2018 Toy Fair: 3 Trends Sweeping the Industry

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketing

Toy brands big and small came together at the New York Toy Fair to give a glimpse into what they hope will make the top of every gift guide and become viral sensations…

Social media has democratized the toy industry, as smaller brands that can quickly turn a social media trend into a toy beat out industry giants. Toys ‘R’ Us is shuttering stores, Hasbro had a hard holiday season, and Mattel has hit a nine-year low in the stock market. Meanwhile, up-and comers are struggling to keep their supply up with the never-ending demand for their social media-worthy toys. In a year when the biggest exhibitions had as much of a chance of coming out with the next big plaything as the brands relegated to the back corners, this year’s New York Toy Fair saw some trends dominating brand agendas big and small.

Last year, we paid particular attention to collectibles, nostalgia, and augmented reality. All three kept their status as trends to watch in the 2018 Toy Fair, but some new (and oft surprising) toy themes stole the spotlight. We sifted through them and—though we spotted STEM, play now and keep forever, board games galore, dinosaurs everywhere, and countless others—we chose to hone in on three trends we felt companies were clamoring over most. What did they all have in common? All three are rooted in social media:

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingUnboxing Goes Mainstream

Unboxing videos on YouTube have been on our radar for a while now, but this is the year that major toymakers followed in successful startups’ footsteps and took on the trend. If you need a quick refresher, children’s attention is switching from cable to YouTube where they watch influencers unwrap and play with the hottest toys on the market. Brands have taken notice, but none were swifter to capitalize on the social media phenomenon than indie companies (who are stealing market share out from under industry giants). MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise line was an instant hit, hence why it was named Toy of the Year. The ball-shaped toy is filled with 50 different small toys, accessories, and other knick-knacks, creating an unboxing process that sets it up for social success. The line has expanded since then to fizzing toys that reveal their surprises in water, confetti popper toys, and other YouTube-worthy iterations of the original hit. But brands aren’t letting MGA Entertainment get all the glory (and revenue) for swooping on this trend early. Spin Master’s Hatchimals have seen similar success, unveiling their hidden toys with the slow crack of an egg. They’ve continued to expand their line this year as well, capitalizing on the collectible trend (that we spotted at last year’s Toy Fair, and which continues to dominate the toy industry) with Collegtibles—small Hatchimals featuring surprise animals. Wicked Cool Toys showed off Egg Babies this year, a not-so-subtle spin on Hatchimals, while Funko’s Mystery Minis Blind Boxes won the People’s Choice Award.

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingToilet Humor Takes Hold

The gross-out factor was hard to miss this year. Just take Spin Master’s Pop-A-Zit game—a throw-back to Operation and a precursor to kids’ impending adolescence all at once. But the real star of the Toy Fair was the toilet, and all the things that belong in the toilet (and arguably nowhere else). Spin Master’s FlushForce is a potty-themed line of collectibles that plays on the unboxing trend by asking kids to “flush-and-reveal” their collectible character. Mattel’s Flush N’ Frenzy game involves plunging a poop with enough force to send it flying into the air. Hasbro also unveiled another game, Don’t Step In It, which wants kids to do exactly what the name implies—like playing Twister in an overpopulated dog park. Another toy took a new tack on the trend, combining Super Soakers with—not poop, luckily—but wads of toilet paper. Is Jakks Pacific’s Toilet Paper Blaster a segue into shooting spitballs across the classroom or just friendly fire with wet wads? Only time (and laborious post-fight clean up) will tell. So why is the toy industry betting on the bathroom? According to USA Today, experts say we have the popular poop emoji to thank (here’s the social media connection if you were wondering). The small dollop of chocolate soft serve has paved the way for potty humor by making it “more acceptable” to purchase toilet-themed toys and poop in particular. One toy analyst puts it more bluntly: "Yeah, poop is a theme. Kids think it's funny."

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingThe Toy Industry Gets Slimed

Considering slime’s success in 2017, it’s no wonder toy brands have gotten into ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) by offering sensory toys and create-your-own kits. Cra-Z-Art and Nickelodeon have been quick to embrace the trend, teaming up to create branded slime kits that include everything needed to make Nickelodeon’s iconic, nostalgia-inducing green goo, “as well as a variety of colors and textures including glitter, neon, and glow in the dark.” This and Crayola’s Color Chemistry Lab Set also tap into STEM (another trend that continues to dominate the toy industry). Crayola’s version includes slime-making but also glow worms, erupting volcanos, and more. In addition to DIY options, there are plenty of pre-made slime available for kids who want the ASMR effect without the work. Floof and Liquid Lava Putty were among that category of tactile toys. Though the two feel somewhat different, the gist is the same: they’re fun to smoosh. Hog Wild introduced some slime options that link back to our last toy trend: Sticky the Poo, Sticky Unicorn Poo, and Sticky the Plunger. Both the brown original and the rainbow variation (if you’re wondering, we could write an entire section on unicorns at the Toy Fair, too) stick to whatever they’re thrown at.

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The Newsfeed

Quote of the Day:  Millennials have grown up in a world where consuming wine outdoors—or any location outside of the traditional table—is more acceptable than generations past.”—Kate McManus, VP of Marketing, Delicato Family Wines (Wine Spectator)

Young consumers are “killing the shopping spree.” Whether they’re signing up for the growing number of clothing subscription services (Rent the Runway, Le Tote, Urban Outfitters, etc.), shopping second-hand, or just culling their closets—young shoppers are quitting fast fashion in droves. Some are inspired by Marie Kondo’s joy-sparking brand of minimalism, while others want to help the environment—and still others are just seeking a wide range of things to wear at a lower price. (Vice)

Airbnb is launching “adventures” for experience-seeking young travelers. The site that started with accommodations and moved into one-off “experiences” (like dinner parties) now offers multi-day excursions, complete with guides, gear, meals, and accommodations. The platform already features over 200 trips in 40 countries, including a tiger-tracking expedition in Kenya and a trek through the canyons of Oman. (Fast Company)

Tyson Foods is taking on the fake meat market with plant-based nuggets. The pea protein nuggets are the first in a line of “Raised & Rooted” products from Tyson Foods. The brand's CEO explains they’re catering to the “growing number of people open to flexible diets that include both meat and plant-based protein”—aka young flexitarians, not full-time vegans. But can a company known for its meat sell the idea that “this [trend] is about ‘and’—not ‘or’”? (The Verge)

Snapchatters can shop Levi’s new Pride Month jacket via selfie filter. The Shoppable feature is first enabled by scanning a QR code found at select stores or by getting a special Snapcode from a friend. Then, users can try on the special-edition trucker jacket via augmented reality, customizing it with one of two washes and a selection of six pins and patches. Once they complete the look, users can purchase the Pride Month Jacket—without ever leaving the app. (SJ)

Amazon’s new Echo Dot Kids Edition revamps the original. The new smart speakertakes many cues from the adult version’s second generation (it’s louder and rounder) but adds special features just for kids that go beyond a rainbow-striped color scheme. The device will come with a year of FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription service that includes popular Alexa skills like Pinkfong’s Baby Shark Adventures, as well as an enhanced parental control suite to address growing privacy concerns. (VarietyCNET)

Quote of the Day: “Young people still have an incredible interest in the Olympic Games…But the way they are consuming the Olympic Games—the type of content they are watching and the ways and the platforms on which they are watching—are fundamentally changing.”—Kit McConnell, Sports Director, International Olympic Committee (Bloomberg)

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