Tag Archives: electronic toys

E Is For Etch A Sketch, Elmo & Electronics – A-Z Of The Toy Business

E Is For Etch A Sketch, Elmo & Electronics – A-Z Of The Toy Business

Etch A Sketch

This must be one of the most iconic creative play toys out there. First brought to market in 1960, Etch A Sketch allows children to ‘draw’ impressive pictures with a fun and visually intriguing reset mechanism and with some structural aid to draw good linear shapes. Invented by André Cassagnes, a Baker’s son from near Paris, France, who went on to also become a well-known inventor of Kites. In the first year on the market Etch A Sketch is reported to have sold more than 600,000 copies., and in total since 1960 the product has sold more than 175 million copies – an incredible number. The product is still on the market today, with Spin Master having bought the brand in 2016, it looks like this iconic toy is going to be a classic toy forever more.


Elmo (Tickle Me)

Tickle Me Elmo is the very definition of a massive hit product. In the region of 1 million toys were sold in the launch year (1996), and by the following Christmas over 5million had been sold. Elmo of course was a character in Sesame Street, which was as big as a kids’ entertainment program could get back then. Elmo’s feature was to shake, vibrate and to recite his catchphrase. For children, the appeal was massive, because Elmo is the epitome of a cute character, in a cuddly and interactive format that really brought Elmo to life. There have been numerous attempts to bring Elmo back, but with lesser success, but regardless of that, for those people who were in the toy business around that time, Elmo remains the ultimate dream – a massive sell out success product which was 5 times bigger in year two than in the already impressive first year of sales.



Ever since consumer electronics came on the scene, the toy industry has done a magnificent job of taking technology and dumbing it/pricing it down to fit toy price points and to deliver compelling play experiences. Way back, the Speak & Spell from Texas Instruments was an electronic educational product which would ask children to spell words & other simple tasks – this product was entirely reliant on electronics. Clearly electronic products are more expensive to develop, because in addition to the usual tooling & other development costs, you also have to develop the electronic components which all adds $$$ to product development. Therefore, launching electronic products in a market where most products miss the mark and fail to come back for a second year can be very risky. When it works though, the results can be extraordinary, Furby is a great example of a product bristling with electronics and other technologies, which sold more than 40 million units in the first three years of launch. Some years later, new versions of Furby featuring updated electronics and full of technology patents was highly successful again. So, Electronics can help toy companies to deliver fantastic products, albeit with some risks attached.


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The Two Fundamental Features Of Successful Tech Toys

The Two Fundamental Features Of Successful Tech Toys

Every year we see a flood of new tech driven toys come onto the market. These products are not cheap to develop – versus a basic mechanical or static toy, tech toys featuring electronics are often much more costly & risky to launch.

Commercially speaking, the key success factor in the first instance for toys featuring technology is usually the same as it always has been – that classic TV advertisable feature. Something that looks ‘Wow’ in a quick 30 or 20 second TV commercial, or YouTube video. Children are really impacted by and attracted to a highly impactful ‘WOW’ feature, and technology can help to build a compelling offer in this regard.

That can help to both sell in and sell out of retail enough stock to justify the development and launch marketing costs for this kind of toy.

The difference though between a toy with technology inside which is a big hit versus one which recoups costs is all about the experience that the product delivers. Whether the technology is driven by electronics entirely inside the toy or by additional interactive or audio-visual content via phone, tablet or computer, the key success factor is delivering a great experience where the technology has the effect of making the play experience more immersive and more compelling.

Children do not care how many patents are in a product. They don’t care if the product breaks new ground in terms of using new tech for the first time in toys. They care about whether it is fun.

Furby is a classic example of a toy bristling with technology, but it is not the technology which attracted children to Furby – it was the fact that the technology brought Furby to life, creating a seemingly real character or animal friend.

It should be obvious that technology needs to deliver an enhanced experience in toys but judging by many products out there that don’t quite get it right, somewhere between starting with a great concept and actually delivering the product and the technology within or without, the delivery of a compelling experience fades away in a world of technical complications.

Going back a few years, Skylanders was a massive success for Activision, because they managed to deliver both compelling video gameplay in conjunction with an added element (the toy) which really worked and added major value and collectability for kids.

The challenge though for Activision was that a business model which combines exceedingly high upfront development costs with high product costs is a very risky model! One bad wave which doesn’t sell can prove ruinous for this type of business model. For example, THQ the video games company were heavily hit by the failure of their uDraw product, to the tune of a $30m loss derived from this one product launch failure: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/129452/Just_how_badly_did_uDraw_hurt_THQ_anyway.php

And therein lies the major challenge for this type of toy, bearing in mind how many toys don’t last beyond year one in the market, and based on the far lower costs and risks of more basic toys, committing to develop and launch a full on tech driven toy can be an existential risk for a smaller company, and should be considered very carefully. It’s critical to consider, what would the implications of a launch failure be.

On a more positive note, technology is advancing at a startling pace, and much of it has potential for inclusion in some way in toy products, in ever more accessible ways in terms of investment costs.

But whether the product is cheap or expensive to develop, the critical point is to deliver genuine WOW factor and to deliver a truly compelling experience were the tech element enhances the play process and delivers more fun, more lifelike toys and/or deeper immersion.

We run a Consultancy business for toy companies. We work with major toy companies through to start ups and one person bands. For more information on how we help toy companies grow their distribution around the world: https://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/blog/toy-co-growth-booster-program/