Spielwarenmesse: Toys International – we all play the same, right?

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Toys International – we all play the same, right?

from Axel Dammler

No matter where on Earth you may look: Don’t kids play the same way everywhere? Girls love their dolls, boys prefer cool cars, dangerous dinosaurs and massive spaceships – so it does not come as a surprise that the toy market has become such a large business all around the globe. But the strong parallels that we see worldwide are not random as playing is not just fun and games, but also the most important “work” children have to do. By playing, kids learn all the skills an adult needs to have – from motor skills to social competence.

Toys are different in each country

There are nonetheless differences between countries – the principle of one size fits all does not always work. In addition to children’s natural (and universally equal) urge to play, other factors come into play, such as a country’s culture and value system, and the respective media landscape. An important factor to consider is that nearly all nations have developed their own aesthetic traditions over centuries, which still influence what people find attractive today. To understand what this means, you simply need to take a look at children’s books in different countries. Toys may roughly be the same everywhere but they look slightly different from country to country. For example, what should a doll’s face look like or which materials are preferable? Should it be colourful and flashy or is wood and a simple look the better option?

Toys need to meet various demands

A toy’s outward appearance is not the only important thing, but also the features offered by it. Also very important is the question how parents want to raise their children. This influences what they expect from toys they get for their children and which functions these toys should have. This differs greatly in each country, which can be related to a country’s history, but also be influenced by a country’s national education system. Should the product simply be a fun and entertaining toy, or should it teach the child something, maybe even challenge the child to think, going so far as to compensate for perceived teaching deficits at school? Values such as performance orientation, creativity and also gender roles are shaped by society. These values are then also reflected in toys for children. This is not just a matter of educational toys, but toys in general. Should a doll be interactive and stimulate the child, inciting individual playing routines? Or should the toy be without any instructions at all, so the child can play guided by its own creativity?

Some of these aspects and demands can be catered for by different packaging designs for each country, which then showcase the right characteristics for the respective country (however, this is often not possible anymore because of our globalised economy). Other criteria demand completely different and country-specific features. These lead to certain toys not being suitable to be sold everywhere, even if they theoretically fulfil the playing requirements for all children around the world.

The biggest country-specific differences can be found in toys for toddlers

In the course of our research, we found out that the differences are slowly disappearing as the globalised toy and media landscape is dominated by only a handful of large companies. However, the necessity to localise is still an important factor in the toy business. This applies all the more for the youngest generation: Especially in the infant and preschool age group, the differences are at their largest, whereas older children are increasingly guided by the big media and toy franchises.


Visit the Toy Business Forum at the 2019 Spielwarenmesse®, where the Managing Director of the market research company iconkids&youth, Axel Dammler, will give detailed insights into country studies on toys in the ever more globalised world.

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