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A To Z Of The Toy Business – A is for Action Man

Action Man is to the European toy market (at least historically speaking) what G.I. Joe is to the U.S. market. Launched way back in 1966, at first the appeal or potential of Action Man was questioned because the prevailing attitude of the time was that boys would not want to play with ‘dolls’. The same thought process applied in the U.S. to G.I. Joe, and in both cases was proven quickly to be erroneous. Boys loved Action Man, for all the reasons we would today recognise – the value of imaginative play & development of how to interact with the world around.

Originally Action Man was a military character, to appeal to generations of children whose parents or grandparents had been through World War 2, during a time when the impact of WW2 in popular culture was at its strongest – this was the era of the epic, all-star WW2 movies.

Hasbro relaunched Action Man in the 1990s and saw big success in the European toy market for around a decade with Action Man being one of the major toy brands in the European market during this period. The themes and clothing were changed during this time, to make Action Man more of an adventurer and extreme sportsman and to reflect the zeitgeist of the time, whereby militaristic toys were no longer approved of by parents.

Eventually the second coming of Action Man faded away, and due to Hasbro’s increasing focus on global product development and launches, it became apparently harder and harder to justify local product development for Europe. At one point in time Hasbro had a centre of design excellence with some of the best creative people in the toy industry at their European HQ in London, but as with all things in the toy business, the world moved on, and Action Man faded from a prime position in toy retail to a fond memory…

…that is until UK company Art & Science International brought to market a range of retro Action Man products under license from Hasbro. You can find those products here:

Rumours occasionally swirl around relating to a full reboot of Action Man, but for now it remains a fond memory of many adults who played with the toys as children themselves, and at least retro Action Man products are now available again!

Our team has worked with and for Hasbro, owner of the Action man brand. We have also Consulted for more than 100 other toy companies. To find out more about our toy & game business Consultancy services, just click here:

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The 5 Biggest Toy Packaging Mistakes

Our team has worked on literally thousands of individual toys & games, and across all these products the area where we have seen the most mistakes is most definitely in the packaging.

Packaging is a crucial part of the marketing mix, because often consumers won’t see your advertising. But in store and online they will see your packaging, and therefore, packaging is the fundamental foundational pillar of all toy & game marketing.

Good packaging doesn’t make a bad product good, but it does make it more likely to sell!

Here are the 5 most common mistakes we have observed over time with toy & game packaging:

  • Functional failure

Often times toy companies spend a lot of time on the graphic design of their packaging, but typically leave the structural engineering of the packaging to the factory. This can be a costly mistake. In the last 12 months we have worked on about a dozen toys & games that had a fundamental packaging structural design issue. Issues observed have included packaging that is supposed to stand up on shelf, so that the store can just put product free standing on shelf. Due to either too small a base footprint or due to an inherently unstable packaging structure, several products would not stand up on shelf, which means that they would fall over on shelf either falling off shelf or sprawling over the display space looking bad. This is such an easy thing to fix! Packaging should have a solid base so it can stand up if that is how the product is to be merchandised. #basics!

  • Failure to effectively, clearly and overtly communicate key product features & benefits

Packaging is a marketing tool. The packaging should clearly show a cool product with emphasis on compelling features and benefits. On a recent project we purchased some competitor samples to compare with the products of our client. One of the products from a major toy company (who shall remain nameless to spare their blushes!) was a really good product with a best-in-class TVC. However, the product was completely cocooned in a weird packaging design which probably meant to be intriguing like an upscale blind bag, but with the only text aside from the logo being a multitude of copyright lines and legal lines in different languages it was not clear what the product was, what it did or why the child should want it! That scores 0/10. Before trying to be too clever, packaging designers should be distilling down the key selling points to communicate clearly what they are – either in text or with images. Children are very basic creatures compared with adults – subtlety is not a formula for success typically with toy & game packaging aimed at children.

  • Failing to protect the product inside sufficiently

Packaging exists in the first place to protect the product inside from damage and wear and tear in transit/while on display in retail. Therefore, above all packaging should protect the product inside. There are plenty of examples of packaging which has failed to protect the product, just go into any retail store and you will find examples of someone getting this wrong. Sometimes it is due to cost stripping, but the bigger picture view makes it clear that there is no point saving a couple of cents if the product is not then saleable.

  • Failing to use all the space available

The prevailing merchandising of products varies from country to country. For instance, I was greatly surprised the first time I visited a department store in Germany because due to the number of board games on sale, the products were not merchandised showing the major space & communication point of the front of the box. Instead, just the end or the side of the box was on display, and therefore those games which communicated more on the end and sides of the box sold better!

  • Failing to stand out on shelf

One of the greatest challenges in a market full of competitive products is achieving standout. When you walk an aisle in a toy specialist retail store you are met with a visual explosion of colour. It takes skill and design nous to create packaging which stands out in such a ‘loud’ visual setting.

Do you need help to understand the toy & game business? We help people from all around the world to understand and successfully enter the toy business. For more information on how we do this, check out our services here:

Have you listened to our Playing At Business podcast? We talk about selling toys & games, interview successful people from across the toy business & we look at key trends in the toy & game business:

Supply Chain Diversification – The Second Biggest Toy Industry Trend

Aside from (the hopefully) short-term of impacts there are two massive trends having a massive effect on the toy business now and probably for the next decade. The first is sustainability. If your company isn’t in a sustainable product category or if your products are primarily made of plastic materials, then sustainable initiatives are becoming more and more important to keep consumer onside and buying toys.

Aside from sustainability though there is one major shift happening which does not get the headlines but is nevertheless throwing up massive challenges for toy companies. The shift is coming in terms of manufacturing hubs. Whereas we once relied primarily, or often completely on China for manufacturing at affordable costs and with good efficiency, the situation has changed significantly in that a proportion of production is seeping away from China into other countries.

There are a number of drivers of this, which we have covered in detail in other articles, but perhaps the best way to share that with you is to watch this YouTube video explainer we published a year or so back:

This video explains why China is not going to remain the same primary source for toys as it once was. The point of this article though is to discuss how toy companies can manage the ongoing change.

There have been ongoing problems in toy supply recently – from the initial shutdowns in China due to Covid-19 through to shipping problems, and before that Trump’s tariffs on China, rising costs and much more.

The bottom line here is that toy companies are going to move from a model of having a relatively easy and efficient sole manufacturing hub to needing to diversify their risk across more regions. We have been advising our clients to set up multi-hub capability.

This comes with some pain though – because there is no perfect solution to replacing what China has become. Despite occasional pain points, China has been very reliable and the easy option compared with many other manufacturing hubs. But what happens for companies who don’t set up the multi-hub set up is that when issues hit like they have in the last 18 months or so, supply gets threatened. By having at least small production already set up with vendors to diversify risk, companies can ramp up more quickly than those starting from scratch.

The reality toy companies need to accept though is that these hubs are not necessarily going to be easier. Moving from China’s vastly experienced factories to lesser experienced companies in areas with less mature supply chain can be painful & take a lot of work. But this is where the trend is heading to whether we like it or not. As per our video presentation above, we believe China will keep around half of the toy production they had at the start of this decade, but the rest is going to dissipate further afield with India, Vietnam, other Asian countries and ‘Near shoring’ taking up some of the slack.

The multi-hub sourcing strategy is going to be an ongoing major factor in the toy business for the next decade.

Do you need help to understand the toy & game business? We help people from all around the world to understand and successfully enter the toy business. For more information on how we do this, check out our services here:

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