Recently we had a new addition in our house. A bright eyed, bushy tailed puppy arrived to disturb us through the night and chew the furniture.
Yet despite the carnage it’s caused, my kids love the dog. They love real animals, and they love toy animals.
The showbiz saying ‘never work with kids and animals’ does not appear to apply to the toy industry. In fact, you could almost state the opposite – always work with kids and animals.
There are countless examples of successful toys based on or derived from animals. We have entertainment-driven brands based on animals, like Madagascar, entertainment-based brands featuring animals, and whole brands where toy animals are a driving force, like Schleich for instance.
So clearly animals and toys are a proven combination, but why is that? Well, if we look at why and how kids play, we can see that in reality, boys and girls tend to play in different ways. Boys lean towards more aggressive, boisterous play and in my experience (after conducting focus groups with over a thousand kids) like more aggressive, tough looking and dangerous animals most.
Girls on the other hand tend to have a more nurturing play pattern, which is reflected in the type of animals they prefer. And horses. I’m not entirely sure why, as I’ve never quite got a child to explain it, but girls do seem to love horses.
Having got that obvious, if controversial part out of the way, the other key point here is characterisation. Characters sell toys. Characters with quirky, funny, tough and cute personalities can deliver what kids are looking for in their toys. Where they have on-going exposure to those characters via movies, DVDs, TV or other media, they begin to form a close affinity with those characters, and unsurprisingly begin to want toys based on their favourite.
None of this may be news to most people reading this, but the point is how easily an aspirational universe of characters can be built by selecting animals with different personalities and characteristics.
So do we just have to throw a few animals into the mix to create strong, toyetic brands? Well obviously there is more to it. Perhaps the most critical element is to make your lion, penguin, dog, cat, dinosaur or horse distinctly different from all the other ones out there. There are two reasons for this: one, to separate your animal toys from all the others already out there, and two, to create endearing traits and ironic contrasts in your characters.
So there you have it, those toy companies failing to work with kids and animals will be missing a trick, but remember: it’s not just any old animal that’s needed.
About the author
Steve Reece is a leading consultant in the toy and games industry. Contact him via his blog www.stevenreece.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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