Tim Kilpin – President of Toys, Board Games, Licensing & Entertainment at Hasbro – on how insights fuel innovation

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

Tim, it’s always great to catch up. This is our first interview with you since you joined Hasbro last year. What appealed about the company?
Two big reasons. The first one was the portfolio – and not just from a legacy standpoint, but where we’re able to take them moving forward. Look at TRANSFORMERS. We can talk to multiple generations through some of the 40th anniversary activity; some will be fans of the brand already and some will be kids experiencing TRANSFORMERS for the first time. It’s incredibly powerful and pretty rare. We’re lucky to have multiple examples too, whether its TRANSFORMERS, PEPPA PIG, NERF or MY LITTLE PONY… The opportunity to shape and shepherd that – and to challenge ourselves to come up with fresh ways to make them relevant again and again… Well, that’s enormously fun, satisfying and gratifying.

And big reason number two?
The people. This is a company that has a long history in the industry, and the talent and relationships are so strong. The opportunity to work with a group of people who are as passionate about what they do as these people are— that was a tremendous pull.

People often cite how supportive and engaged you are with the creative and design sides of businesses, everywhere you’ve been. How do you approach cultivating creative communities at big corporate companies?
Well, we’re in an industry that turns thanks to serial creativity. We always need to think about bringing new concepts to life, both across our toys, storytelling and our consumer products. We have to continually challenge ourselves to be innovative and push forward to fill the pipeline. That’s a full-time job! Inspiring, guiding, motivating and directing people to think that way, drive that way and perform that way is an enormous part of the job.

And when I started in this business a long time ago, my first job was a creative job. I was a package copywriter. I was naming characters for Masters of the Universe and writing the mini-comics that went with the characters. I learned a lot about what to do and not to do in a creative role, and as I became a manager over time, I retained that deference and respect for how difficult the role of a creative is. I promised myself that I never wanted to lose touch with that because I saw myself through that lens.

And that extends to the inventor community?
Absolutely. For as long as I’ve done this, the inventor community has been this robust vibrant opportunity for innovation. They exist outside our walls, so they bring in a fresh perspective. Our eyes have to be open to their insights. We’ve done a lot – especially with our Head of IR and External Innovation, Angus Walker – to cultivate those partnerships and find ways to build them. We’re also prepared to be flexible with the inventor community, because it’s been a tough run for them. We need them to be healthy and engaged; that’s really important.

In terms of Hasbro’s portfolio of brands, why do you feel these are exciting IP for licensees to design for – whether you’re a footwear designer, theatre director, a cosmetics creative or a chocolatier!
First of all, we do so much research and work from an insights standpoint. We want to understand what our consumers – children, families and fans – want to see and what gets them excited about these brands. How do our brands intersect with their needs? We do a ton of research on that. So, when we sit down with, say a chocolatier or an apparel partner, we’re having a conversation about why this brand matters to this audience. And for a lot of our brands, like TRANSFORMERS, that covers a lot of constituents and touchpoints. So, we have to grasp that, and explain the universal truth behind why a brand matters. That’s job one.

From there, it’s about inspiring our partners to be creative; to take that insight and push it out into product. Where can they surprise us with things that we may not have thought about?

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

On surprises, how do you stretch a brand without snapping it? How do you surprise authentically?
The team is always challenging themselves to identify where those opportunities might be. Look at what we’ve done with partners like Cakeworthy for FURBY and MY LITTLE PONY, Irregular Choice for TRANSFORMERS or Vampyre Cosmetics’ DUNGEONS & DRAGONS range. Those launches and designs are not necessarily ‘expected’, but they resonate deeply with fans. That’s because we’ve all done our homework around fun, fresh ways for fans to express their affinity for our brands.

Another strong example is what we’ve done with the relaunch of FURBY. If we did our job right – which I feel we did – we managed to find a fresh way to bring that character back, but in a way that was consistent with what made FURBY great to begin with. The look, the feel, the interactivity… And the universal truth there was ‘Release your inner Furb!’ Essentially, express yourself – and that’s a pretty powerful message.

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

I wanted to also talk about Hasbro’s Blueprint 2.0. It was introduced in 2022 and continues to guide the company’s path. Where are we with that currently, and how would you sum up what the strategy focuses on?
There’s no one way to bring a franchise to life. There are multiple entry points, multiple touchpoints and multiple platforms. They’re not all the same, they’re not all created equal, and they all have different reasons for being. We spend a lot of time talking about which platforms inside the Blueprint are ones to activate.

I could go back a number of years to a time when the company might say: “There’s the Blueprint… Do we have the show? Yes, we have the show. Do we have the t-shirt? Yes, we have the t-shirt.” I think it became a box-checking exercise instead of being consumer-led and insights-driven. Today, it’s more about looking at the Blueprint through that lens to determine which parts to activate.

This “Franchise-First” mentality is driven by the wants and needs of our consumers and creating the best branded experiences for fans and families of all walks of life – this strategy allows us to work closely with world-class partners to ultimately fuel growth of our franchise brands.

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

Great answer. And delving into that, what are some of those platform options you evaluate to activate?
Certainly linear storytelling. And, of course, the toys matter. The apparel – and ensuring the apparel works across multiple ages – is really interesting. Digital gaming too. We have a PEPPA PIG app that does incredibly well. It’s a way for someone who loves that world to interact with Peppa on a daily basis.

If we step back and look at that from a business management perspective, you ask yourself: “Which of these things are monetizable? Which of these things are additive? How does this one piece add to the wider brand story?” For example, we’re working on the next iteration of our storytelling for PEPPA PIG in 2025. It’s going to have some great touchpoints that are really relevant based on the insights we have on that audience. There’s maybe five different ways to activate that, several of which we may never have done before.

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

Exciting. We’ll keep an out for those. Now, before we wrap up, what sectors do you see the most exciting potential for brand activations right now?
The first one I’d say is location-based entertainment experiences. We’re seeing amazing success there. The engagement is authentic, the model is working, and the brands are robust and rich enough to support them. Whether it’s a NERF battling experience or a Peppa experience… I’ve been to TRANSFORMERS: THE ARK, a TRANSFORMERS-themed restaurant in Hong Kong, which was amazing.

Tim Kilpin, Hasbro

The other area is digital gaming, whether it’s through partners like Roblox or in our own games that we’re developing or licensing. When you look at things from Baldur’s Gate 3 for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS to MONOPOLY GO! to our PEPPA PIG digital game, all of these are daily means of interactions with our franchises – and they’re meaningful and powerful.

Tim, always a pleasure. Thanks again.

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