Recently I’ve been reading books with an historical flavour, looking back in time in the toy business, from the 1990s back to the 1890s.
I’ve also been very busy so far this year conducting focus groups with children for toy companies.
One very noticeable point amidst all this ‘research’ is the perennial and timeless nature of themes and characters in this industry.
For sure, there are some completely new developments, but so much of what works today worked historically as well.
In fact this struck me to such a degree that it makes you wonder just how we ever manage to launch products that fail.
Some themes just seem to recur over and over again. Space, aliens and starships have been prevalent in our industry for decades, starting from when mankind first launched space craft.
Clearly kids are fascinated by space, and as a largely unexplored environment which requires amazingly high tech craft to traverse, it’s an amazing opportunity for imaginative toy design, and of course entertainment by way of TV series, movies and virtual worlds. No wonder that Star Wars has been a top selling toy property for decades.
Girls and horses/ponies is a recurrent theme. I’ve interviewed hundreds of kids, but never quite got a definitive explanation of the affinity for our equine friends, but as a certain toy pony brand can testify, horses and ponies are a winning combination.
Dinosaurs seem to come and go in the toy business, but they always seem to reappear in some different way shape or form.
As soon as you see little boys pretending to use a T-rex to attack and eat something else in an aggressive way, it becomes clear why dino toys keep on coming back.
Heroes and villains (or goodies and baddies) is another prevalent theme. Children like the stark contrast between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, because it reflects their simplistic view of the world, and gives them heroic characters to aspire to, although beware the kids who like to aspire to be the baddies.
This theme is particularly strong in archetypal boys action properties.
Monsters or mutants is another favourite theme, often joined with goodies and baddies.
None of this should be news for those who’ve been in the industry for a while, although if you have a multi category product range and don’t have any of these themes reflected in your current offering, perhaps you should.
There are, of course, other themes as well which just keep coming back.
The major point here though is that we shouldn’t be launching toys that fail due to having the wrong ‘theme’, because what works has been proven.
The success or failure is all in the execution, and that’s a whole other story…
About the author