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Toy fads are getting bigger but shorter

25 August 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

Bigger thanks to global media, shorter because they get so much exposure

You can be sure that we have passed peak Pop It toys because someone in his forties without kids is talking about it.

Rather that a hit toy of the year or ever evolving versions of them, they appeared on TikTok as #popit in early 2021 and proceeded to generate almost 10 billion views of people playing with them. As their popularity began to rise, so did the orders. Rather than being a carefully controlled roll out of a trademarked and patented product. They were produced by any number of manufacturers who could quickly make a mould.

The hit toys are more likely to be actual viral toys rather than the curated select set of items conceived and marketed by toy companies.

I am not suggesting that toy manufacturers are not still trying and sometimes succeeding to create the must have toy demand for Christmas, but it is getting harder and so this is a short take on how we got here.

The Icons

Two quite different companies can tell a remarkable story about the history of the global toy market. Mattel’s Barbie Doll was the first iconic toy and Lego’s blocks are the other. Lego blocks as we know them today were launched in 1958 and Barbie in 1959. It means Barbie is officially a pensioner now.

Yet both still perform well on Google’s trends with spikes in searches each December. Barbie peaked in 2007 while Lego peaked in 2015.

The Google search trends since 2004 to show how various toys have performed over time.

Both companies carefully manage their product, production and its evolution. Both have made use of TV, movies, music and more recently video games to keep the toys relevant to what will now be the 5th or 6th generation of children whose parents also had the toy in their youth. Crazy to imagine a Baby Boomer and a Gen Z with very different outlooks on the world but played with the same toys.

It is likely they will remain part of our lives for many years to come and have been joined by a toy chest of other very famous toys that we either still remember or still get.

Some were games like Uno or the Rubik's Cube, many were the characters from comics, TV or the movies. Star Wars, DC and Marvel are still producing some of the most sought out action characters. More on them later.

Some were things you could ride, from skateboards, to scooters to hoverboards. Don’t forget the cars, trucks, bikes and other forms of transport that were made from everything from wood to metal to plastic and came in every shape and size.

More recently have been video games or electronic toys, like Tamagotchi and Furby’s.

And then there is that one year the world (America mostly) went crazy for a pet rock.

Business Insider made a list of top toy by year in 2018.

Batteries not included

The toys that were powered became more common in the 80’s and many of the new must have items have tended to need power to work.

It is possible that the most recent batch of runaway successes have not needed power in part because almost everything else does and that they have mostly been items that are meant to be tactile.

From fidget spinners, to slime to stress balls and now pop its the toys have been robust and meant to handle a fair bit of punishment.

Maybe they were just the thing for a world coming to terms with global warming and a pandemic. The apparent rise or just the discovery of the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) could also help these toys which combine a sound and feeling to create strange by pleasant effect in what I understand is quite a large group of people.

The de-stressing effect was first noted with a much older product that Pop It’s which take their inspiration from - bubble wrap. Would you believe it too came out in the late 50’s although it was originally intended as a textured wallpaper which failed and only found a commercial use as packaging when computers began shipping and needed to be protected from being bumped around in transit. A research paper in 1992 investigated if the stress relief from popping them was real and found it was.

Computer games keep your hands busy too, but not in the same way and may increase stress depending on what you are playing.

Playing field changed

The New York Times in 2017 noted the shift in how hit toys were being discovered and distributed. Once a fad was starting everyone could pile in with Chinese manufacturing able to produce huge volumes at low prices and in record times.

Searching for Pop it on Alibaba returns hundreds of results while a similar site DHGate has similar pages and pages of wholesalers able to send in bulk and ship in days.

So the shift may be from the carefully curated to the endlessly tested on sites like YouTube with influencers like Ryan Kaji the 10-year-old YouTube multimillionaire to a growing group of TikTokers looking to find their next like.

Once a hashtag begins to trend, those that started it can cash in at least until everyone else from fellow online influences to online retailers and multinational retailers jump on the bandwagon.

But because there is so much so quick, the fad is likely to fizzle even faster starting the next round.

I mentioned the action figures and they may buck the trend as there is a growing market for better and bigger versions of classic figures for adults with the money to buy them and some serious business for well kept original versions of old toys. But that too is likely to get an additional level as the collectibles get Non Fungible Token (NFT) equivalents which could be issued for just about anything.

Speaking of which, I am off to perform some Yo-Yo tricks and post it on TikTok as an NFT.

25 August 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

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