5 Resolutions For The Toy Industry



It’s New Year’s and time for resolutions. I’m not willing to give up chocolate, my energy footprint isn’t so bad, I don’t smoke, and exercise just isn’t happening. But, for me, all is not right in the world of toy. There is so much we can all do better in 2014.

5. Reinvent Action Figures

At its best, the action Figure category helps boys create imaginary adventures on their bedspreads. But boys’ play behaviors and interests have changed dramatically between the 1980s G.I. Joe hayday and today. Boys have more sport practices, art and music classes, video games, and digital devices vying for attention. The audience range for action figures has dropped from 3 to 13-years-old in the 1980s and 1990s to 3-6-years-old today. Standout action figure brands include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Playskool Heroes, which isn’t even stocked in the action figure aisle. Category sales dropped 4% between 2011 and 2012. 2013 sales will be further affected by the encroaching video game / action figure integrated play products like Disney Infinity and Skylanders.

And how does the action figure category leader react to audience apathy? Why, a change of scale from 3¾ to 6 inches! Hasbro’s shift from highly articulated 3-inch scale Marvel and Star Wars action figures to much larger 6-inch figures reveals the struggle designers and marketers are having. The change in scale and deluxe packaging allows Hasbro to sell each product for $19.99 instead of $10.99, with similar labor costs and slightly higher materials costs. If the small adult collector audience will support the products at that higher price point, Hasbro can sell a lower quantity of products and maximize their adult collector audience capacity. But Hasbro is playing right into the category’s biggest concern: the aisle is filled with product for adult collectors. Lines based on mature rated video games, PG-13 movies, and esoteric comic books fill the aisle. Kids won’t be swayed by these “more deluxe” action figures because they (and their parents) know the aisle is easily skippable. Head right to Nerf and Lego where you’re likely to find toys boys will want to play with.

Where do action figures go next? What are kids looking for? The success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Titan Heroes Series demonstrate that the right brands with the right executions will drive traffic back into boys action. Now’s the time to innovate and find new executions for time-tested play patterns. 

4. Market Like It’s 2014

Media Buy + Social + SEO + Brand Site = Fail

Gone are the days when marketers could expect results by simply spending on key elements like television spots, banner ads, and a pretty microsite. Today, kids and their parents consume enough advertisements that the old ways just don’t create momentum.

30 second spots are a key component of virtually every major brand’s marketing campaign, but new technology allows consumers to skip over commercials with ease. In 2010, amidst the surge of DVR technology and before the rapid expansion of tablets, 86% of viewers altogether skipped television commercials. Today, do 5 or 10% of viewers still sit through commercial breaks?

Many toy industry leaders rely on mommy bloggers to spread word to their many followers. But of the nearly 5 million American mommy blogs, only a few hundred have substantial regional or national reach. Additionally, evidence provided by The Family Room and NPD Group suggests impulse driven toy sales are down and the majority of toy purchases are made based on specific requests from the receiving child. Just a few years ago, 68% of purchasing decisions were made in store. Today, 60 percent of toy shoppers had a specific requested product motivating them to enter the store in the first place, and (more often than not) the shopper left the store with the product he or she intended to purchase. In the toy aisle, mom might ultimately make the final “yay or nay” purchase decision, but the purchase was instigated by the child. Your mommy bloggers aren’t even influencing the right family members.     

Imagine your customer journey not as the traditional funnel, but as an expansive web of connected motivators and inhibitors. Consider what motivators and inhibiting factors are weighing on customers at varying stages of their journey and provide the right enablement to secure the sale. Don’t rely on your outmoded, by-the-books marketing plan. It just can’t cut it anymore.

Experiment with different combinations of digital, broadcast, and print marketing efforts. Pinpoint the actual customer journey and allow your marketing collateral to influence those intersecting motivators and inhibitors. In 2014, lets establish a new marketing best practice for the toy industry.

3. Celebrate The “Maker”

The entertainment industry considers and pursues all marketable angles for its products. Marketable factors include brand, story, stars, director, writer, producer, composer, studio, innovation, and more. The domestic toy industry markets almost solely based on brand, product feature, price and manufacturer.

European manufacturers have a long history of printing game designer or inventor names on packaging, calling them “authors.” While manufacturers might argue against author and editor designations similar to book publishing, film and television studios credit all cast and filmmakers. Imagine the extra marketability of powerful industry personas. Does the toy industry have its own Steven Spielberg?

2. Take Another Look at Games

Board game sales dipped over 5% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to diminish further when 2013 numbers come in. Manufacturers have tried converging board games with smartphones and tablets, cost and price reduction, licensing the top mobile and social gaming brands, even removing gameplay in favor of a more toyetic experience. Once a market share juggernaut, Hasbro Games is finally seeing some life again, but the real story in games is what smaller manufacturers have been doing while Hasbro wasn’t looking.

Game makers have been making amazing games! Settlers of Catan, Hanabi, Cube Quest, Ghooost!, Don’t Panic, Asgard’s Chosen, Forbidden Desert, Star Wars X-Wing, Cards Against Humanity, and Rampage are amazing games that customers are willing to pay $30-60 for at retail.

The reality is that major manufacturers expect quicker success than new board game brands offer. Popular game brands often require years of investment to become mega brands. But in the case of Dungeons & Dragons, Apples To Apples, and Magic The Gathering, those investments turned out to be the right choices.

One need only look at mobile app rankings to see that more people are playing games now than ever before in history. In January 2013, customers had already downloaded over 40 billion apps; most of the top ranking apps are games. Candy Crush alone has been downloaded over 500 million times across iOS, Android and Facebook. The Angry Birds franchise has seen over 2 billion downloads across iOS, Android, and Facebook. The board and card game business requires a new business model sustainable in the wake of this cheap/free digital competition.

1. Reflect The New Definitions of Self and Family

I ask the question of speakers at every trade show: How is the “programmed” nature of kids’ lives and their massive concurrent media consumption reflected in your product development and marketing? Not once has the speaker even understood the question.

According to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, play time for kids ages 6-8 diminished 25% between 1981 and 1996 (the trend actually started in 1955, but quickened in 1981). In 2013, kids averaged below 5 hours of play per week. The average 12-year-old spends over eleven hours a day consuming media, be it television, video games, music, movies, social media, etc. Kids only require 5-6 hours in order to consume that media, some of which is engaged with concurrently. But we’re still making toys for a linear play experience. Newsflash: it doesn’t exist. 8-year-olds -who consume about 8-9 hours of media content daily- rarely play with toys without  concurrently consuming some sort of media. Kids play while listening to music, watching tv, Facetiming with their pal, or pausing a video game. Kids and teens interact with their smartphones over 60 times each day…such activity should be considered in the development process of every toy or game. Also interesting is the immense amount of time kids are spending on structured team sports, education, and other “preparation for adulthood” activities. Play time is drying up.  

The toy industry needs to start considering the concurrent activities the nonlinear kids of today take for granted. In 2011, toy industry auteur Steve Drucker introduced a new definition of self, later called Drucker’s Yard after King’s Yard. Henry I (1100-1135) decreed that a yard would be the distance from a king’s nose to the tip of his outstretched thumb, or so the story goes. Drucker’s Yard refers to a modern definition of one’s self as extending past the actual body to what one can touch with an outstretched arm. If that confuses you, try to recall the last time your smartphone wasn’t within arms length. 80% of you can’t recall a waking hour that you were separated from your smartphone, according to research by marketingprofs.com. Following the principles of Drucker’s Yard, your ever-present smartphone is a part of your ‘self’, and that device extends your reach infinitely further via online connectivity.

How does this extended definition of self impact the way we make and market toys? It means kids are always connected, always engaging with technology and media, and never doing a solitary activity. We can no longer afford to fail to reflect these behaviors in our products.

There are additional shifts in a child’s sense of self: some non-biological gender cues are being combated by parents unaccepting of societally imposed limitations on their children, family structures are shifting in light of new gay marriage laws, and global segmentation continues to dissolve. It’s time for a renewed, progressive definition of family and self that reflects the realities of our customers’ daily lives.

In his roles as Digital Strategy Director of Consumer & Entertainment Brands at Manifest Digital, Co-Founder at toy invention studio Otherdoor Entertainment, and ChiTAG committee member, Brian Torney is an innovator in the play industries, kids entertainment, and product/brand initiatives. Refusing to grow up, Brian has been contributing to the play industries since the age of 15, when he worked at a Chicagoland Toys R Us store. He specializes in cross-platform brand storytelling. Brian also practices ancient Jedi techniques of mind control… These are not the droids you’re looking for.



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