Home Help: How the pandemic has seen toy companies transition into support networks for families

Demand for toy brands to act beyond their products and offer supporting services to parents and families is tipped to continue into 2021 and beyond, as companies across the industry continue to transition into resources and networks for their audiences.

The evolution of the traditional toy company has become part and parcel of the sweeping changes that have played out across the 2020 landscape, driven by a pandemic and its subsequent restrictions that have seen parents turn to toy brands for guidance.

It’s according to the dolls market specialist, Zapf, that more parents than ever before are looking towards the toy brands that their children engage with for ‘support and help at home,’ whether that is in the resources that they offer to assist with activities like home-schooling, or in expert-led advice to help with a child’s development away from the classrooms.

The current phenomenon, suggests Zapf, is just one of the knock-on effects of parents spending more time playing and engaging in activities with their children over the course of the year, owing largely to the school closures that occurred earlier in 2020.

“This year, we saw parents spending more time than ever before with their children and seeing the impact play has on the early years developments, so much so that we saw a really strong growth in the traditional toys market,” Kasia Leskow, marketing manager at Zapf Creation UK, told ToyNews.

“We also saw parents seeking more support and help at home than ever before. In autumn this year our Baby Annabell Ask the Experts campaign was all about supporting the vast parenting community online with helpful advice and tips from top parenting experts in response to the demand.”

Similarly, it was Zapf’s Baby Born brand that partnered with the educational resource hub iChil once again this year in order to create printable and digital at-home resources to help parents explains things like cleanliness, hygiene, and the important message around handwashing.

“We very much expect to see demand for this type of support continue late into next year,” said Leskow.

The transition of toy companies from product manufacturers and distributors to household platforms of support and resources is one that has certainly been expedited by the cultural impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The board game giant Asmodee was among the first wave of toy companies to make its resources available to the families and gamers adhering to the #StayHome messaging of the lockdown over the spring, and among the many to have risen to the occasion once again at the commence of lockdown part two at the start of November.

Part of the brand’s efforts was with the launch of its Connect & Play platform, an initiative developed to help people learn to virtually play board games with friends and families during quarantine. An expansion on its Print & Play campaign, Connect & Play provided players with step-by-step instructions on how they can play games like Catan, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Spot It! Remotely over video platforms like Zoom.

The timing couldn’t be better considering the latest opinion-dividing advice from SAGE that has warned families planning to come together for Christmas that ‘playing board games’ is a ‘high risk activity and means of spreading the coronavirus.’

“We thought about ways to bring socially distant relatives together, and truly believe that tabletop games are the best social entertainment there is,” said Ruby Nikolopoulou, head of US marketing, Asmodee USA.

“Connect and Play gives friends and families who can’t physically be together a way to have fun and laugh, a must in these trying times and just in time for the upcoming holidays.”

More so than ever, the traditional toy market has come to the fore as a route not only for escapism or even the immersion into deep storytelling found in the board gaming sector, but also as a means of enabling child development amid a year of social distancing. 

And with increased time being spent at home, and fewer hours spent engaging with brands on the shelves of the nation’s retailer’s, the compulsion of toy companies to find new means of placing themselves within the family space is a reasonable one.

Zapf Creations’ Leskow, concluded: “With increased time at home, parents have really been able to see and appreciate the value of traditional play and spending time with their children, using playtime to support developmental skills.

“Throughout this year, parents have had to be more creative and had the opportunity to watch their children play and see how interlinked play is with learning and development, the result of which we can see in the market that saw growth this year.”

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, Licensing.biz. He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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