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Content is king

from Steve Reece

The changing world of content has revolutionised the toy business. There are many ways how toy manufacturers and retailers can employ content marketing for their business.

We all knew that Amazon would achieve large market share of non-food products a decade or more before they actually began to OWN online retail & have a major impact on the reality of retail today (versus the potential future threat they offered). The same scenario has been playing out in the world of content over the last decade or so, yet in some ways we still see toy companies and retailers overly focused on the old models of content consumption and the potential sales uplift offered by compelling content.

Limited content offering for children in the 80’s

Two kids in front of the TV in the 80’s.
The children’s programme lasted only a few hours a day.

Way back in the ‘80s the content offering was restricted to 3 terrestrial TV stations in the UK with no cable or satellite TV. Frankly, the content on offer to a child at that time was quite good, but only available at limited times i.e. straight after school and earlier on Saturday morning, before the adult programs took over. Here’s how limited content distribution was back then – I remember sitting there for a whole hour watching a countdown to the launch of the 4th UK TV station – Channel 4 when I was 7 years of age!

Nowadays children enjoy 24/7 entertainment

Fast forward to today & this generation of toy consumers have a bewildering and effectively unlimited array of entertainment content available to them. What is particularly challenging though for our standard traditional models of licensing content brands for toys is that much of the content on offer is user generated or completely random – anyone today can create YouTube channels or social media followings of millions by being funny, entertaining, gross etc. For the first time we seem to be very close to the tipping point whereby the old licenses based on movies & network TV content struggle to keep up.

Certainly, judging by the poor movie year that was 2017 and conversations I have had following that underwhelming movie year, many toy companies have more than ever been moving away from traditional licenses based on traditional content and more towards the new paradigms.

Brave new world of content

Two girls with mobile devices.
There is an endless social media entertainment for kids today.

Just like we knew Amazon would become the juggernaut of non-food online retail, so we knew Netflix and YouTube would revolutionise the world of content, and therefore the world of toy licensing. What has been perhaps less predictable though is the huge potential of embracing these platforms for marketing narrative.

From the huge runaway success of Shopkins (at least partly driven by YouTube webisodes) through to the LOL Surprise phenomenon which utilised the now staple toy marketing method of unboxing to capture the imagination of modern day kids and built huge online noise without the need for the less and less effective TV advertising on which we relied in the past. Marketers need look forward to find their own opportunities to piggy back these unique and unprecedented opportunities.

Toy companies, broadcast everything!

For toy companies one area which has become particularly intriguing is the ability to easily and cheaply ‘broadcast’ everything. Before long we could have toy manufacturers which broadcast their product development process, and behind the scenes content which builds the next generation of toy executives from little known stars into genuine celebrities.

When toy companies have their own celebrities they will be able to launch products with great support via their own channels, before needing to recruit any external support! Fan base communities can also thus become more directly involved in product development selections i.e. if we can ask our community if they want a product, we can effectively pre-sell before we develop, which must surely hugely reduce the chance of wasting money on unsuccessful product launches. This should be a very good thing for toy manufacturers going forward!

Retailers, watch out for social media performance of toys

From a retailers perspective, these moves towards ultra-fragmented content distribution and towards toy companies building ever greater online following offers strong opportunity, but perhaps less straightforward predictability. In the past products from top companies utilising top brands and with heavyweight TV advertising were almost a no brainer in terms of listings decisions even if margins may not have been great.

However, cutting through the bravado of threats not to list top 10 products, we all know retailers have to have these products to bring traffic into stores. The challenge nowadays is that success is slightly harder to predict, and brands can go from no presence to huge presence seemingly overnight, despite our annual selling cycle in toys.

Social media presumers win out

One final observation – people today seem to presume Facebook, YouTube & Netflix are going to be eternal market leaders. These great companies themselves even realise that we have never lived in times where things are more likely to change. Facebook for instance is (reportedly) already perceived to be the ‘oldies’ social media of choice by today’s youth, with many younger social media users more active on Instagram & Snapchat.

But what happens when these youngsters become older? Will their younger siblings need new platforms? Will the children of today’s youth still see Instagram & Snapchat as cool, or will they too become the oldies platform? The reality is we cannot expect to predict whether these platforms will keep their market share & relevance, but what we can be absolutely certain of is that content fragmentation is here to stay and therefore we had better keep our radar pointing forward not backward going forward!


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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Author of this article:

Steve Reece, CEO Kids Brand Insight

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