A Toy Industry Association press release came out a few days ago, outlining the top 6 trends from this years Toy Fair in NYC. I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at each in term. Lets begin!
1. GENERATION APP An emerging trend identified at Toy Fair 2011, this year there is an abundance of toys that work with smart devices and apps. Toymakers are using technology to enhance classic play patterns – not erase them. Physical toys remain integral to the play experience; in many cases, companies have created traditional toys that interact with popular devices that are already in so many homes … while tying in educational or active components for a well-rounded play experience. Includes: Products that work with an app or smart devices and products that are based upon an app or web property but have no digital tie-in.
This trend couldn’t make us any happier at Cieo since we’ve been championing web-enhanced play experiences since 2007. I can tell you that when I was talking to toy companies at Toy Fair in ’07, ’08 the industry was quite defensive and scared. It wasn’t uncommon when questioning whether or not a company was interested in exploring a web-connected product line to hear comments like “We already have a website”. Today, the climate for innovation in the toy industry has completely changed, and in fact, the very definition of a “Toy Company” is changing. It’s no longer solely an industrial design, manufacturing & traditional marketing landscape. The Toy Companies of the future will be the ones with content producers, iOS Developers, Psychoeducational Consultants and Interactive Storytellers. So glad things have changed too … The industry (although a stable 22 billion dollar industry) needed to evolve, or watch it’s market share dwindle to creative video game, online and mobile companies.
2. GLOWING WILD Toys that glow in the dark or light up will infiltrate the toy aisle this year across multiple categories – from outdoor and active toys to arts and crafts and creative products. Toys in this category add a fantastical element to playtime for kids of all ages. They “ignite” imaginative play by drawing kids into a world of whimsy and wonder – from arts and crafts toys that incorporate LED components to exciting light-up toys that safely simulate fireworks. Includes: Toys that rely on a glow component to drive the play experience and toys that are equally enjoyable in the light of day as they are in the dark (i.e. glow-in-the-dark wooden building blocks).
I believe this “trend” is more a reference to some specific product lines that are coming or have been released of late. Wowwee’s Lite Sprites line is a good example of a company innovating in the light-up toy category. I had the pleasure of working with Wowwee on the interactive demo for this product line and from the moment I was introduced to the product line and characters, I was thoroughly impressed. Well thought out characters with depth, and a simply magical play experience whereby you can absorb and transfer light and color using a magic wand. Isn’t a product like that exactly what kids want and what the toy industry is really all about? Empowering kids, inspiring their imagination and adding some magic to their lives though the joy of play.
3. LITTLE LEARNERS Far from simple “watch me” toys, products in this category build cognitive and developmental skills beginning at a very early age, transforming little ones into well-rounded, lifelong learners. These toys also give tykes a wide range of play options to choose from – allowing them to explore their interests and talents and develop these skills as they grow older. Includes: Infant to pre-school toys and games that educate and challenge and educational toys targeted to children of all ages.
All I can say about this trend is: it’s about time. As a Psychoeducational Consultant with experience in Toy development and interactive design, I can tell you that I’ve not been welcomed with open arms by Toy Manufacturers or Game Designs as of yet. Too often when it comes to educational products, companies are satisfied with a “stamp of approval” by an educational consultant or inviting us to the table right at the end of a products development to do some last minute quality control testing. Professionals like myself and others can and should be used more often in the development of educational products for early learners. We’re relatively cheap because our hours required aren’t many, but the value we bring to a product development cycle is invaluable. My concern in this category is that companies will continue to let their design teams and creative directors run the show with some help from focus groups and that we’ll miss the opportunity to create meaningful and evergreen educational products. We have all the technology and materials we need to innovate in the category, but teaching and learning is a complex field with many idiosyncrasies because we’re all so different and we all think, learn and play different from one another.
4. MANY WAYS TO PLAY! Toys in this category engage kids on multiple levels. Parents can buy one very dynamic toy that will entertain and educate a child for hours, days, weeks and months … allowing them to truly get their money’s worth. These toys have real depth – kids can play differently each time depending on their moods or interests. Many of these toys also grow with a child so that they can play in another way depending on their age. Includes: toys that combine multiple play patterns (i.e. active play, role play, game play, etc.) and customizable toys (playthings become a unique reflection of a child’s individuality).
Customizable toys cannot be mentioned enough. I don’t believe this trend has resulted in a lot of concrete products as of yet, but it’s certainly an exciting area. I think the key takeaway from Toy Companies with this trend is to continue to do your best to combine your unique concept/product with value in terms of your toys longevity and capacity to grow with the child. Obviously, web-enhanced products hold a lot of promise in this regard. It will be interesting to see how Mattel leverages their apptivity toys in that regard.
5. SAVE ‘N’ SPLURGE Recent toy industry data released by The NPD Group showed that consumers are increasingly making “purchasing trade-offs” – that is, buying higher-priced toys at the expense of mid- to lower-priced ones. As a result, 2012 will see a resurgence of toys that fall on the higher end of the price spectrum, as consumers are willing to loosen their purse strings a bit and spend more on products that pack a high play value punch or have a certain “WOW” factor. However, shoppers will always be attracted to affordable prices. Affordability was a trend in the past few years and this sub-trend will persist in 2012 as parents and other shoppers have really come to expect big play value at affordable prices. Includes: “The Big Ask” / impressive toys (at higher prices) and collectibles / expanded lines (at affordable prices).
I think that this particular trend really extends into Green and Planet Friendly toys. Inc.com brought this up in April of last year but not enough toy companies have responded. Incidentally, spending more cash and buying green/organic is especially true for the baby category. It’s crazy (and awesome) to see how health conscious mom’s are today about everything they buy for their children.
6. YOUNG MAESTROS A wide variety of musical toys will hit a high note in 2012 as kids of all ages – from infants to tweens and teens – rock out with toys and games that teach them how to play different instruments, practice their singing, or show off their dance moves. This trend is being driven largely by pop culture – such as television shows like American Idol, Glee, The Voice and X Factor. Includes: toys for young kids that teach music basics and toys for older kids that let them emulate their favorite pop stars.
This is one of those trends that’s really not a trend. Music toys and brands have been doing quite well for a few years now. I’m a huge fan of music toys and we’ll currently working on a prototype of one. It’s an interesting category because companies have exhausted a lot of ideas here and really need to take a fresh new look at the category. No one company is really owning musical toys and perhaps more importantly: innovation in music toys.
Will be fun to sort through all the videos that will be posted over the next few days from this years toy fair. If you have any thoughts about trends that were missed or if you’ve got some cool toys to share from NYC, definitely share!