We describe what children do as “playing”. For adults, this means more than work, but for children, playing is their job, it’s how they learn to socialize and think constructively. Unlike adult work, if it’s not constantly engaging, they stop and it’s not productive. Making toys that engage children and help them develop at the same time is the toy industry’s ongoing challenge. David Scher, a serially successful toy industry veteran, 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 industry goes away.
In recent years, many schools have reduced recess and free time. This is a challenge for the toy industry, as it reduces the attention paid to children’s playtime as they grow. The industry response continues to evolve based on parents’ experiences, tastes and goals. Developing toys that help children grow into adults in the right way will continue to be the industry’s challenge.
The toy industry is notoriously unstable and subject to rapid change. Each year, different trends are responsible for huge swings in successes and failures. The industry recently held its biggest gathering of the year, toy fair in New York, and that’s where all the industry trends can be seen. I spoke 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 top trends for 2019:
Unboxing is a fancy way of saying “take things out of the box”. But it’s also consistent with the general trend of consumers prioritizing experiences over products. Like 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 it’s about. It makes packaging and product a cohesive and unified experience.
Toy marketing is changing rapidly as influencers have come into the toy industry and they are having a big impact. The biggest is Ryan’s World which has over 18 million subscribers on YouTube and has had over 30 billion video views.
The compound madness
Slime, sand, clay 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 to complete a goal gamifies the compound experience. Because the products are shapeable, they encourage children to be creative and are a playful way to encourage original thinking.
Nostalgia never seems to get old. For the toy industry, this 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 the investment and risk involved in developing new products and new characters.
food and perfume
The importance young parents place on healthy eating has made its way into the toy industry. Food-related toys and games are a way for parents to educate their children about good food choices without lecturing them. Scented toys are also growing.
Sports have always had a significant impact on the toy industry, but the phenomenal growth of eSports, led right now by the gaming phenomenon Fortnite, is generating huge interest, spin-offs, and related games and toys.
Focusing children on tasks that more clearly lead to job skills has long appealed to parents. The current focus is on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills, especially for girls. The acronym STEM is now often changed to STEAM with the added “A” for Arts.
Of course, if toys aren’t entertaining, what good are they? But the toy industry means 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, it never seems to lose its appeal.
The toy industry is fast. Some trends and brands can last a long time but very often they change quickly. Product development management is critical to success, but so 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 previous profits. So, observing trends isn’t just about creating products, it’s essential to a toy company’s lifelong mission.