We’re Not Just in the Fun Business Anymore

Serious times call for serious toys.

What do we sell when we sell toys? My first thought has always been that we sell fun. The Oxford Dictionary defines play as engaging “in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” That sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Well, while we have been looking the other way, the very definition of play has been changing. I say this based upon a survey conducted by the Spielwarenmesse in conjunction with AIJU, a toy research institute headquartered in Ibi, Spain. AIJU surveyed roughly 2400 families living in Spain, the UK, the US, Germany, France, and China. It is a global, not a national, look at what families look for in purchasing toys.

The survey, Toys Go Green, contains a wealth of information. My eye, however, was caught by one particular chart:

If you will note, “Fun” was not cited as the most important factor in buying a toy. The top spot belonged to quality. Fun, which came in second, was tied with durability and was closely followed by “stimulate learning” and “encourage family play.” In other words, consumers were looking for toys to provide what the Oxford dictionary said they were not designed to do: “[Provide] a serious or practical purpose.”

So, what “serious or practical purpose” do parents want from us? They want us to help them educate their children. I have in the past related this kind of toy to “Flintstones” or “Gummies” vitamins. They look like candy, but they are actually a form of medicine. You don’t find them on the candy section; you find them with the rest of the vitamins.

Educational toys are a results-oriented product that, at least in my mind, belonged in the school supply section and not with toys. Today, I have had to change my mind. STEM and STEAM-based products dominate toy sections. Parents are looking for the preschool toy that will start their child on the road to Harvard or Yale.

In the same vein, toys are now called upon to take on the serious function of encouraging family play and, therefore, togetherness, a role previously assigned to social workers.

So, here we are. Serious times call for serious toys. What are you selling?

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