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IESE Insight Imaginarium: Getting Customers to Play Along

At the beginning of the '90s, Felix Tena, an entrepreneur in the field of manufacturing and selling educational toys, noticedthat toys in Spain received the same marketing treatment as any other consumer product. Similar products were sold more and more in mass-merchandising stores; producers engaged in fierce price wars;major advertising campaigns backed the fads, etc. No one seemed, any longer, to take into account the role that toys play in the development of children.
In light of this situation, Tena began to"think up ways of reviving the essence of what a toy is and should be." Soon, Imaginarium emerged. This new business concept is characterized by an integrated business model (the company controls thewhole vertical process from the design to the sale of the toys). Exclusive products (available only in Imaginarium outlets) are sold under the Imaginarium brand name, and toys are targeted at childrenfrom 0 to 9 years old. Price is not the main basis for competition, and specialists in toys and children (juególogas) work as store attendants. Advertising is limited and has a relational context withchildren and parents.
Imaginarium is guided by a clearly defined set of values, culture, and the mission "to make a positive, joyful and creative contribution to the human development of children,worldwide." Therefore, the toys it sells must stimulate the imagination and relationships. For example, children should play with their parents. The toys should not contain cartoon characters. Theyshould be non-sexist, non-racist, and non-violent.
Because it is so different in all these ways, Imaginarium is a success. Not only does it revolutionize the concept of play, it also shatters the lawsgoverning the industry. It has grown at 40 to 50 percent per year, while the rest of the industry has struggled through a major crisis. From one outlet, opened in Zaragoza in November 1992, the...
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