WIFFLE®, the beloved and iconic American brand of white plastic ball and yellow bat, celebrates its 65th birthday this year.
While you can buy other baseball-size, plastic balls, there is no comparison when it comes to the combination of Wiffle’s performance and emotional attachment. These two factors make the 65-year sales run an excellent marketing and brand management achievement. The National Toy Hall of Fame agrees. They inducted the ball last year.
Invented in 1953 by a Connecticut entrepreneur, the white ball and yellow bat have become symbols of fun and youth for generations of Americans. For many, the mere visualization of a Wiffle ball brings back warm memories, and often the sight of the ball and bat creates an instant urge to play ball. No doubt many youngsters first learned how to play baseball with a Wiffle ball and bat.
Functionally, the Wiffle ball is unique in the movement a thrower can create. There is nothing like it. The imagination of the pitcher results in befuddled hitters. Throw a ball at a right-handed batter’s head, or just to the side, and watch him duck as the ball sails over the outside corner for a strike. For left-handed batters, you can start the ball way outside and have it jam him just on the inside corner. Left-handed throwers can achieve the opposite effects. You can even throw a straight fastball with the right grip.
Emotionally, playing Wiffle ball with young children is almost a rite of passage, both for the kids and the adults playing with them. My favorite memory of Wiffle ball came when I was about 10 years old and visiting older, teenage cousins in Michigan. We played in their backyard and the border with their neighbor was a tall row of bushes or trees. They pitched to me and joyously watched their young cousin hit “home runs” over the faux fence. I felt like a king.
The Wiffle Ball, Inc.’s recipe for success includes product quality, consistency (the ball has not changed in 65 years!), business focus and made in the USA manufacturing. I suspect the household penetration level for a Wiffle ball/bat is tremendously high. Their president, David J. Mullany, a grandson of the founder, told Connecticut Magazine:
“But we’ve realized that focusing on our primary products — a few sizes of the Wiffle Ball and the Wiffle Bat — is good business and ensures that we continue to offer the same quality product that people love.” He added: “It’s fun for young kids and older people, and various ages can play together. That’s the beauty of the game.”
In recent years, I’ve loved introducing my little nephews to baseball with a Wiffle ball and bat. I couldn’t wait, and got them started as soon as they could swing a bat and had interest. We still play, and I keep a bat and balls as part of my sports gear.
Brand marketers kill to achieve this type of emotional connection, engagement and product performance. It’s incredibly difficult and rare, yet oh so rewarding when achieved. Happy Birthday Wiffle ball.
Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a plug-in marketing department resource for company leaders.