Some products have to work hard to make their name in the marketplace, others are just born into popularity. Whether you know it by name or image, the Rubik’s Cube is one of those naturally sticky products. When the Hungarian-born game was launched onto the international scene in the 1970s, the game – appealing because it is both simple and complex – was an instant hit. Now, 40 years after its debut, the Rubik’s Cube has a proven longevity in the public eye, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its peaks and valleys.
“This is the 40-year anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, and if you think about it logically, the kids playing 40 years ago would have been eight to 12 years old, which is a sweet spot for kid audiences. They are now in their late 40s and 50s and they probably have got children of their own and maybe even grandchildren,” explains Charlie Day, president of The Sharpe Company, which is the North American and Australian licensing agent for the Rubik’s Brand Ltd. “The brand and concept itself has had enormous longevity because it’s totally unique and an instantly recognizable icon, but what tends to happen is there is a cycle of success where it will increase in popularity for a period of years and then it slacks off a bit and sales will plateau.”
The Age of the Cube
As Rubik’s Cube enters middle age, Day says the product is definitely on an upswing, enough to warrant the creation of a new cube design. Instead of stickers, the new cube is made of molded plastic sans stickers, is harder to pull apart and has a much smoother mechanism. In addition, the last five to six years have seen a confluence of factors all contributing to the game’s status as not just an evergreen pop culture icon but also a very current trend.
For one, we are in a period where the 1980s and 1990s – true Rubik’s Cube heydays – are being celebrated by younger generations and recalled nostalgically by older ones. That factor isn’t lost on the entertainment world, which has given the Rubik’s Cube a fair amount of free advertising in recent years including Will Smith solving a Rubik’s Cube in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and during the movie’s press tour. More recently, Sheldon Cooper on “Big Bang Theory,” played by Jim Parsons, is often seeing wearing a t-shirt with a melting Rubik’s Cube printed on it – a licensing deal put together by The Sharpe Co. and clothing brand Think Geek. The Cube has also appeared on late-night television as Rubik’s Cube speed-solving pros baffle the minds of viewers by matching up all colors in mere seconds. Those appearances also promote the Rubik’s Cube World Championship games held in events around the world and broken down by age and cube type.
“When Jay Leno and Letterman started showing how fast some of these kids and young adults could solve it, that got a lot of publicity,” Day says. “It started attracting more young kids to start being interested in the cube. That, coupled with marketing efforts with our two partners – Hasbro and specialty trade Winning Moves, who also increased their marketing – helped us in extending the brand into other products.”
In 2008, The Sharpe Co. executed a licensing deal with Techno Source to create Rubik’s Revolution, a handheld electronic version of the six-by-six original cube, which won Game of the Year at the industry Toy of the Year Awards and sold millions. The cube has inspired the creation of clothing, backpacks and even a small cube-shaped refrigerator. Two-and-a-half years ago, the Rubik’s Cube even spun into an app that was featured last year in the iPhone’s global advertising.
“Apple selected our app as one of two representing what they call brilliance,” Day says. “Einstein app was one and we were the other. We literally had just a couple of seconds on the ad, but downloads went through the roof.”
At the same time, the licensing agent works closely with the brand to continue increasing its marketing and awareness efforts. For instance, an educational, community outreach program called You Can Do the Cube works alongside educators, providing them with comprehensive standard-based resources that include Rubik’s Cubes, solution guides and curriculum for a hands-on, non-traditional educational avenue for teaching kids STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and 21st Century Skills. Day says it’s also an effective confidence builder. Because the game has stumped so many, teaching kids to solve the Rubik’s Cube reinforces to them that they can solve anything with the right guidance and effort. In that sense, the Rubik’s Cube brand speaks to a much more comprehensive lifestyle, which is what The Sharpe Co. has displayed in its licensing operations and what the game’s creator, Ernő Rubik, wants to communicate with the international audience.
To celebrate the Rubik’s Cube 40th anniversary and its success, Ernő Rubik in partnership with New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center and with Google as the main sponsor have created Beyond Rubik’s Cube, a museum exhibition hosted at the Liberty Science Center. The exhibition is 7,000 square feet of all things Rubik’s Cube – games, puzzles, history, art and engineering – inspired by Ernő Rubik’s best-selling masterpiece.
“Dr. Rubik wanted to create an exhibition for everything Rubik and to show family audiences how the Rubik’s Cube itself [can complement] key school curriculum,” Day says. “We lit up the Empire State Building with the Rubik’s Cube colors and Google got on board. It all helps to show the Rubik’s Cube as being a cohesive brand.”