Spielwarenmesse: What media & toy companies need to know from each other

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What media & toy companies need to know from each other

from Steve Reece

There has been a seismic shift in the toy industry in the last ten years. That being TV as the primary media for entertainment content consumption to a world in which YouTube and Netflix are as important as the old platforms if not more so. On top of that the move from ‘old school’ TV advertising to digital marketing makes the collaboration between media, advertising and toy companies more complex and requires more understanding.

The delivery mechanisms have at least partly changed, but the messaging has not particularly changed. The key success factors for kid’s content and for toy advertising are still more or less the same:

  • engaging entertaining funny content …
  • with a mix of characters to appeal to a broad section of kids …
  • and clear demonstrations of cool products, characters and features.

One thing though which has not particularly changed is the friction and disconnection between media companies, TV advertising people and the toy companies.

TV brands and characters aren’t automatically successful toy licenses

Looking at the media companies in the world of kid’s entertainment production and distribution first, there are several key areas of friction which have not particularly changed over time.

  1. The expectation that toy companies (or any other licensee for that matter) are interested in helping to build the media companies brand or stretch it in new directions is not uncommon, but logically not realistic. Toy companies will pay high royalties to license popular characters or brands, but why would they pay for a brand that is not established when they could invest in developing their own brands?
  2. There are some fundamentals of successful toyetic entertainment franchises that can’t be ignored. From frequency and duration of airing to a strong and deep character matrix, toy companies need enough characters to support a full toy line. One character shows are harder to merchandise for instance.
  3. Sometimes it seems like the media company and the toy company are living in completely different worlds – for instance there can be a disconnect between the reality of sales forecasts versus the media companies’ expectations, that’s a particular and frequent friction point. Also, media companies generally have highly emotionally invested creative people. The success of the franchise is quite likely as much due to this creative investment as anything else. When you try and stretch from an on-screen franchise to a physical toy though, this can stretch the creative premise and cause roadblocks.

Modern advertising possibilities requires more knowledge on both sides

Looking to the world of advertising, the disconnect between toy companies and advertising/marketing companies is as clear as it was pre-digital media. In the past toy companies would complain of advertising agencies trying to make great art out of kid’s TV commercials instead of just selling the product. This is an age-old advertising industry vs client friction point which has not gone away. Today of course TV advertising remains a key part of the marketing mix, albeit not as omnipresent as before. But we also now have search engine optimization (SEO), online advertising and a myriad of other platforms all spawning countless agencies to bombard the clients (i.e. us in the toy companies).

The reality today is that we are much less likely to have an argument about creative content with an SEO or online advertising agency than we are with an agency producing TV commercials, but nevertheless there are still some big friction points. One of the major challenges is the lack of technical understanding or sophistication on behalf of some toy company staff. It is all too easy to have an agency take advantage of an unknowledgeable marketing person in a toy company.

From the agency’s perspective, it can be very frustrating if the client doesn’t fully understand the key premise of your business. It makes it harder to make the client feel you are doing a good job & delivering, but also makes it harder to achieve successful results in the first place.

One key element of all digital marketing though (as with all forms of marketing) is metrics – tangible tracking of impact of spend. All marketing should be closely impact measured, but digital advertising above all should deliver constant meaningful, measurable data, and should be switched on or ramped up/switched off based on more instant measures of success.

One for all doesn’t work for toy advertising

There are those industries and companies who can’t believe that toy companies still spend so much on TV advertising or even on producing their own entertainment content for kids. But clearly there is a reality that while kids are heavy users of the internet, they are harder to effectively and ethically target en masse online, especially since they should not yet be using social media.

TV advertising both during kids programming slots on terrestrial TV and kid’s specialist channels is still a great way to reach kids of the right age with motivating messages. One of the challenges here for toy companies is to educate their agencies to understand that while you can easily target parents online, it can be more challenging to hit kids in an impactful mass market way.

Two things are sure – firstly the media landscape will continue to evolve – we are after all still in the infancy of the internet revolution in historical terms. Secondly, friction and misunderstanding will continue between toy companies and media companies, yet the two remain forever intertwined regardless – so strong relationship management will always be key to achieving success.

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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