Tag Archives: toy marketing

The Future Of Toys – Part 2, The Changing Marketing Landscape

In this latest instalment in our series on the future of toys, we take a look at marketing, how it has changed over time and where we seem to be headed. Needless to say, any predictions or forecasts we make for how toy marketing will be done in the future will be wrong in some ways, but this should at least be thought provoking for those toy companies looking to get and stay ahead of the pack…


The Toy industry has benefited fantastically from a 2 levelled approach to marketing over time:

  1. ‘Hero’ items – i.e. big hit items with lots of focus and volume potential have traditionally been either TV advertised or have been licensed from a major blockbuster movie with all the resultant marketing noise that goes with that.
  2. Retail margin opportunities – those items which were likely to sell in lower quantities have typically been priced with more retail margin so that while the retailer doesn’t get the benefit of high sales volume, they do get higher margin per item. You could argue this isn’t really ‘marketing’, but last time we looked at the classic ‘5 P’s Of Marketing’, Price was one of them!

Over the last decade, the impact of TV advertising has been eroded as the media landscape has fragmented, and children move their viewing attention online via YouTube or to streaming services like Netflix. They have also moved to double or even triple screen content consumption. So whereas historically we could bang up the TV spend and be close to guaranteed to get a heavierweight impact & resulting sales uplift, things aren’t as simple today.

These days, ever major toy company is also a major content production and content marketing company. That completely changes things in many ways – it is in some ways more empowering, as the toy company now has control versus handing the baton to a TV network. The challenge is how to get ‘standout’ in an environment of content proliferation – 300 hours of video are added to YouTube EVERY MINUTE (that isn’t a typo!). There is a huge and growing array of content out there, hence companies need to be both content production experts AND content marketing experts, as well as having all the necessary toy domain expertise. Today’s global toy companies also need to know how to fully integrate a really compelling product concept into the content. Huge rewards await those toy companies that get this right, but it isn’t always easy!

Movies are not quite the surefire volume driver that they once were. While some continue to sell big volumes, there has been a tendency to over saturate sequels and prequels, and to release movies based on the same franchise so close together that toy merchandise from the previous installment may not have fully cleared retail yet, which makes things messy/less likely to be successful generally speaking.

Kids (and parents) are watching informal/self created content as much as, if not more than, professionally produced footage. Along with this has come the massive growth in ‘Influencers’. Influencers are particularly effective in toys because they show how a product works, which is really important in an industry where products come in and out so fast that it is often not deemed worth creating infomercial style content for every product – for the sake of a few boxes of free products, and comparatively cheap fees, YouTube channels/influencers with huge following can do more for your marketing in some instances than an expensive TV advertising campaign!

So that’s where we came from, and where we have got to. The big question though is where are we going, and how will that further disrupt toy marketing? Here’s our thoughts:


  1. The Future Of TV Advertising – we don’t see TV advertising going away. There are some types of products which TV is still really effective for. The toy industry is often quite slow moving/backward looking, so for some companies, where there is a continued audience, TV advertising will still make sense at least in terms of ‘if it isn’t entirely broken why fix it!’. The reality though is that we expect TV ad spend to wane in coming years although not disappear.
  2. Influencers/Regulation of Influencers – any new technology or media format tends to launch with hope, and should it be fortunate/good enough to achieve mass adoption, they tend to get a ‘honeymoon’ period of good will and importantly, lack of regulation. Because if you can accuse the toy industry of sometimes being slow to change, then the political system/machine in most countries is even slower. YouTube has been mass adopted for more than a decade, yet politicans in major toy markets are still debating and arguing over what level of oversight and regulation is needed! It has become increasingly clear that we, as civil society, can’t rely on these companies/platforms to responsibly regulate themselves, so further regulation is inevitable. And aside from the safety concerns of cyber criminals, unsuitable content and other negative concerns, there is a clear trend towards a lack of trust with influencers. The one prediction in this article we believe is most likely to come to fruition is regulation of influencers on social media platforms. Whereas influencers have operated in a kind of digital wild west so far, this period is heading towards a reckoning! If you are a child, a parent or other interested party, and your preferred influencer promotes a product which turns out to be crap, you are likely to lose some faith and especially likely not to buy again whatever they promote. Good influencers will begin to realise that elsewhere, long term success depends on having a good brand and a sustainable model, and at the same time will therefore benefit by a more ethical approach promoting product which fits the brand. This needs to be done in a transparent way which avoids the draconian punishments for infringing the inevitable regulation which is on the horizon & definitely coming one way or another.
  3. Toy Companies As Content Creators – we already looked at the idea that most major toy companies are now content creators as much as toy companies. The thing is though the top 10 toy companies account for c. one quarter of the total sales in the toy business. Despite all the noise, and shelf space, and marketing spend, the top 10 toy companies are far less dominant in terms of market share versus some industries. There are somewhere in the region of 15,000 toy companies in the world, so in that case 14,990 (approx) toy companies account for c. 75% of the total sales. And what we haven’t seen so far is those $5m-50m toy companies really embracing content as the driving force behind toy marketing. That inevitably has to come, as these toy companies realise that spending 10-15% of turnover on a fading media format (TV advertising) is not that prudent. If you are one of the 14,990 toy companies outside thee top 10, you do need to consider your future strategy to compete against the bigger companies with their teams of people, in-house studios and straight to cinema content production capabilities.
  4. Global (Non-Language) Content Will Become Ever More Important – Asia is set to grow hugely in importance, commercial impact and purchasing power over the next decade or two. This offers huge opportunity for toy companies, but also a major challenge – because culture is so different. Conceiving a product/content offering which can work universally is really hard. We’ve all seen those ‘funny’ screw ups where a car company launches a car with a universal name which means something rude in a non English speaking market (!). We shouldn’t be too snooty in our perception of these errors though, as there are plenty of these mistakes made in the toy business and childrens content industry. To put this in practical terms, the number 2 toy market in the world today is China, and surprise, surprise – China is culturally very different to Europe & North America. There is a reason why the genre of ‘Hollywood’ movies which tends to work best in China is action – because action needs little words! And having a fight against an evil baddie is a fight in any language, a punch is a punch, an explosion is an explosion, and a toy based on this is to most extents just a toy. There are of course some characters which are more easily understood in one country over another, and bearing in mind how many toys are based on the animal kingdom, there are some animals which are seen as revolting or not suitable in other key countries. As ever, cultural understanding and market by market insights are key.

So far we have avoided talk of bots, robots & AI, but we would be remiss not to cover this, as this area is likely to have a huge part to play in toy marketing in the future!

Firstly, there is no doubt that further automation is on the way for online marketing. Once the parameters of an online campaign are fixed, all the tinkering, testing and frankly farting about (!), can easily be done by bots these days. Hallelujah, please remove all humans from having to use those horrible online dashboards! More seriously though, the more marketing becomes automated, the less of an advantage/difference we can find.

Could AI plan and execute ALL marketing campaigns in the future? I.e. bearing in mind how formulaic the toy business can be, could AI not work out how to create a toy franchise based on a proven formula – all you need is a rough & tough animal or a super cutesy one, with a fitting content/advertising direction and an array of online marketing driving traffic to key retail partners? This is certainly possible, but I don’t think we’re getting there in a hurry.

I read an article recently about how AI can actually already do a pretty good job of analysing all movie scripts ever, and coming up with ‘new’ movie scripts based on this analysis. So in our opinion, AI will be able to conceive of and to a degree deliver toy and marketing development and execution long in advance of humans being willing to let them! Already toy companies can access a huge array of professional toy inventors and of advertising mind power, but in general, they don’t or at least they don’t do it effectively. AI will be hugely disruptive to the toy business as much as anywhere else, but I expect the inertia and intransigence of the human mind to prevent that happening in the next 5 to 10 years at least!

However you see the future though these are interesting times, and could get even more interesting in the years ahead!

Steve Reece runs a toy industry consultancy which helps people get ahead in the toy business. To sign up for our newsletters, sign up on the right hand side of this page, or go to the website below. Following the trend to toy companies becoming content creators, we offer a service producing compelling content for YouTube and other platforms. Most production agencies can make you something that looks good, but does it hit the right mark? Do they know the consumer and what the consumer is looking for? Have they interviewed thousands of kids and parents about toys? Probably not, so if you would like to discuss your content production needs with people who know both production AND toys, feel free to send us a brief or get in touch to discuss. More details can be found here: http://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/services/

Successful YouTube Marketing For Toy Companies – 5 Key Steps

The toy industry has been reliant on TV advertising to drive sales for at least 60 years at the time of writing. The times they are a changing though, or arguably they already changed and we’re guilty of still looking backwards in the toy business hoping for the return of the easiest marketing ‘golden bullet’ we ever had. TV is certainly not the cheapest media, but historically it had proven to be effective at driving sell in and sell through retail.

Now we’re in this weird twilight world where some of the biggest new brands in the toy business (arguably the most ground breaking) have been launched without the traditional approach to marketing. YouTube has been set to become the number one toy marketing tool for at least a decade now, but as with all these things (a bit like how we knew how mighty Amazon would become nearly 20 years ago!), it takes a long time too go from inevitability to full reality. We have arguably now hit the tipping point where the media driving most impressions and most toy sales is You Tube.

The challenge for toy companies though is there was a simple way to play with TV advertising – write the cheque, shoot the TVC, book the media, fill the shelves & job done. Things aren’t that simple any more, but just because things aren’t simple doesn’t mean toy companies shouldn’t already have embraced YouTube and all it can deliver for us.

This article sets out our recommended 5 steps for successful YouTube content marketing, as follows:

  • Be clear on your objectives from the start
    • As the cliched saying goes – if you don’t know where you’re going, you aren’t going to get there. We have been approached by people wanting a ‘really cool YouTube video’, but who don’t know any of their fundamentals e.g. who are you trying to communicate to, what action do you want them to take/what impression do you want to make etc. If you want to effectively demonstrate a slightly more complicated product that can lead to one content direction, if you are chasing virality or the creation of super cool playground currency that directs your content in an entirely different direction.
  • Walk Like An Egyptian – build a pyramid!
    • Some people will have super viral content which hits billions of views globally, and if they have planned & executed well they may well have a super smash hit on their hands. BUT, and this is the biggest BUT about You Tube marketing – you can’t guarantee virality. You can make it more likely, you can facilitate it to some degree, but if you put up videos based on the premise that the only way they can be successful for you is if they become the next biggest thing on the internet your chances of success are probably thousands or millions to one!
    • To increase your chances of being effective & successful on YouTube, we usually recommend building up a ‘pyramid’ of activity and objectives. At the bottom are some real basics i.e. product demonstration – why should someone want to buy the product, why is it fun etc? Then you can build brand awareness on top, then you can sell individual products and direct to e-commerce platforms. And then, and only then, can you make the peak of the pyramid ‘virality’. Our constant refrain is to cover all the basics at the base of the pyramid first, then build the content/campaign up to the peak of virality once the basics are covered!
  • Create really compelling content.
    • This almost doesn’t need any explanation – if your content fails to be compelling, fun, engaging, shareable, entertaining etc., then it is not likely to be effective.
    • This by the way is not about creating really compelling content in your opinion or to the group of twenty something hipsters in your office! It is about creating really compelling content for the target consumer/viewer of your content…, which in this instance means kids and/or parents of those kids, and if you don’t have a really good handle on who you are targeting, you arguably are not ready to make any content/spend your company’s money on marketing collateral which is very likely to miss the mark.
  • Work it baby – don’t fire & forget! Need to market the content.
    • Another fundamental mistake we found toy companies making is to presume that YouTube content will be a successful sales driver on its own e.g. they think it works the same way as TV advertising, where you can ‘fire & forget’, by buying the media & placing the ad on air. YouTube is not the same as TV! TV networks are selling you focused, dedicated air time to a significant chunk of your target market. They are guaranteeing to air your TVC to a certain size of audience, and although they can’t guarantee it will be compelling or effective you can more easily claim to have hit a certain critical mass of people.
    • You Tube doesn’t work that way. As of 2018 (the most recent stats I can find) there are more than 5 billion videos on You Tube! Which means there is almost one video for every person on the planet…in fact 400 hours of You Tube content are uploaded every minute! So, this is an entirely different platform vs TV advertising. With You Tube you need really compelling content, but then you need to conduct marketing activity on your content to give it a chance of standing out among billions of other videos. The way to conduct that marketing efficiently is beyond the scope of this article (although we’ll cover that in future articles), but the bottom line is don’t expect to ‘fire and forget’ with your YouTube content – you need to really actively push it, you need to invest in both content production and marketing of the content to ensure it gets in front of enough target consumers to do what you need it to do – in short, you have to fight to get eyes onto your content versus the billions of other videos they could be watching!
  • Work with the best people in the biz – You can do a lot of simple but effective stuff on YouTube yourself, and your local video production company can make you a low end demonstration video, but to be really effective you need more high level thought & strategy in the planning stage and more quality in the production to stand out. We’ll come back to how to work effectively with influencers & other endorsements on You Tube in later articles, but whether it’s marketing consultancy or creating compelling content you definitely get what you pay for! We’ve often seen clients who think nothing of spending $30k on producing a TVC trying to get away with YouTube content costing a $few hundred. Sometimes that type of content is fine, but again that all comes back to the objectives.

We have a venture producing YouTube content for toy companies. We also offer a marketing Consultancy service advising toy & game companies on how best to deploy content marketing to successfully launch and promote toy brands and products. For more information/to find out how we can help you, click here: http://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/services/

How Toy Marketing Was Revolutionised…

How Toy Marketing Was Revolutionised…

In times gone by, marketing toys was much simpler, and if the truth to be told, easier! It was also potentially much more expensive than it needs to be today.

Back in the day we just had to tell the retailers the product was going to be TV advertised, and then once we were certain they had listed the product and pre-ordered enough stock to justify the budget, we TV advertised the hell out of the product, and some sold off the shelf and some didn’t, but as there is always another product development cycle ahead in the toy industry it didn’t matter all that much if there were a few prickly inventory issues as long as we’d amortised the TV we could mark down with the retailer and move on.

Even better, it actually didn’t really matter that much whether the product was any good. While retailers would moan if they had problems with returns, the key thing was to sell through as many products as possible pumped up by TV and hope retail inventory was clean enough to encourage re-orders next year.

In essence, what we had was a largely one way process of the toy industry and retailers flogging the hell out of a product, and  consumers taking the product to the tills and buying it in sufficient quantities as the only meaningful measure of success.

One (embarassing) example I feel honour bound to share with you at this point of just how one way that process was can be found in a particular product I launched some years ago. This product was a Bingo game, and for those not so aware of how Bingo works the key thing is that every player has their own distinctly different set of numbers to follow. Sadly, due to an error/omission the numbers printed in this particular Bingo game were all exactly the same printed sheet repeated. Which meant that the game was to all extents and purposes not playable and therefore not that useful! We shipped in 10,000 units of this product, and I know for a fact that 10,000 copies (more or less) were sold through. Astoundingly, the retailer only received 3 complaints from 10,000, despite the fact that the product was not playable. While I’m sure that at least half of those games were never opened, there really must have been at least a couple of thousand games opened and therefore a couple of thousand consumers would inevitably been disappointed (a fact which makes me feel shamed to this day!). But just three complaints !?!?…

This was the world before online consumer reviews, mums/moms blogs, product review sites and social media. Today I can just imagine the outraged Facebook posts which would be doing the rounds and the 1 out of 5 product rating with angry rants, but back in the day you could kind of get away with such ineptitude to a degree because people generally couldn’t be bothered to take something bought for such a throwaway price back to the store to complain.

Things have changed, in fact that understates things – Toy marketing has been revolutionised by online reviews and social media. Now while that may be no surprise to you or to your company, it still astounds me how susceptible toy companies are to bad reviews and unrepresentative/ludicrous reviews by people who online have power but who in person would not be listened to by the average savvy consumer. Doubtless you’ve seen some stupid feedback online – you know, someone who bought an action figure but can’t believe it can’t actually shoot real web from it’s fingers, or bought a trivia board game but then found it only involved asking and answering questions (!)…these people are out there, and they are adverseley affecting sales of your products right now!

That’s why Kids Brand Insight (our parent company) launched TheToyVerdict.com a product review website which guarantees to only add positive online word of mouth – if a product is tested and gets less than 7/10 we don’t post the review which protects you from bad PR online (although if you launch a crappy product someone out there is going to smash you, it just won’t be us!). From the consumers perspective, they know that TheToyVerdict.com will only post reviews for products which are either good, very good or excellent, in other words we aim to create a portal of cool stuff for consumers while helping toy companies effectively promote their products. All products reviewed and approved for posting on the site will feature product images and e-commerce sites to drive sell through for toy companies.

In addition, The Toy Verdict Awards 2015 are now open for entry to all categories of Toys. Research proves that award winning products sell more than they would have done without the awards, so long as award logos are featured in marketing, on pack, online etc. The 2015 winners will be featured extensively in PR in Q4 to further boost both real world and digital PR. To enter your products just click here.

For more information on The Toy Verdict, please go to www.TheToyVerdict.com