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Ponies, ponies everywhere!  From the toys that line the aisles of department stores to the large conventions where people dress up like their favorite, colorful crusader of friendship and magic, it’s impressive that this brand from the ‘80s is making such an impact today. It’s not just the toys and the addictive cartoon that created this prosperous age of pony, but the audience surrounding it, proving once again that audience is magic when it comes to content.

Accept Who Your Audience Is

Telling you that audience is key in content is no big secret. In an article for Forbes, Jayson DeMers writes that companies that are successful with their content strategies share one common factor, “they understand their audiences very, very well.” However, there are times when your content will reach an unexpected audience. In your strategy, you may have a specific target in mind, but what happens when your content reaches someone outside of your market?

This is what happened with “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”

The reimagining of Hasbro’s ponies came about in 2010. The intended audience was young girls, and while the target audience did take to the show, a new audience came in the form of what’s been called Bronies. Not only is this audience older than the intended audience, but this audience consists largely of men. There’s a bit of a negative connotation with the brony label and the idea of grown men being a fan of a cartoon aimed at young girls. Like any audience of any brand, there’s a chance of a bad seed, if you will. That’s not to say that all bronies are bad — far from it, actually — but all it takes is one foul person in your audience to get the ball rolling.

So what was Hasbro to do?  Would they distance themselves from these bronies, perhaps even change their brand somehow so it would only reach their intended target audience?  According to an article by Judann Pollack for Advertising Age, Hasbro accepted their new audience. He quotes Margaret Loesch, the CEO of the Hub (the network that shows the cartoon), in saying that the show “is popular with kids and a loyal group of adults, and we tried to embrace that.”

Listen to Your Audience and Show That You’re Listening

Pollack states that, “(A)ny good marketer today knows that their brand isn’t their own — it belongs to its fans.” Hasbro took this knowledge and ran with it. Instead of distancing themselves from bronies, they decided to show them that they, not only embraced them, but that they were listening.

Enter social media in two important ways:

  • Having references in the show to things that a more adult audience would understand
  • Listening to their online audience and responding to them creatively

Pollack mentions a number of things that My Little Pony has done to put a smile on their adult audience’s faces. From subtle movie references like “The Big Lebowski” to doing a Youtube parody to Katy Perry’s, “California Gurls,” the company kept up its bright and colorful image meant for children and slipped in clever nods to the older audience it had gained. So instead of disregarding this new audience that some felt would have a negative image, the show included them and expanded its market.

This became increasingly noticeable when fans took to forums to talk about the show. The best example is with a pony called Derpy Hooves. Back in the first episode, this pony was just a background character whose eyes were crossed. Viewers of the show went online and posted the single image of this pony, labeling it Derpy Hooves for the “derpy” expression on its face (derpy being slang for silly). Hasbro noticed this and started putting the cross-eyed pony in other episodes, giving off a Where’s Waldo vibe. Not only that, but the series creator, Lauren Faust, gave a wink to fans after stating that the pony’s name would be Derpy instead of the name it had in the script, “Ditzy Doo.”

Hasbro’s audience could clearly see that the show’s creators were not only listening to them, but they were accepting their ideas and incorporating them into their brand. It’s one thing to offer social media links to your brand, and another thing to respond to a tweet or two, but to include your audience in such a way is pure marketing genius. And what do these magical ponies have to show for it?  Well, check out the stats below from a five hour Mare-a-thon back in 2012, according to Amanda Kondolojy of Zap 2 It, where it significantly outperformed the Hub’s past numbers from the previous year:

  • Kids 6-11 (+165%)
  • Kids 2-11 (+160%)
  • Women 18-49 (+233%),
  • Adults 18-49 (+168%)
  • Persons 2+ (+174%)
  • Households (+178%).

Along with this mare-a-thon came a Valentine’s Day episode that became the Hub’s second highest rated episode in history. Today, the ponies are in their fourth season, ready to take the world by rainbows and magic. It’s a clear sign of appreciating your audience and listening to what they have to say.