A Quick Word on the Toy Market

By | Monday, June 17, 2024 Leave a Comment
Earlier this month, Circana -- "a leading advisor on the complexity of consumer behavior" -- released a report that starts off with: "Consumers ages 18 and older accounted for more toy sales in Q1 than any other age group, surpassing preschoolers for the first time." I saw a couple third-party pieces referring (obliquely) to this report and thought they might be misconstruing the findings or tweaking the headline for the sake of click-bait. But as far as I can tell, no, the headline there is legitimately referring to actual dollars spend by adults for themselves, specifically on toys. Adult collectors account for 43% of toy purchases in the past year "with the top reasons being for socialization, enjoyment, and collecting."

What I find interesting, though, is that while Circana did a lot studying consumer behavior, they did not seem to bring into account anything about manufacturing behavior. And that seems significant.

Let's turn first to the movie industry. Audiences have been complaining for years that movie-makers keep hitting the same creative well over and over by just pushing endless sequels and remakes and reboots. None of which are new to film (the sequel to the original 1933 King Kong was written, filmed, produced, and released in 1933... literally the same year as the original -- to capture as much of the same audience a second time before their enthusiasm waned) but they have become the norm so much so that almost nothing that gets into theaters doesn't have some other property it's tied to. The reason this is done, primarily, is that it's safe. It's safer for a studio to release a sequel they know will only make 75% of the original, rather than put out an entirely original story that might be a money-losing bomb evn if it might be a runaway success. They'd rather have the 'guaranteed' amount over the possibility of something more. I expect you've heard this type of analysis before already.

But let's extend that idea in a couple directions. First, it's indicative of what EVERY company wants to do, toy companies included. They would prefer releasing toys that are have a familiarity built into them because they can do a better job of predicting sales. And whether that's a familiarity of concept (like "Lego" or "Monopoly") or a familiarity of IP (like "Spider-Man" or "Star Wars") that's going to inherently appeal to an older demographic. A three-year old is not going to remember and be familiar with Superman to know to buy an Superman action figure based on any sort of nostalgic quality. That's not to say a Superman action figure can't appeal to a child, but it's not an appeal to any prior knowledge. But you can appeal to a nostalgic adult and produce Superman toys that deliberately harken back to another version of the same toy they had as a child themselves. This is something toy manufactures did not do very much previously; that's why the original G.I. Joe line from 1963 bears zero resemblance to the revival version from 1982.

The second point to extend that movie idea is that, even if the toys themselves are not deliberately nostaligic, the very nature of the intellectual properties in those films and movies is. So even a totally new toy, if it's tied to one of these sequels/reboots/remakes, will also be targeted to the adult collector. The current Dune movies have toys associated with them that bear no resemblence to the ones made for the 1984 film. But the movie itself is a reboot of the story, based on the 1960s prose works of Frank Herbert. It's a complicated story that appeals to an older audience who is able to parse it more readily, so the toys aren't likely to appeal to younger audiences to begin with. The movie itself is an appeal to audiences to found the 1984 adaptation lacking and/or fans of the original story.

Where I'm going with this is that, yes, adults are buying more toys for themselves than in years past. But that is at least in part due to toy manufacturers producing toys designed and marketed expressly to them in the first place. Hasbro has a Star Wars line of figures that expressly designed to mimic the asthetic of the original Kenner figures. Brand new figures, based on the modern shows and movies, but using a deliberately inferior sculpt and articulation in an express appeal to the nostlagia of those original figures.

To suggest as many, including Circana, seem to be that adults are changing their behaviors because of generational notions -- that it's something inherent with Millennials and Gen Xers -- is completely ignoring the decidedly deliberate and increasingly forceful marketing directed towards them. They may well be more Millennials and Gen Xers buying toys, but that's in response to what toy manufacturers are doing, not something they're pushing toy manufactuers into.
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