Toy Fair Recon 2017 – Major Trends in the Toy Industry

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Mar 02, 2017 @ 09:18 AM

The YouthBeat team once again attended Toy Fair in New York, and it was another exciting year!  There’s a lot going on in the toy space, and here are a few of our favorite themes:

  • Danger is fun! Our subscribers have heard us talk about Millennial parents’ greater acceptance of a little bit of risk in their children’s play.  There was no shortage of toys that will feed into this.
    • Our favorite was Fiesty Pets--they look cuddly until their heads are squeezed, then “Rawr!”
    • Marshmallow guns and bows and arrows aren’t exactly new, but they are as prevalent as ever and super fun to play with, even if the child just wants to have a snack.
  • Clean sandbox play. Think of it as an evolution of kinetic sand.
    • Floof (a snow version), Mad Matter (colorful dough to play in), and Sands Alive (snow or sand) all offer the ability to mold and create without getting too sticky or dirty.
  • Bubbles, in any form, never go out of style.
    • Zuru makes large plastic ones that envelop each player, for fun Sumo-style wrestling.
    • Candylicious Bubbles was there with their blow-able and edible bubbles and toys. Yum! 
    • Their parent company, Little Kids, was there with their 25-year-old brand Fubbles and a costumed Fubble giving out free hugs!
  • Mystery and surprise are still thrilling.
    • Half Toys open up to reveal a skeleton inside, which can range from a dinosaur to a human. Perfect for a budding scientist. 
    • Surprizamals are miniature, adorable plushes that are a mystery until opened—and highly collectible.
    • Sourcebooks is offering a range of “How to Catch…” mystical creatures books, including elves, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and new this year, a Leprechaun.
  • Do-gooding is rising to the forefront.  We saw several companies with overt “giving back” components—not necessarily new programs, but more prominently proclaimed than in prior years. 
    • One of our favorites was Bears for Humanity. For every purchase of one of their animals, they donate one to a child in need.
    • United Healthcare Children’s Foundation is another great example. They run a book program in which proceeds from book sales go to grants for families with disabled children (things like a specially equipped ski so the child can ski with his or her family). 
    • Many other companies are using sustainable materials, to “give back” a healthy planet to all children, regardless of whether they use their products.

The exhibition floor contained plenty of drones, robotics, and other electronic toys.  And there is plenty of time for kids to engage with digital entertainment too.  But the toys that really stood out and touched our hearts this year are the ones that offered good old-fashioned fun, excitement, and kindness.

Tags: youth research, toys, kids, kids tweens teens market research, Youth, kids tweens teens, toy trends

Kids, Tweens, and Teens at the Holidays 2015: Toy and Gift Wish List Results

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 10:32 AM

Coolest wish list toys!  Holiday wish list alert!  Tech toys kids want! Headlines are hollering this year, whipping parents and gift-givers into a frenzy with the goal of pleasing children during the holiday gift-giving season.  The National Retail Federation predicts that overall holiday spending will top $630 billion this year, up nearly 4% over last year.  This makes sense in households with children, given:

  • Lower gas prices according to AA, thus higher household disposable income

  • The multitude of digital and high-tech-meets tactile toys (think Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or Star Wars/Sphero BB-8 robot) available this year, at higher price points than traditional toys

The holiday gift guides for childern have two consistent themes: 1. Go with anything Star Wars, and/or 2) buy something high-tech (virtual reality, cameras, or tablets).  The browsing and list-making process itself has become tech-saturated.  The Toys ‘R Us catalog includes codes that unlock virtual games and 3D augmented reality views of the products. Kids can create wish lists using Amazon or Target’s Wish List app

All of this sounds very exciting.  Is it, however, what kids are asking for, or what we as adults are projecting onto their desires?  Our 2015 Holiday Wish List survey is in, showing that kids’ desires might be simpler than we think.  Click here to download the Holiday Wish List infographic.

Sure, kids are asking for Star Wars—as long as they’re Lego sets.  Robots and talking dolls?  Not so much.  That’s not to say that they won’t love the more sophisticated toys that they receive this year.  The key to pleasing the recipient is to fit with their favorite play patterns, be it role playing with dolls or action figures, building, or game play. Most of all, they’d really like to pick out their own presents, so consider a gift card.  This commercial for IKEA underscores kids’ desires for simple pleasures at the holidays (spoiler alert: Grab a tissue). 

We also asked kids about their charitable giving over the holiday season.  Most are participating in some way, primarily by donating toys/gifts, food, or clothing.  Just for fun, we asked them whether they’d rather give all of their holiday gifts this year to charity, or forego their electronics and media for a month.  Kids in 1st-4th grades overwhelmingly want to keep the gifts and give up the media, as do the better part of tweens in 5th-8th grades. Teens disagree; the majority would gladly give up the holiday haul in order to hang on to their sources of connectedness, information, and entertainment.

So make those lists and check them twice. But do it knowing that youth pleasures are simple and eternal, even as the toys we build and buy for them grow more complex.

Happy Holidays from YouthBeat!

Tags: youth research, toys, target, wish list, kids tweens teens market research, star wars, holiday, trends, infographic

Are Watchover Voodoo Dolls the Next Craze for Kids and Tweens?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 29, 2014 @ 11:15 AM

Predicting the next kid or tween craze or collectible is far from easy, and assessing a contenderVoodoo Doll Collectibles often requires a highly tuned gut more than a simple list of rules. Still, practice makes perfect and we thought we would give you newbies to the kid space a starting point, and you vets a compelling case study to add to your own collection…Watchover Voodoo Dolls

Watchover Voodoo Dolls are keychains featuring little people made of string. The characters range from ninjas and karate pros to little girls shopping and to test-taking students. Each one comes attached to a tag which provides the character’s name, but more importantly, the way it will watchover its owner…Keeper,  a soccer player, promises to be “your last line of defense against all those who try to beat you at your own game.” The Student purports to “help you enjoy the best days of your life and ensure your future is as debt free as possible.” They’re
sold in novelty shops, on eBay, and on Amazon.

So what does our latest favorite kid/tween collectible get right? Here’s what we think…

  1. Cute+cool.  For kids and tweens, the best collectibles are the ones youVoodoo Dolls can show off to your friends…and most of the time, you see your friends outside of school. So collectibles for this age are, not surprisingly, small. Little can inherently lead to cute, and cute, depending on your age, can be a bit uncomfortable. So what do the best collectibles do? They combine the cute with the cool (subscribers can see our JFM 2013 Trendspotter for more on this timeless and timely trend, inspired by the work of scholar, Gary Cross). These dainty dolls deal with strong feelings and emotions, making statements that might be wise beyond the years of their young owners. But containing these weighty sentiments within these tiny trinkets makes for just the right juxtaposition. They are safe but bold, mature but manageable for the developing kid and tween psyche.
  2. Material matters. As scholars like Robin Bernstein contend, the material that children’s toys are comprised of conveys a “script” for the play experience. Are these toys or objects of desire to be treated gently? Are they precious or rare? For kid and tween collectibles, a little bit of breakability isn’t all bad….This might seem counter to the wishes of
    protective parents, but might that not be the point? The best collectibles tend to feel like they require cherishing – much like the dirt-attracting fibers of these miniature Voodoo figures. They aren’t fragile in the traditional sense, but they do require more careful handling (the notion of protection put back in youth’s hands) than the average keychain.
  3. A dose of danger. So many of kids’ collectibles are relatively benign. But for kids and tweens, a bit of subversiveness often makes for a more salient item. This encroaching on the occult is an evergreen theme in kid culture – think Ouija boards and magic eight balls. But collectibles often have an air of the rare and mysterious to them too.  Pokemon cards have their exotic look (especially when they first emerged on the scene, in the early day of the anime explosion). Or the mischievousness of Garbage Pail Kids. Or the taking of a regular top and overlaying it with slightly threatening personas, as in Beyblades. Watchover Voodoo Dolls do a great job fulfilling kids’ and tweens’ fascination with the mystical and dangerous (voodoo), while keeping things light and positive (watchover). These dolls serve as symbolic mantras that kids can carry around with them. More like a lucky rabbit’s foot than an actual voodoo doll, the power behind these objects comes from the ideas they represent more than just their aesthetics.
  4. Priced right. A collectible might have an air of preciousness about it, but to incentivize a trend, it’s important to get the price point right. In the U.S., these dolls linger between the $7.50 and $10 price point. They are just expensive enough to matter (something has to be at stake for a collectible to “count”), but cheap enough that they’re within the range of many tweens’ allowance.

Tags: youth research, toys, kids, play, Youth, collectibles, tweens, dolls

Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

Why Kids Need to Find the Forest

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 06, 2013 @ 01:03 PM

Toys “R” Us began airing their 2013 holiday campaign before trick or treaters even made it around the block. But an early start to holiday advertising isn’t really news and hardly caught our attention. Instead, it was the content of the TV commercial, created by the agency, The Escape Pod that took us by surprise.

The spot starts with a man telling the audience (presumably adults) that a group of kids are about to go on “the best fieldtrip they could wish for – and they don’t even know it.” Ranger Brad enthusiastically ushers a line of elementary schoolers onto a green bus, which reads “Meet the Trees Foundation” on its side. A moment later, he asks the students to play “name that leaf…” Cut to a close-up of a yawning little boy, next to a stone-faced classmate. And then the reveal: Ranger Brad rips off his ranger shirt to expose a Toys “R” Us shirt. “We’re not going to the forest today – we’re going to Toys “R” Us! You’re going to get to choose any toy you want!” Children cheer and triumphant music plays. The Toys “R” Us logo shines from the TV screens behind Ranger Brad, as if he’s (a scaled down) Steve Jobs revealing the iPhone.

In its short time on air, the spot has garnered attacks from predictable critics, The American Forest Foundation and The Sierra Club have penned astute reviews that suggest that this kind of nature-bashing is detrimental to the environmental movement. Raz Godelnik, the co-founder of Eco-Libris who also teaches courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development at Parsons The New School for Design and The University of Delaware’s Business School points out that Toys “R” Us seems to be promoting an unsustainable kind of holiday. Godelnik notes that the Toys “R” Us sustainability page is vacant. Numerous websites have suggested that holiday shoppers boycott Toys “R” Us and take a stand for forests, trees and everything green.

Most of these critics suggest that Toys “R” Us has pitted commercialism against environmentalism – and that’s hard to deny. We agree that the authentic, magical moment of a child getting a toy of their dream is surely a moment that feels like wish fulfillment. From our perspective, it’s not the fantasy of getting a favorite toy that bothers us. We find this ad troubling because it taps into an insight that it assumes to be authentic…The “torture test” featured in this ad suggests that the most boring situation imaginable – the one that allows for a moment of significant surprise – involves learning about nature. We don’t know if youth viewing this ad will actually get the joke (in fact, Ranger Brad seems like a particularly engaging ambassador of the outdoors). But perhaps Toys “R” Us believes that parents will.

And according to statistics from a myriad of sources, today’s children are less connected to nature than ever. In fact, at the same time that Toy R Us is airing it’s campaign poking fun at the forest, the U.S. Forest Service, with the help of the Ad Council, has been making an effort to promote the joys of “finding the forest.” On the same day that we saw Toys “R” Us imply the drudgery of detecting the difference between a field maple and an oak leaf, we heard a radio spot suggesting that a trip to the forest could be as fun as parents remembered it.

In very different ways, both spots convey the same message: many youth may not find the forests to be fun, and certainly don’t find them on their own. We suggest that brands and companies seek ways to change this story, not perpetuate it.  And we propose looking for ways to make your messages align with, not fight against, the sustainable future that today’s children and parents want to achieve – even if they don’t always know how to do it.

Tags: toys, kids, parents, kids tweens teens, culture

10 Things That Don’t Get Old to Kids

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 24, 2013 @ 09:47 AM

Roller SkatingWe sometimes find ourselves compelled to think about the new experiences that define kids’ lives…What is something they’ve never before seen or that’s new to their world (and ours). But we often forget that some of the simplest pleasures of childhood are hardly novel. In the everyday lives of kids, there are many, many “old” experiences that feel new to the latest generation of youth. So in case you’re looking for some inspiration in unexpected places, here are a few youth experiences and products worth revisiting:

  1. Roller skating. Roller blades might look cooler, but there’s nothing quite so fun than stumbling around the rink on eight wheels! Skating rinks of the suburban sort (Cherry Hill Skate Rink) still fit the bill. Maybe it’s the mini arcades, the kid-friendly food or the lifting of the usual kid noise restrictions! But we think it’s also about the fun of learning the ropes with the help, and the hands, of your friends.
  2. Bowling. Along the same lines, bowling might seem staid to moms and dads, but it’s new again for youth! Bowling alleys of the retro sort can bring in youth, but many might be getting their first taste of the lanes alongside their parents in hipster takes on the timeless activity. With newer lanes offering the option of bumpers that rise when kids come up to bowl and fall to level the game with parents, bowling might be the newest old way to enjoy family fun!
  3. Apple picking. Tis the season for apple picking in much of the country, and this old-fashioned pleasure continues to delight kids and their parents. This pastime appeals to romantic notions of childhood, along with the new notions of local and sustainable nature.
  4. Movie night. Screens may have changed and the popcorn might come in unconventional flavors, but movie night still matters to youth. They might be able to download the movie of their choice any time, but a night with friends or family focused on a flick continues to feel special to today’s youth.
  5. Sleepover parties. Whether it’s a backyard campout with mom and dad by their side, or the first brave night away from home, sleepover parties are still a milestone for minors.
  6. Reading with a flashlight.  Okay, so today’s kids and tweens might have books that light up all by themselves, but the mischievous pleasure of staying up late and reading under the covers with a flashlight can still make kids feel daring! And parents can feign outrage while secretly endorsing their child’s sneaky reading!
  7. Friendship bracelets. Loom bracelets might be all the rage right now, but they are just the most recent rendition of a classic kid creation. Whether it’s crafting the look of your arm candy with the perfect collection of charms, or weaving a wristlet of your own design, girls AND boys continue to love the friendship bracelet look. And while the making of these bracelets matters, the sharing is where the timeless fun really comes to fruition.
  8. Swimming. This “sport” continues to be the favorite active pastime of our youth (kids, tweens and teens)…Despite all the opportunities youth have for elite and unique activities for fitness, this no-pressure, everyone’s invited sport persists as a symbol of childhood at its best for good reason.
  9. Bike-riding. Bikes have certainly changed, with little kids learning on balance bikes and scooter/bike hybrids making mainstream tracks. But the sense of accomplishment associated with learning to ride a bike, and the freedom of getting to go around the corner on your own leg-power remains the same.
  10. Scoring a goal…or hitting a homerun or even that hole in one! Carrying the team for just a moment is still the standard in kids’ epic tales of achievement and triumph. Maybe everyone gets a trophy in today’s little leagues and soccer clubs, but making that precious point is still the stuff of kid fantasies.

What do these timeless pleasures tell us? Some of them involve a bit of rebellion. Many involve a break from the everyday routine (like bedtime in your own bed!). Many show the importance of mastery in the lives of youth. And most involve a taste of freedom – even when you’re right alongside your family! When seeking ways to delight today’s youth, don’t forget to consider these classic kid experiences as inspiration.

Tags: toys, movie, Sports, outside, free time, kids tweens teens, culture

Kids’ Most Prized Possessions

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s recent project, Toy Stories, combined anthropological study with artistic endeavor to showcase children with their prized possessions: their toys. Galimberti not only captures differences in the items that children around the globe chose, but he also shows the way in which the materiality of youth suggests a shared sentimentality about the little things that children call their own. His work reminds us that children see an object's value as determined by far more than cost. They curate collections, put their action figures on pedestals and they nurture their stuffed animals not because of their cost, but because in their eyes they are priceless. His images don’t tell us the whole story, but in these objects, we begin to see them not as separate from these children, and not as “object and subject,” but as part of a dynamic relationship with the children whose identities they both influence and express.   

What are U.S. kids’, tweens’ and teens’ prized possessions? According to YouthBeat data from 2012, their top ten include a mix of tech and non-tech, of the instrumental and the intimate. Think teens have lost that tender spot for their stuffed animals? Think again! Prized Possessions

What does this mean for your brand? Don’t ignore the importance of objects when seeking to understand the lives of youth today. Move beyond seeing things as evidence of mere materialism, and instead, look for the meaning that youth make of their most loved and coveted items (and the meaning these items convey to them). And, as Galimberti’s work reminds us, don’t just ask or analyze, but look. Listen to the stories that kids’, tweens’ and teens’ tell, but don’t forget to read into these items to find the untold narratives that characterize youth culture right now.

Tags: youth research, toys, Gaming, kids tweens teens