Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois.  This week looks at WotC's marketing of its organized play programs.

It’s D&D Encounters and Friday Night Magic, Not Wizards Play Network.

I fear Wizards of the Coast has made a major mistake for the company.

Not giving up the license for the Star Wars line.
Not killing off HeroScape.
Not even ending the Player Rewards program.

Nope, the mistake I see the company making is the increased emphasis put on the Wizard’s Play Network as the name for its organized play program.  Case in point, we just received a promotional kit from WotC containing a banner, table tents with wipe off spaces for numbers, and window and counter clings.  Very nice promotional items and we have already put most of them into use.  However, the design reduces the D&D and Magic: The Gathering logos to a relatively tiny size and pushes them to the corners.  Smack dab in the center, dwarfing the both of the logos of products on which the company relies for its sales, appears the logo for the Wizards Play Network.  Not a good trend.  The game brands need the emphasis, not the name of the network comprising WotC’s organized play program.

Marketing expert Al Ries points this out in detail in his presentation on the 'Rise and Fall of the Razr' (you can find it on YouTube by searching for “Ries Report”).  You may remember the Razr, the first ultra slim phone and fastest selling consumer electronic device in history (50 million units in 18 months, it took the iPhone 24 months to sell the same number).  Motorola, the manufacturer, had a huge hit on its hands.  So what does the company do?  Launch a huge ad campaign based around “HelloMoto,” promoting the company name instead of the Razr brand.  What happens?  What should have stayed a dominant brand (at one time 60% market share) got marginalized a couple of years later upon the release of the iPhone.  If Motorola had spend the money developing the brand instead of working to promote the company, it could have remained a dominant player in the cell phone market, instead of dropping to number four, leaving it an also ran in terms of cell and smart phone sales.  As Ries points out, customers buy the product.  They do not buy the company.  Companies need to allocate promotional dollars to developing the product brands, not the company’s brand.

I’m afraid WotC will make the same mistake with its Wizards Play program, diverting scarce resources into promoting the program rather than the company’s core brands.  If WotC wants to refer to Wizards Play in internal communications or in discussions with stores, that’s fine, but don’t spend time and money promoting WP to customers.  They don’t care. They’re looking to see if a store carries Magic or Axis & Allies or if it runs Friday Night Magic or D&D Encounters.  Without a major promotional push by WotC, identifying events as Wizards Play events won’t mean anything to customers, whereas they already recognize Friday Night Magic and D&D Encounters.  Money spent promoting the Wizards Play Network as the overall brand for those events serves no useful purpose from a consumer standpoint and could be much better spent promoting the two brands individually, launching a new product brand or cross promoting the two brands on promotional material.  That cool promotional material WotC sent out mentioned earlier?  How’s about the two brand names on it writ large with the WP logo much reduced or even removed, thus promoting WotC’s products, rather than the program name.  Promote the brand, not the program.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely  those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of