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13 December 2016

10 tips for a successful toy brand experience


More and more big toy industry names are taking their products out to consumers, rather than relying on standard patterns of TV advertising to leverage pester power. In part, this is down to the rise of toy brands as entertainment franchises – companies such as Hasbro, Mattel and Lego are shifting from being ‘just’ toymakers to becoming licensees, film and animation studios, and fashion houses. So today a toy brand often encompasses a whole entertainment world that is better sampled through real-life interaction and play, rather than a two-minute, redubbed American TV ad during a cartoon break on Pop TV.

So what should you bear in mind when planning a ‘real world’ experience for often fantastical brands?

1) Think like a kid – Your creative should entirely lead from a child’s perspective. What will they see as they crane their neck to ensure they are enraptured? What will you offer that will ensure your experience is a ‘must visit?’.

2) No barriers to play – Set as few obstacles to hands-on play as you can. Grabbing consumer data, while useful, should not be a pre-condition to getting involved with a promotion. Look for as smooth or as natural a way to incorporate customer relationship management mechanics into an experience.

3) Be authentic to the product – Even the youngest Disney fan can tell the difference between an authentic Mickey Mouse image and the rather dubious character copy painted on an ice-cream van. So it’s got to be the real thing.

4) Photo ops – Brands are rightly cautious of grabbling imagery of children, but parents love to photograph and share their kids having fun. So don’t force these moments – give opportunities for them to develop naturally, rather than trying to demand free advertising and content from parents as the price for their participation. Most social media platforms insist on a minimum age restriction – be mindful of this when marketing to children.

5) Keep ‘em entertained – If your experience requires a wait, how will you keep both parents and kids happy while they queue? Disney is the master of line entertainment in its theme parks – from offering shaded awnings to roaming performers. The queue should be a joyful part of the experience, not a chore.

6) Prepare to be a crèche… – With the best will in the world, some parents are just going to be happy that someone else is entertaining their kids rather than them. It’s crucial, then, that your staff have relevant experience in working with children and can embody the values of a toy brand – the right people are key.

7) …But involve parents when you can – There is a huge nostalgia pull for parents seeing their kids playing with toys they used to enjoy when they were young. Brands such as Lego and Transformers thrive on the shared joy between generations, and any opportunity for kids and adults to play together – rather than just observe – should be actively incorporated into an experience.

8) Provide a service – Mattel recently teamed with Eurocar so kids could ‘hire’ a Hot Wheels toy while their parents went through the boringly grown-up process of hiring a car. This turned boring family admin into a fun event, and more importantly got physical toys into the hands of children when they might usually be thrust onto a tablet to keep quiet. If a toy brand can provide a service for parents as part of the overall experience, they increase the dwell time and brand exposure.

9) Partner with a retailer – Toy and game retailers are increasingly realising the value of making their real estates an experience for the whole family to visit, rather than the old-fashioned ‘giant warehouse’ model. They are keen to add consumer value and joy to what they do – and it’s always worth exploring how the experiential aims of your brand and your retailers’ can align.

10) And finally – don’t be boring! – There surely can be no worse sin for a toy or game brand to fail to be entertaining. If you can infuse your work with a childlike sense of joy and wonder, then you entertain the kids and inspire the parents.

By Nick Swift, senior account director at real world marketing agency Sense


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