In the two decades I've spent in marketing, I've never personally witnessed the death of a brand. But if I had, I'm thinking it might look something like what is happening with Mattel's BOOMco brand of blasters. BOOMco hit the market with a bang, but appears to be going out with a whimper. It's time to take a closer look at what's happening with this once-formidable blaster line-up, and see if public perceptions are misplaced.
Introduced in 2014, BOOMco is the brand name for a line of dart blasters developed and marketed by Mattel to take on Hasbro's wildly successful Nerf line of blasters. And it was no afterthought. With 3 years of development under its belt, BOOMco hit the market with a product line that was arguably superior to the Nerf product line in several key parameters. We've been following BOOMco since before the product line officially launched, and have been vocal about both their hits and misses. We praised BOOMco darts for being more accurate and more durable than foam darts, and we likewise criticized early BOOMco blasters for lacking triggers, focusing a bit too much on gimmicks, and being too small for older users. The BOOMco design team responded by keeping the aspects we liked, and removing or improving the aspects we didn't. And that resulted in the BOOMco Rapid Madness being named our 2014 Product of the Year, and more recently, the BOOMco Colossal Blitz being considered one of the best blasters ever made.
In short, the BOOMco team did a lot with the brand in a short period of time, and it resulted in a product line that was extremely competitive with anything bearing the Nerf name, and we eagerly looked forward to an expanding BOOMco product line.
But then, something weird happened: BOOMco virtually went silent.
The initial launch of BOOMco was surrounding by aggressive, "extreme sports" style marketing, which included outreach in all of the usual forms of marketing. But by mid-2015, things slowed down dramatically. As of right now, this is the current state of Mattel's online marketing for the BOOMco brand:
- Last official BOOMco Tweet: June, 2015.
- Last official BOOMco Instagram post: June, 2015.
- Last official BOOMco YouTube post: November, 2015.
- Last official BOOMco Facebook post: BOOMco isn't on Facebook.
But the silence wasn't limited to social media. Since roughly mid-2015, BOOMco product introductions seemed muted and sporadic (with little to no fanfare). And suddenly, marketing, design, and PR contacts with whom I'd been communicating for more than a year started to leave for other companies, move to other parts of the company or, at the very least, became unresponsive. For example, the head of US Marketing for Boys was moving off the BOOMco account. The Public Relations manager went to work for Disney. And one member of the two-person "BOOM Brothers" design team left to work for Hasbro. As if to drive home what I was already coming to realize, I was told by the US Marketing Manager in March of 2016 that Mattel has had "a lot of movement in the marketing organization," and I was likewise being given a different marketing contact for her role, as well.
Of course, a shuffling of marketing and design personnel doesn't necessarily mean the brand itself is on the rocks--it really comes down to what products are being released, and when. So what else is on the horizon for BOOMco that we know about? The sweet little BOOMco Tri-Blast pistol has been on Amazon for a little while now. The slam-firing, barrel-rotating BOOMco Slambow was spotted recently on the BOOMco website and Entertainment Earth. Reddit user "NoobRising2" spotted the pump-action BOOMco Rush (a.k.a., BOOMco DoublePunch from this picture the BOOMco team sent us) on a Spanish language site recently. Of course there's also the Halo-licensed models from Mattel's minimalist Toy Fair showing back in February of this year, and we've also seen a few, DC Comics-inspired Wonder Woman and Batman blasters.
And... that's about it: roughly half-a-dozen new models (the Wonder Woman blaster is basically the same as the Slambow), most of which are not yet available for purchase. In contrast, Hasbro revealed more than 20 new Nerf models at Toy Fair alone--several of which could right be considered flagship products--and that's not even counting anything they may be reserving for later in the year.
From what we know then, there are only a handful of BOOMco models coming to market soon, and at least 3 times as many blasters from Nerf on the horizon. And the lack of advertising or social exposure of any sort reinforces the idea that Mattel is no longer committed to the brand. Tie that in with a marketing team reshuffle, and a design team that seems to be down to just one, key member, and it seems as though BOOMco could be on life-support. But that's not what Mattel is saying. In fact, the US Marketing Manager told us the following back in January of 2016:
BOOMco is not being discontinued at retail. With a shift to licensed blasters like Halo, retailers are reshuffling their BOOMco lines, with some focusing more on core Boomco and others more on licensed. Boomco, both licensed and mainline/core, are also available online across Walmart, Target and TRU, as well as Amazon. Expect new licenses to support BOOMco as we move into 2016 and beyond.
Being a bit wary of the "official" corporate line regarding the matter, I went to the lead designer of Mattel's BOOMco products and he likewise told me, "we ain't dead yet." And we sure hope he's right. Mattel did something incredible with BOOMco, in the sense that in just a few short years, they produced a line of products that was more than capable of taking on Nerf at its own game--and they gained a small but vocal fan-base in the process (including several members of the hard-core Nerf fan community). But BOOMco can't let off the gas pedal if they hope to remain competitive in the category--Nerf is too well-known, and has too much retailer support to let a handful of products carry the line.
Mattel needs to support BOOMco with consistent, bold marketing, and most importantly, they need a steady stream of kick-butt products. With BOOMco, Mattel has the brand, the blasters, and the talent to be every bit the Nerf challenger they originally aspired to be. But if they don't start showing-up in a major way soon--and make their presence known in both products and marketing--we may well be seeing that last hurrah for BOOMco. We sure hope they prove us wrong.