Once the forgotten toy category, collectable toys is now one of the driving forces of the global toy industry. The bigger toy companies once shunned such low-priced products based on the logic that you had to sell so many of them it wasn’t worth it – that a few hundred thousand units of sales didn’t make for a very impressive top line sales number. Fast forward to today, and the obvious answer to that apparent drawback is to sell tens of millions or hundreds of millions of units instead of a few hundred thousands!
Today top selling collectable toys churn through huge quantities, and every major toy company has a significant offering in this low-priced slot which was once so apparently undesirable.
Major brands embraced collectable toys in the noughties
Actually, the current collectable toy renaissance has at least a little to do with the global financial crisis of the noughties. While the toy industry overall didn’t see any market size shrinkage, our customers and consumers were under significant pressure. During tough times, many toy companies presumed that they needed to reduce price points so that under pressure retailers could offer lower price point toys to cash strapped consumers. Coming out of the financial crisis, companies with major brands who had never before been active in this category suddenly found the burning need to enter.
Success factors of collectable toys
What we have also seen is the growth of several heavy hitting collectable toy specialist companies. Their constant innovation, product development, brand extension activities and sheer breadth of character offerings have invigorated a once unglamorous category. Collectable brands such as Shopkins, Zomlings etc. have seen huge success, and there are some clear factors and features in successful collectable toys:
- The Playground effect
Children are highly sociable creatures! Their typical daily environment is the perfect product marketing platform, they have more than an hour of social leisure time every day with other children. Therefore, toys they are really into and which are portable can get a huge boost in the playground. The more desirable & socially impressive the toys can be the more the viral word of mouth will spread and the higher the sales will be. You can see how collectable toy companies stimulate aspirational associations with their brands by using rare and special figures or toys – maybe gold or silver, maybe a different material, something reflective etc.
- Strong Marketing
This may seem obvious, clearly most successful toy brands have a good marketing plan. However, it is especially important in this space as you need to ensure standout versus all the other collectable toys out there. In this day and age, we have moved beyond just TV advertising, although that is still clearly an effective part of the mix. Today though content is king, successful collectable brands like Shopkins and Super Zings use animated webisodes via YouTube and other channels to drive interest and engagement. Point of sale is also critical though, as such small products can struggle to standout on shelf versus bigger items – those companies who invest in strong point of sale materials are more likely to succeed.
- Tactile appeal
Collectable toys are carried around because they are engaging and enticing to touch. Children are more driven by their sense of touch vs adults. In fact, until they get to around school starting age they FEEL toys before they LOOK at them. So above all collectable toys should have good textures, interesting actions and compelling physical play.
- Broad character matrix
Different children have different personalities and different character preferences. You may have noticed that the ensemble super hero movies seem to have an endless cast of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddy’ characters. There is a very good reason for this – different children associate with different characters. The same applies in collectable toys – you may have a rough and tough physical monster looking character in the same collection as a much softer character. A broad character matrix encourages and drives collectability, and those children who simply must collect every character become the brand evangelists who do so much to drive collectable toy sales.
- Format longevity
If you are fortunate enough to establish a major hit toy line in this space you need to ensure that you get more than one product wave out of it. So very narrow topics won’t necessarily help to extend to future waves of more and more characters. Extendable or flexible formats and themes are best.
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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