Marketing Lessons from My Little Pony™ and SimCity™

Hasbro decided a while ago to dust off their old My Little Pony franchise and update it with a new cartoon series featuring new characters, story and good animation.

The show has been a tremendous success with two demographics: small girls 6 to 12-years-old and 20 to 30-year-old men.

I’m not kidding. Bronies (brother + ponies) form one of the most important market audiences for the show. And more importantly from a marketing point of view, they have money and they’re not afraid to spend it on all things My Little Pony.

Hasbro is dealing with it just fine my little brony

I’m not talking about a toy or two. I’m talking about a wide-scale phenomenon. There are now such things as My Little Pony conventions, where grown men (and women) get together to exchange toys, calendars, cards, comic books, magazines, etc. Of course, like all conventions of this type, there’s a lot of cosplay and hours of discussion about which pony is better (it’s Pinkie Pie). Frat boys have even come up with My Little Pony drinking games, although I don’t recommend playing them if you’re watching the show along with little girls. They may outdrink you.

On the other hand, what could be more representative of 20 to 30-year-old-males than video games (well, aside from T&A, beer and sports)?

Of course, these little ponies might be a factor in increased popularity

There are some games that are clearly for children, some for children and adults and then some for adults only. Not all of games designed for adults are violent or sexual, but they imply more strategy and complexity than what a child can handle, for example simulators like SimCity.

You may be aware that the latest version of SimCity tanked, and it tanked badly. How badly? So badly that it earned Electronic Arts the Worst Company of the Year Award for the second year in a row. To the complete surprise of nobody, EA’s CEO John Riccitello resigned soon after. There’s nothing like making your company’s stock price plummet to make you want to spend more quality time with your family.

Whole articles have been written about both the success of My Little Pony and the failure of SimCity, but I believe these two stories are just two sides of the same coin. If you pay attention to what Hasbro did right and Electronic Arts did wrong, then you can get a few tips that will make your own product more successful.

Here are what I believe are the lessons that you can learn from My Little Pony and SimCity

 1.- Deliver a good product, not crap

This should be obvious, right? I mean, in this era everyone knows that if you sell a product, it should be good. In fact, it should be beyond good. It should be top-notch, right? Right?

If you ask grown men why they like My Little Pony, the most common answer you’ll get is “because it’s good.” And good for a cartoon show means good animation, good characters (and character development), good plot, good music, good voice acting and good dialog. My Little Pony scores very high in all of those categories.

SimCity not only failed to live up to the hype it created, but delivered a game with terrible gameplay. To make matters worse, they forced players to connect to EA’s servers in order to play. This wouldn’t be as bad if SimCity weren’t a SINGLE PLAYER game. This means that you can’t play the game now if you have no Internet, like when you’re traveling, or if the servers aren’t working or don’t have enough capacity for everyone as anyone who tried to play the game during the days following launch day experienced.

Also, you can’t save and load your city in the way players were used to. So, your city will be saved only once: in the state you leave it in when you log out and you can only restart from that point. And that’s only IF the servers don’t crash in the meantime and delete your city.

Finally, they removed several features that made previous versions of SimCity fun and the size of cities were reduced because apparently players who enjoy something always demand less of it.

The players returned the favor by leaving in droves. Therefore, if you want to succeed in your market, the old formula is still the best formula.

2.- Listen to your fanbase

As My Little Pony developed more and more fans, they started to gather and talk about their new favorite show on forums, blogs, vlogs and other venues. Hasbro found out about this and decided to listen to the fans and actually give them what they wanted. For example, they included fan-made material into the show.

Because of fan requests, the quality of the animation got better with each season. In addition, they incorporated fanon (plots devised by fans actually becoming canon), memes, and jokes that only adult fans can understand. If fans demanded a change or they created something that became popular, Hasbro often obliged.

Fan boys fled SimCity for greener pastures

EA, on the other hand, decided to incorporate restricting features despite the fact they’re unpopular and  fans considered them to be a sneaky way to transform a product purchase into a monthly subscription that may disappear entirely at the discretion of EA. This was by far the most common complaint about the game BEFORE it was launched. It doesn’t come as any surprise that fans were upset when their fears were confirmed.

Not only are customers right, they can actually help direct the future success of your product.

3.- Be original, in a smart way

My Little Pony’s latest generation, titled “Friendship Is Magic” is very different from previous incarnations. Not only is the overall quality of the show  better, but there are many new elements that elevate the show to great. One of them is that the cast of characters has strongly-defined personalities. Another is that while most of the characters are females, they aren’t worried about boys and fashion and they are adventurous and sympathetic. This not only provides better role models for girls but also make for more interesting characters.

SimCity on the other hand tried to be innovative in a bad way, and mostly by undoing what had worked so well in the past. Previous popular features like bulldozing, subways, and you know, SAVING and LOADING were absent. Instead, they went with new features that they knew beforehand gamers didn’t like.

Former fans flame SimCity

It pays to be different, if you do it right and don’t break what isn’t broken.

4.- Pleased customers bring in more customers and vice versa

Ok, if you’re not a brony, chances are you haven’t seen many commercials about My Little Pony or heard about it at all. Despite the popularity of the show, you’re not going to see one of its commercials during the Superbowl. In fact, the My Little Pony phenomenon is still unknown among non-bronies.

So how did it spread from a person to another?

It turns out that bronies enroll other bronies. They talk about the show on their blogs, on their videos, on forums, on Facebook and of course, with their friends. Then, other people start to watch the show because they want to know what the deal is or they are forced to watch by their zealous friends. And because the show is good, many of them become fans as well and then they start to enroll other people.

What happens when customers get a bad product? They warn other people against it. They complain about it in social media, they write bad reviews in specialized sites, and they tell their friends. Anyone reading SimCity customer reviews isn’t going to feel more inclined to buy it.

So, good and bad products not only have an impact on the customers who buy them, but also on the people who didn’t and who might (or might not) become your future costumers.

In the information technology era, word-of-mouth’s power is amplified a thousand-fold.

Disappointed Fan City is more like it

5.- Awards and experts are meaningless if they are not backed-up by real popularity

After all this, you wouldn’t expect SimCity to win any awards, would you? Just like you wouldn’t have expected Waterworld to win an Oscar. Well, it turns out it did. It won Gamescom’s “Best PC Game” award. Critics initially praised the game.

How is this possible? Because they played the game before general release. In addition, “experts” and “critics” are pressured by companies not to give bad ratings to their products. If they do, well, then say good-bye to advertisements and free before-release demos. You can see this in Metacritics, where scores of critics and general users are kept separate. Critics rate the game 6.4 out of 10. Users only 2 out of 10.

My Little Pony was nominated for several awards, and has won none. Yet, you hear about conventions and toys and cards and t-shirts and cosplay. On the other hand, nobody has released a SimCity keyboard or guide.

Unsurprisingly, people trust their friends and peers more than so-called experts.

These lessons seem to be very basic, but apparently, even big, experienced companies seem to forget them.

When not busy mixing his whites with colors, Flippy works as a writer, translator, and language teacher. In his free time, he plays video games, takes photos, and writes funny stuff. You can find his role playing book for parents and bronies, Tiny Horsies, the RPG, published by Relentlessly Creative Books on Amazon.com.

©2013, all rights reserved
published with permission of the author

Flippy is such a nerd that he even uses gamer techniques to create whole new religions from scratch.

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