47 Years of Marketing Excellence: The Hess Toy Truck Legacy

I remember getting Hess Toy Trucks many years for Christmas when I was a kid.  Then I guess I got too “old” and I didn’t get them for a long while.  Well, last year my son was given his first Hess Toy Truck by his uncle and I thought wow how things have come full circle.

47 years ago Leon Hess, the founder of the company, decided to create the first Hess Toy Truck.  Over the years toy fads may have ranged from the Pet Rock to Cabbage Patch Kids to the iPod Touch, but the Hess Toy Truck has stood the test of time.  This got me thinking – how could a gas station owner become so good at marketing toys and having a product that has lasted generations?

Here are some things that I think help create the annual marketing phenomenon around that little truck:

Scarcity: the only authorized retailers of the Hess Toy Truck have always been and still continue to be the physical Hess gas stations.  You can’t even buy them on the Hess website.  Like any other great fad that gets created when supply is limited, this creates a feeling of wanting to be in the “in-crowd” because not everyone can get access.

Perseverance: while the design of the toy has been different over the years (they’ve even had race cars and a space shuttle), they’ve kept launching the Hess Toy Truck every year for 47 years.  I’m sure some years were hotter sellers than others because of the design and because of economic factors and maybe it could have been cheaper to skip it one year, but they never have.  Their success today is built off the years of effort they’ve consistently put in.  No one else can enter the gas-station-collectible-toy market and take over because they’ve got 47 years of a fan base (or tribe as some would call it).

Surprise: for their fans, waiting for the first glance at what this year’s design will look like or what the new toy will be is exciting.  Hess didn’t make one version and try to re-sell that every year or even just change the colors or one option (at least in the last 20+ years).  Instead, the new Hess Toy Truck has innovated with new models like helicopters, RVs, motorcycles, planes, jeeps and more.  Giving your customers a feeling of surprise every year builds up even more loyalty and excitement.  I’m sure it also helps that it means the consumer now has to buy the new model this year.

Story: while the elements listed and many others play a role, I think no other factor is as important as the story that goes along with the Hess Toy Truck.  As I started this post with, I remember receiving my first one when my dad brought it home for me one night and the many years thereafter, and now I’ll remember my son receiving his first one.  Everyone that has come into my house and recognized that it was a Hess Toy Truck has had some level of story to tell about their Hess Toy Truck experience.  Those stories are being created with every one of those trucks sold for the last 47 years and will help there be many more trucks sold and cherished for years to come.

While this post may have used the Hess Toy Truck as the example, I think it’s a great lesson for anyone involved in marketing or even anyone that wants to create personal traditions that last through generations.  Now if I could only find the truck from the year I was born…

Matt Kane

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