With Sales Soft, Nerf Uses Its Head

A boy narrator for the first Nerf commercial in 1974 acted out his fantasy of playing in a real football game.

"They hike it, and I'm off," he said, mimicking the movements of a receiver. " . . . The QB lets it go. Beautiful spiral. The crowds go nuts. The girls are screaming my name, 'Billy, Billy.' I go for it. It's dropping in my hands, and then I notice--it's not a Nerf. Forget it, I quit."

After that memorable campaign, the Nerf spots created by New York-based Grey Advertising continued the tradition of using a child to represent the brand. Nerf's 1993 choice, a feisty boy who touted the excitement of playing Nerf games, was among the most popular.

After abandoning the "spokeskid" concept last year, Hasbro Inc. saw its sales of Nerf toys turn sluggish. That sent executives back to the archives to figure out what made past ads so effective.

"The most successful spots we had were the ones where we had a likable kid with a great attitude and a sense of humor talking about Nerf," said Duncan Billing, Hasbro's senior vice president of global brand development.

Although Nerf's new campaign, launched this month, relies on a spokeskid, it has been updated for the 1990s: The boy's head is disembodied when it appears on screen. Nerf is still evaluating whether its edgy "spokeshead" is a success.

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