Anatomy of a Blockbuster Toy: Play-Doh

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

February 8th 2016 at 11:15AM
UPDATED February 8th 2016 at 12:18PM
Anatomy of a Blockbuster Toy: Play-Doh

Since its launch as a toy in 1956, after being used as a cleaning agent in the 1930s, Play-Doh has rocketed to global fame, shifting over two billion tubs of the compound to become the number one arts and crafts product in the UK. As the brand turns 60, Robert Hutchins explores the versatility of this blockbuster toy.

It’s a vastly overlooked fact that Play-Doh began life in the 1930s as a solution for cleaning wallpaper in homes.

It wasn’t until a group of school children started using the substance as a moulding clay in an art class in the 1950s, that the product was remarketed as the iconic children’s line we know it as today.

Over that time, and since its official launch into the children’s market in 1956, Play-Doh has shifted over two billion units worldwide and finds itself at the forefront of the booming arts and craft market.

In fact, such is the global recognition of the now iconic Play-Doh brand, that in the last five years alone, over one billion cans of the mouldable clay have been shipped to retailers and young fans worldwide.

All in all, that’s not too bad for a product that used to be found hanging off your Great Aunt’s living room wall.
However, as it kicks off the celebrations for its 60th anniversary this year, Play-Doh’s plans for world domination are most definitely far from over.

Hasbro has now detailed its plans to continue to deliver new innovation to the arts and crafts market through its latest brand extensions including construction themed play, food role-play and a plethora of brand new licensing relationships.

And it is in the firm’s licensing partnership with Disney, that a new collection of Frozen and Marvel branded Play-Doh products are looking to help increase the brand’s audience size further still.

“Over the years, the Play-Doh brand has expanded and evolved from its classic Play-Doh can to a variety of colours and engaging play-sets,” Craig Wilkins, marketing director at Hasbro for UK and Ireland, tells ToyNews.

“Entering new categories of creativity, the Play-Doh brand extended its toy box strategy, resulting in 99 per cent consumer awareness. Nowadays, and outside of the core toy range, the Play-Doh brand has multiple licensees who expand the Play-Doh world.

“From Frozen to Marvel, the wide range of Play-Doh licensed products help build creativity alongside the characters kids love.”

Having seen ‘tremendous growth’ over its years, Play-Doh currently enjoys the accolade of the number one product in the total UK arts and crafts market, and is a key player under the Hasbro umbrella of globally revered brands.

But that doesn’t mean team Play-Doh can afford to rest on its laurels, and continued brand extension remains at the forefront of the firm’s mind as it ploughs ahead with its global growth.

“With new lines being added to the Play-Doh brand year-on-year, there are limitless possibilities for new play-sets,” continues Wilkins.

One of Hasbro’s biggest pushes in recent years has been in Play-Doh’s food role-play offering, which features the popular Cupcake Celebration and Ice Cream Parlour, giving kids the chance to get creative with a number of different foods.

Hasbro explains: “From Pizza Party to Cupcake Celebration or Crazy Cuts to Diggin’ Rigs, the Play-Doh brand is versatile enough to keep producing innovative new products year-on-year.

“It’s what makes us the market leader in arts and crafts, and thanks to its endless creative possibilities, we can ensure hours of fun, while its heritage, quality and trust make it the number one craft choice for parents.”

There’s no doubt that from its creation, Play-Doh fast became a classic and loved toy brand, used in homes and schools in over 90 countries around the world.

But we’re a long way off 1956 now, and with the experience of 60 years in delivering new innovation in the arts and crafts market behind it, what has it learned and what has it got in store for the next generation of young fans?

Its advances in adapting to the way children of today play have seen Hasbro launch the Play-Doh sister product DohVinci, inspired by the recent leaps forward in bringing 3D printing into the household.

“The DohVinci brand provides an intuitive and unique play pattern, which allows kids to decorate their world in 3D using a styler tool and Dohvinci/Play-Doh compound,” explains Wilkins.

“Unlike most paints or markers, if you make a mistake with DohVinci, you can wipe off the design and try again. Once complete, the kits can be assembled for unique creations.

“Since its launch in August last year, DohVinci has taken the arts and crafts world by storm, and has received Christmas top toy nominations.”

Of course, Play-Doh is no stranger to the odd accolade and not only did The Play-Doh Cake Mountain play-set receive the Best New Toy Award within the Creative Category at the UK Toy Fair 2014, the Play-Doh brand has also been placed in the Strong National Museum of Play’s National Toy Hall of Fame, and was named one of the 100 most memorable toys of the 20th Century by the US Toy Industry Association.

But that’s all history now for this forward thinking brand. And while its multitude of accolades over the years truly cement the brand’s place in the blockbuster toy category, the only way Hasbro can continue to succeed in the market is by maintaining its position ahead of the curve with new innovation.

And with a wealth of tricks up its sleeve for the year ahead and beyond, confidence in the brand’s continual ability to keep those tills ringing at retail is high.

Wilkins says: “With licensing for Frozen, Marvel Avengers and the upcoming launch of Play-Doh Town, the brand is continuing to grow year-on-year, while maintaining its position as the UK market leader in art and crafts.”