We are all familiar with the joy on children’s faces as they leave a toy store the proud owner of a new toy. But our enjoyment of playthings does not end on entering adulthood. In some markets, the purchasing power of “kidults” is growing.
Most toys are made for children but bought for them by adults. So there is nothing unusual about adults, whether parents or relatives, buying toys. Adults buying toys for themselves is not a new phenomenon either. However, there is still lots of potential here for the toy sector to produce and market traditional toys aimed specifically at adults.
To illustrate the sales opportunities: an NPD Group study showed there has been a two-thirds increase in purchases of toys by adults for personal use in the last five years. The market research analysts at the NPD Group observed a 21% rise in 2016 alone. Getting down to the level of individual markets, kidults in South Korea are particularly enthusiastic consumers. This market already has so much potential that it is home to a dedicated annual trade fair – the Kidult & Hobby Expo.
Kidults range across many age categories. Taking a look at the purchasing power of various age groups, however, the Millennials (18–34 year olds) account for around half of the spend among adults buying toys for themselves, followed by Generation X (35–54 year olds) at around a third. 18 percent of the Baby Boomer generation (55 years+) buy toys for themselves. Adults without children spend more money on toys for themselves than adults with children, and are also more likely to buy on impulse, for instance when browsing in a toy department.
Still young at heart
Scientists have long known that play is not a childish pursuit, but a creative one, encompassing board games, outdoor play, challenging building block projects, meticulously detailed model trains and much more. Some adults see playing with toys as the antithesis to growing old. Keeping active takes on increasing importance as we age, and so does having fun. Playing with toys is simply a welcome diversion from working life for some, but a passionate long-term leisure pursuit for others. People are also happy to spend a bit more money on this kind of recreational activity.
The term kidults is more commonly applied to men. This is hard to justify, considering women are just as interested as men in finding enjoyable diversions. However, the impression remains that the more costly toys in particular with lots of technical bells and whistles are mainly purchased by men and also specifically marketed to them. Model construction and hobby toys as well as model trains are considered male domains, but tech toys also tend to fascinate men more than women.
Meanwhile, traditional creative pastimes such as painting, handicrafts and crocheting are seen more as female pursuits. However, there is so much variety when it comes to toys that typical gender-based preferences are actually only apparent in individual areas.
The increasing enthusiasm among adults for toys is surely also attributable in part to the DIY trend, which can be seen in the hardware and other sectors. There is an inexorable boom in this area – thanks to the Internet as well. Doing things for ourselves and following assembly instructions are just part of the appeal. Even more so, DIY has become a means of personal and creative development, allowing us to actively reshape parts of our life and giving us the freedom to frame our own rules.
Products for kidults
A few toy manufacturers have recognised the potential of this “big kid” target group. And it certainly matters that adults have bigger budgets than kids when it comes to buying toys.
However, the companies must also satisfy the higher standards of grown-up consumers and try out new approaches to product design and marketing in order to offer this target group attractive toys.
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LEGO has been running a LEGO for Men campaign for a few years now. The manufacturer uses this product group to promote selected toys to AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO). The LEGO Technic, LEGO Architecture and even LEGO Star Wars products play a particularly important role in this, offering everything from a bucket wheel excavator with 3,900 pieces (Power Functions motor included) and a precise 780-piece replica of Buckingham Palace through to an X-wing fighter, for those looking to bring science fiction to life. Once the products have enough complexity to really challenge, adult fans of LEGO are prepared to splash the cash for the chance to build these masterpieces.
Märklin and Carrera offer other examples. Their products, whether model aircraft, ships, trains or cars, increasingly boast high-tech features. Remote controls, ideally digital, are the order of the day.
In the creative area, pen manufacturer Staedtler is working with British illustrator Johanna Basford. The company has produced lots of online tutorials for its creative products that aim to appeal to adults in particular.
#myCreativeEscape Videoseries by Staedtler
Adults as target groups of their own
Given their purchasing power and desire to actively organise their leisure time, kidults are a relevant target group for the toy sector. Play has little to do with age, and a lot to do with fun. Babies and pensioners alike enjoy playing. To tap into this potential, manufacturers and retailers should consider how traditional toys might be developed and marketed specifically for adults. After all, a product for an eight-year-old won’t necessarily cut the mustard with a thirty-year-old. If kidults are recognised as their own target group, there are millions of new toy purchasers who are still young at heart and enjoy playing to be reached.
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