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31 Jan – 4 Feb 2018
The Lion King was the most successful film in German cinemas in 2019, Avengers was in second place and Star Wars has been launched in the penultimate week of December. Disney has a firm grip on cinema and this is also noticeable in the toy market. Alongside Disney, a few other established big brands are managing to gain greater visibility and share out most of the market between them.
It is easy to understand why, as if you ask customers what they want, then of course they answer: “What we already know and love.” Just like customers always do. They are looking for what they already know, the thing that has already made them feel happy once before, the thing that makes for a fail-safe present. If you ask customers, then you inevitably get the big brands as the answer.
It's not just the retailers that sigh when they hear this, it is also the manufacturers because the stronger the big brands become, the greater their market power. But who wants to be dependent on just a few big players? It would be great if it were the other way around. Let's be honest: everyone wants to be a part of it and become a darling of the public, too.
If you speak with manufacturers, the desire to have their own theme, over which they have full control, is extensive. Essentially, everyone wants to have their own big thing and set their own trend because whoever sets a trend gets rid of the dependency on general market trends. The connection to consumers, who then become fans, would be something they hold in their own hands, that they can strengthen and continue to grow in the long term. It is then this manufacturer that the customers love and ask for.
But the reality looks somewhat different because it is not just customers who are scared of making the wrong purchase: it's the retailers and manufacturers too. And, aside from the big, in-demand brands, it has led to an extremely fast-paced and hectic market.
Ideas are sprinkled over the market from a watering can, implemented and tested at pace. The development needs to take place quickly; trends come and go in an ever speedier succession. Development has to be cheap because if the idea doesn’t take off on the market then the effort was a waste of time. Retailers increase the pace of the process even further because whatever fails to ignite straight away gets taken off the shelves quicker than it was put on display. Manufacturers always react the same way: cross it off, clear it out, move on to the next idea.
With each failure, the fear of failure increases. Prefer to follow the franchises and jump on the bandwagon of the trend. Prefer to play it safe and not take the risks involved in development.
And then the daily business catches you up. Money needs to be made; sales need to be secured. The time to see those revolutionary ideas through to the end just isn’t there. So people go for what has been tried and tested. “I’ll take second best because there isn't time to do it better.” But creativity and sound concepts need time. The tried and tested is simply easier. So we do it the same way we always have, the same way everyone does, because we know it worked before. This time, it just has to be a bit cheaper and quicker.
And so we get more of the same. Another superhero, another unicorn theme and even more sloths and llamas. And when someone says, “We could do something different for a change!”, it is met with a resounding echo of: “But we do it this way because that's how the industry works!” It is a conveyor belt of interchangeable novelties, going round on loop. What is left is the longing for one’s own trend.
New trends and new brands emerge precisely because they are different. Precisely because they stick out and don’t follow the beaten path.
We need more of that. More courage to do what is right instead of what is normal. More courage to see an idea through to its end instead of making do with the first one, so that the result is a first-class toy instead of just a “quite nice” product. One that would also be worth a higher price and not just discount pricing. And we need marketing channels that suit that, communication that sees customers as real people rather than treating them like an anonymous, apathetic, lottery-playing, purchasing mass.
Successful brands are made for people, not the masses. They turn into mass phenomena because they captivate people, by meeting their needs. Successful brands are conceived with people in mind, not trends or margins. That priority is critical.
It takes courage and perseverance to do it. The courage to dare to do something that is not what everyone else is doing but, instead, to make something that gives people a reason to fall in love with it. And then the perseverance to stick with it and not give up at the first hurdle.
Everyone has the dream of finally setting the next trend for once. Only few have the courage to pursue it consistently. Be brave! And stick with it!
About the author:
Dr Michael Gerharz is Co-Founder of the creative duo aprilkind, the idea factory behind the successful “Schlafmützen” and “Der Grolltroll” franchises. He is the author of the book “Der Aha-Effekt” (“The ‘Aha’ Effect”) and advises business from all sectors about how to align their communication with the needs of their customers.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.
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