We describe what children do as “playing”. For adults it means something other than work, but for children playing is their job, this is how they learn to socialize and think constructively. Unlike the work of adults, if it is not constantly engaging, it stops and it is not productive. So, making toys that interest children and help them develop at the same time is the constant challenge of the toy industry. David Scher, a veteran of the successful serial toy industry, told me at Toy Fair: “The lifeblood of the toy industry is new and innovative products. It has become much more difficult and more expensive. But without it, the toy trade disappears.
In recent years, many schools have reduced recess and free time. This is a challenge for the toy industry as it decreases the emphasis on play time for children as they grow older. The industry response continues to evolve based on the experiences, tastes and goals of parents. Developing toys that help children grow into adults the right way will continue to be the challenge of the industry.
The toy industry is notoriously unstable and subject to rapid change. Each year, different trends are responsible for huge fluctuations in success and failure. The industry recently hosted its biggest gathering of the year, Toy fair in New York City, and this is where all industry trends can be observed. I’ve spoken with a number of people about what’s going to take off in 2019, including Ken Seiter, Executive Vice President of the Toy association, and here are the main trends for 2019:
Unboxing is a fancy way of saying “get things out of the box.” But it’s also consistent with the overall tendency of consumers to prioritize experiences over products. Like the old-fashioned Russian nesting dolls, where a smaller doll of the same type is inside each outer doll, it is the experience of opening the product that is the most important part for the have and play with. That’s what unboxing is for. It makes the packaging and the product a cohesive and unified experience.
Toy marketing is evolving rapidly as influencers have turned to the toy industry and are making a big impact. The most important is Ryan’s world which has over 18 million subscribers on YouTube and has recorded over 30 billion video views.
Mud, sand, paste and other materials continue to be popular not only on their own, but also as part of the unboxing trend. Having to dig through various compounds in order to achieve a goal gamifies the experience of compounds. Because the products are moldable, they encourage children to be creative and are a fun way to encourage original thinking.
Nostalgia never seems to get old. For the toy industry, it creates a warm feeling for past and positive experiences. Of course, the flip side is that even with updates and changes, it’s a way to reduce investment and risk in developing new products and new characters.
Food and perfume
The importance that young parents place on healthy eating has gained ground in the toy industry. Food-related toys and games are a way for parents to educate their children about good food choices without teaching them a lesson. Scented toys are also on the rise.
Sport has always had a significant impact on the toy trade but the phenomenal growth of eSports, currently led by the gaming phenomenon Fortnite, generates huge interest, spinoffs and related games and toys.
Focusing children on tasks that more clearly lead to professional skills has long appealed to parents. The current focus is on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, especially for girls. The acronym STEM is now often changed to STEAM with the additional “A” for Arts.
Of course, if toys aren’t fun, what’s the point? But the toy industry understands something else by entertainment. Toy entertainment is about connecting movies, TV shows, and licensed properties to toys. It’s an old strategy, but when movies are current and popular they never seem to lose their appeal.
The toy industry is fast. Some trends and brands can last a long time, but very often they change quickly. Managing product development is critical to success, as is inventory management. If a toy producer invests in a trend and the trend fades, ending up with too much inventory at the end of the trend can wipe out any profits that came before. So, monitoring trends isn’t just about product creation, it’s essential to a toy company’s lifelong mission.