.

My recollections of the Milton Bradley 1989 Trump: The Game introduction:

• Great NYC Toy Fair media buzz surrounded Donald's Game. . .

• Showroom exhibit was magnificent, energetic, and eye-popping. . .

• All  showroom personnel were  instructed to talk-up the game. . .

• Some Mid-west customers unfamiliar with Trump caused sales concerns. . .

• Donald's chopper delivered him to our E. Longmeadow office for short visit. . .

• Marketing colleagues started wearing Trump's iconic red ties. . .

• Several colleagues tried to emulate Trump's coif..I kept my close-cropped G.I. style. . .

• Game had strong trade sell-in, weak retail sell-through...didn't become an MB classic!


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