Toy Trends for 2016
Annual N.Y.C. Fair Shines Spotlight on Latest Toys for the Market
by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Global Product Services and piaproducts.com
New York City is usually very cold, and often nasty, in February, but that doesn’t stop the global toy industry from converging at the Toy Fair there every year. This is a truly international tradeshow that brings vendors and buyers to see what has been created for the current year.
The biggest toy companies in the world are all in attendance as vendors and or buyers, as well as hundreds of smaller companies, including start-ups. Our industry has shifted overwhelmingly to one driven by prizes –– mostly toys –– and as a result, this show is important for seeing what is coming this year in terms of trends and specific products.
In my last column, I focused on the importance of color, which is certainly a more abstract concept, albeit a very important one. This month, I’m going to outline the key trends/fads and products that will drive the toy industry, and by extension, a huge portion of the family entertainment industry, in 2016.
The key toy trends I noticed at Toy Fair this year were an expansion of “Do It Yourself” items, more technology-driven toys, a resurgence in classic brands, licensed products, and diversity. All of these categories have significant overlap as you’ll see, but I will segment by trend as best I can.
Do It Yourself aka DIY
The Loom Band frenzy is pretty much over, but DIY is here to say. There was a noticeable increase in the number of DIY products including various jewelry making kits, cooking kits, as well as new construction toys that allow kids to build electronic circuits, gears, and lights. This ties closely with the surge in popularity of STEM (or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Kids are being introduced to the foundations of advanced concepts they can learn later in life. Mattel is also launching a 3D printer called “The Thingmaker” which is a basic 3D printer for home use that retails for $300. 3D printing is still in its infancy but it will open up a whole new world of possibilities for DIY.
Throughout the show, I noticed a marked increase in the variety of technology driven toys. As an example, there were several interactive robots that kids can program. A huge variety of Bluetooth-enabled toys allow the user to play music, answer their phone, etc. Uncle Milton’s Virtual Explorer is an augmented reality headset allowing children to interact with classic toys like an ant farm. (This toy has received a lot press for its innovation.)
Some technology I found somewhat disturbing was interactive toys such as Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” which interacts with a child by “listening” to the child’s question, sending their voice over Wifi to “The Cloud” where it’s analyzed and then a pre-recorded response is sent back. Another one coming out next year is called “Dino” from a company called Cognitoys, which uses the technology from IBM’s Watson to evolve with a child over time depending on their interaction. (Watson is the computer that famously won the game show Jeopardy.) There has been a lot of backlash against these types of toys, but there is very clearly a trend towards more technologically advanced toys.
Resurgence of Classic Brands/Licensed Products
I’m combining the resurgence of classic brands and licensing categories because these trends are often combined. Companies repackage and reimagine old licensed products all the time. In recent years we have seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, as well Transformers and many others return through new TV shows, movies and toys.
This year will bring a Star Wars spinoff called Rogue One which could bring renewed interest in the franchise. Star Wars was huge in 2015, but has largely died out already. This year, I believe the Trolls movie by DreamWorks and related products will be the hottest items for our industry. The Troll dolls were invented in 1959 and were one of the biggest toy fads in the early 1960s. The dolls have made resurgences in popularity every decade since. I believe with the backing of a major movie, as well as toy companies, these dolls will once again be a pop culture fad. Like Star Wars it will likely have a short run in popularity, but will be powerful for a few months.
Other blockbuster movies, mostly super hero-themed, that can drive toy sales in 2016: Captain America (May 6 release), Xmen (May 27 release), Finding Dory (June 17 release), Suicide Squad (August 5 release), and Dr. Strange (Nov. 4 release).
According to the U.S. census, less than 50% of children under 18 will be of Caucasian ethnicity by 2020. This is very clear evidence that diversity is increasing in the United Sates, and it is also clear toy companies are taking notice. The classic blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie brand has changed and created diversity in the toy line. There are many more ethnically diverse characters and dolls for 2016.
In addition to racial diversity, the target markets for toys are changing. For example, Warner Bros. is coming out with a line of female super hero toys targeting girls ages 6-12. They believe that super heroes are not just for boys, and that this line will tap into demand for that toy genre from younger girls.
As we head into our busiest time of year for our industry, the summer, I hope some of the trends presented here can help maximize sales for readers. The major toy companies spend millions of dollars promoting their toys in the marketplace. As an industry, we can leverage this marketing by simply carrying the products (or something similar) that are already being promoted.
Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Global Product Services and piaproducts.com. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has over 15 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. He can be reached at hmcauliffe@globalproduct services.net, and appreciate comments as well as feedback.