Each year, the toy brand Nerf earns more than $400 million in revenue by selling bright neon “blasters” that shoot rubber-tipped darts. But while the Hasbro-owned company moves plenty of blasters, it has a little more trouble with the darts. Since Nerf’s foam ammo can be easily copied, consumers often opt for cheaper alternatives rather than pay a premium for Nerf-branded darts. “We’ve had the same dart or similar dart for so many years that it’s become uniformed across our segments and competition,” said Hasbro vice-president Michael Ritchie. “So it’s easy to copy.”
But that won’t be the case with the company’s new line of Ultra blasters. These toys use a specially designed dart with stabilizing fins that can fly up to 120 feet, the farthest range of any dart to date. Unfortunately for cost-conscious consumers, however, knockoff darts won’t work in any Nerf Ultra model. If the blaster detects the wrong kind of ammo, it will skip the incompatible dart and proceed to the next one in the chamber. Consumers can purchase a 20 pack of Ultra darts for $9.99, an amount which could also buy 30 regular Nerf darts or possibly several hundred knockoffs through Amazon.
Along with charging more for darts, in recent years Nerf has also steadily increased the prices of its new blasters. These models include intricate mechanics, though, such as a $200 blaster that can fire eight rounds per second. Still, competitors like the Chinese brand X-Shot have taken notice of Nerf’s premium prices and are responding with cheaper models with no dart restrictions. What’s more, Nerf’s new darts might not be as knockoff-proof as the company hopes. For instance, a few years ago Nerf released a line of squishy, round darts that could travel nearly 70 miles per hour. This innovative design seemed impossible to replicate at the time, but copycats eventually discovered a way to do it. Only time will tell if the same thing will happen with Nerf Ultra darts.
- Is it ethical for Nerf to prevent consumers from using knockoff darts in its new line of Ultra blasters? Why or why not?
- Do you think consumers will continue to purchase Nerf’s increasingly expensive products or will they turn to cheaper alternatives?
Sources: Paul Ziobro, “Parents, Beware: Nerf’s Newest Blasters Won’t Fire Knockoff Darts,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2019; Sean Hollister, “Nerf’s New Ultra Blasters Shoot Farther Than Ever Before — But There’s a Catch,” The Verge, September 23, 2019. Photo by Quarax.