Published: September 12, 2006
THE familiar tokens from the Monopoly board game are getting a modern — and, some might say, mercenary — makeover.
An updated edition of the venerable game, scheduled to be introduced on Thursday, will include tokens that are styled after name-brand products. Five of the eight tokens in the new Monopoly Here and Now edition will be branded, offering game players the chance to be represented by miniature versions of a Toyota Prius hybrid car, an order of McDonald’s French fries, a New Balance running shoe, a cup of Starbucks coffee or a Motorola Razr cellphone.
Those who consider playing games to be too serious to be commercialized need not fret. The maker of Monopoly, Hasbro, says that toy stores, discount stores and other retail outlets will continue to sell the original edition of the game, based on the classic version brought out by Parker Brothers in 1935, alongside the new edition.
The 11 tokens in the classic version — including the battleship, cannon, iron, shoe, thimble and top hat — will remain unchanged.
The branded tokens are part of a reinvention of Monopoly that Hasbro executives hope will offer consumers modernized references more relevant to them than the elements of the game that date to the Great Depression.
For instance, rather than collecting $200 each time Go is passed, in the new edition the player collects $2 million. The four railroads on the Monopoly board — B&O, Pennsylvania, Reading and Short Line — will be supplanted by the country’s four busiest airports: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles and O’Hare in Chicago.
And the properties of Atlantic City that compose the game board will make way for real estate from Boston and Washington to Las Vegas and Hollywood.
“So much of American pop culture today is represented by products that people use every day,” Mark Blecher, senior vice president for marketing at the Hasbro Games unit of Hasbro, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“We thought, let’s try to get iconography that’s much more relevant to people today,” he added.
The new tokens are indicative of a marketing trend known as branded entertainment, in which products are woven into the contents of popular culture including the plots of movies, television shows and novels; song lyrics; and video games.
Until now, there has been relatively little evidence of commercial trappings in traditional board games like Monopoly. The arrival of such elements worries some experts.
“It’s part of the insinuation of the commercial culture into every aspect of our lives,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director at Commercial Alert, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Ore., that seeks to curtail what it deems to be creeping commercialization.
The coming of branded tokens “turns Monopoly into a giant advertisement,” Mr. Ruskin said. “It’s a shame Hasbro has chosen to go this low road.”
Unlike advertisers that typically pay to be included in branded-entertainment projects, the five marketers whose products are becoming branded tokens did not ask Hasbro to be included in the new edition nor did they pay Hasbro a fee, Mr. Blecher said.
Rather, he said, the company sought out the marketers because their products will help the new version offer “a representation of America in the 21st century.”
“We’re recasting the entire game as if we were creating it today,” Mr. Blecher said.
•For many years, Hasbro has sold special themed versions of Monopoly with the boards, tokens and other contents changed to salute films like “Star Wars,” TV series like “The Simpsons” and sports teams like the Boston Red Sox. For example, the Red Sox edition had tokens shaped like tiny baseball caps.
But the themed editions are sold only in limited quantities, Mr. Blecher said, unlike the Here and Now edition, which is intended to be a mainstream product.
Although Hasbro does not discuss specific sales figures, Mr. Blecher said, the original version of Monopoly sells “several million copies in the United States every year.” Hasbro expects the new version to also sell millions of copies a year, he added, and expects only “a minor amount of cannibalization” of sales of the vintage version.
Monopoly is considered the most popular board game ever, with more than 250 million copies sold.
The Here and Now edition will cost about $30, Mr. Blecher said, compared with $12 to $20 for the original edition. A multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to promote the new version is scheduled to begin this week, he added.
Marketers chosen by Hasbro to be part of the new edition said they were not worried about perceptions that their inclusion would commercialize the game.
“We see a lot of products that are No. 1 in their categories became part of the consumer lexicon and culture,” said Brian O’Mara, senior director for United States marketing at the McDonald’s USA division of the McDonald’s Corporation in Oak Brook, Ill.