Spielwarenmesse: Toy companies need to understand developmental stages in children

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16. October 2014 / Marketing

Toy companies need to understand developmental stages in children

from Steve Reece /  Show comments

Effective targeting depends on understanding what children can and can't do at each age.

In case you didn’t realise, the abilities of children vary massively depending on their age/stage of development. This seems blindingly obvious when reviewed in the ‘cold light of day’, yet toy companies repeatedly fail to effectively take account of this ever present issue in numerous ways.

Delivering the right product experience depends on understanding the basic rules of child development. Product experience plays a huge role in terms of driving word of mouth, a primary sell through driver for toys which can be as effective on a good product as TV advertising at no additional cost! 

Mentioning TV advertising, this all mighty marketing tool of toy companies everywhere is often seen as a gift from the gods due to a). the ability to highly target the perfect consumer via child targeted networks/stations and b). the significantly cheaper TV media (versus adult TV costs). With TV advertising though, we have a traditional, ‘old school’ medium i.e. once the media has aired, that is it, the activity is gone for good. Unlike more modern mediums i.e. social media etc., TV advertising cannot be fixed or tweaked as things go along, it is a one shot boost (when it works!). 

So when our industry relies so heavily on this ‘fire and forget’ type of marketing, it is ever so critical to ensure the message is right for the audience, and doesn’t alienate them or miss the target. Yet a significant portion of TV ads for toys and games clearly miss the mark from the perspective of someone knowledgeable about the development stages of children. 

We once conducted consumer research into a TV advert for a leading perennial brand in our industry. The new ad had not lead to the sales uplift expected, a serious concern for the client company. When we tested the TVC executions, it became quickly clear why the ad had failed – the creative concept was something adults and teenagers would understand and perhaps be positively influenced by, but had no relevance as a message to young children. The total cost for media and TV ad production behind this brand was significant. So how came a company in the position to waste money on advertising that is so far from effective? 

The answer comes in several parts: 

  1. The creative team who produced the advert did not have children themselves, and so were lacking in insight/checks and balances to ensure the message was appropriate and compelling. 
  2. The toy company had some of the knowledge needed in their organisation, but didn’t use it/run the ad past the people with the knowledge at an early enough stage. 
  3. There was no systematic testing of products/advertising materials with the target audience. While the example used here is historic i.e. dates back several years, this issue of toy companies missing the mark in terms of the basics of marketing positioning/targeting is an ongoing issue. 

Recently I saw a really cool looking new product which literally made me say ‘WOW’. To investigate further I went to the website – in this day and age an important tool in terms of building and encouraging brand immersion, and the resulting brand ‘evangelism’ that toy companies chase at great expense. In fairness, the website looks amazing – it’s slick, visually impactful and makes the products look really cool…but, the website is far too ‘wordy’ for the target market. The product range clearly needs to target 4-7 year old boys, yet until 7-8 years of age children can’t read easily, quickly and intuitively in the way adults can. 

So instead of having a visual/icon/video driven website, the brand is represented by a website covered in large chunks of text which children of the target age will mostly not be able to understand. This is a really simple and fundamental mistake which is very often repeated.

In our industry between two-thirds and three-quarters of all skus are new every year. The profit opportunity of carry forward products should not be ignored, an extra year of sales on a line with no R&D costs, no ad production costs and with proven retail sell through should be the target. But this depends on delivering great experience and word of mouth drivers, which many toy companies presume they will get but don’t actively take steps to ensure they will achieve this from the target consumer perspective, not their own!

So do you need to relook at your own processes and consumer interfacing to raise your game…?


Author of this article:

Steve Reece, CEO Kids Brand Insight

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