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24 Jan 2020

Millennial Parents and the Direction of Toy Trends 2020/21

With more parents from the millennial generation, toy trends are being shaped in new and exciting ways. This ranges from an increase in popularity of STEAM products, a new wave of nostalgia and resurgence of brands popular in the 90s, to the lessons learned and the latest wave of technology integrated toys.

Ahead of her session on the Inspiring Retail Stage at Spring Fair 2020, the Spring Fair team were able to speak with toy market expert Ruth Clement and find out more about what is shaping these trends and how retailers can identify them.

With over 30 years’ experience marketing brands to kids and families, Ruth can offer a real depth of expertise in the area. 13 of these years were spent at toy giant Mattel, in roles which included heading up the (Girls) Dolls division and the Fisher Price Business. Ruth went on to establish a new department, its mission to produce insights and evidence that define brand growth strategies, from market trends to consumer research and performance analysis.  Ruth set to work in creating new reporting and trend trackers across Europe, analysing the key influences behind those trends.

Data obviously plays a key role in establishing trends, but it is easy to get lost in the data. Ruth was quick to point out that there are other sources of information and indicators of trends.

“I like to get to the deepest level of understanding of trends that I can. You can’t just jump at trends based off sales, market or survey data alone.  It’s just as important to hear what consumers have to say for themselves and see these trends through their eyes.”

After many years spent tracking emerging trends, developing successful licenses and brand innovation, Ruth has an impressive record for predicting successes and failures in toys and licensing. 

“Some licenses and brands just work.  They have an innate viral quality and spread through the playground and on social play platforms like wildfire.   Take Star Wars, Ben 10 or Harry Potter, for example.  Kids learn very quickly how to join in with the games being played during the lunch break.  They can re-enact and experience the excitement of brands regardless of whether they have ever seen an episode, watched the movie or read the book. Licenses which engage with kids’ imaginations in this way tend to achieve a longer lasting, productive connection with their fans and may never suffer the ignominy of being ‘dumped’.  The trick with identifying which consumer trends will shape your future success is in knowing how they could alter the way early adopters and influencers discover your brand.” 

Ruth also highlighted the importance of “each generation in determining what constitutes nostalgia”. As millennials step into parenthood, a few of the characters from their childhood, such as Sonic the hedgehog and Mulan, are scheduled for new movie releases in 2020.   Ruth explains, “nostalgia emerges from the brands which people formed emotional attachments to in their own childhood.  This may mean that the ‘evergreen and classics’ of the noughties are no longer relevant to millennial parents in 2020.”

Another key trend Ruth highlighted to the team was the rise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEAM) products and this again is heavily influenced by millennial parents.  STEAM toys are a positive complement to the school curriculum however millennial parents appear to have lower awareness of the role of other forms of play in providing the fundamental building blocks for learning. 

Referencing a recent study which claims that only 65% of millennial parents agree with the statement that “play is an important aspect of their children’s lives”, Ruth adds:

“There have always been parents who don’t connect play with cognitive development, academic learning or social progress, but the percentage is growing amongst millennials and as the implications for toys may be substantial, we should examine the reasons why”

When asked the all-important question as to what her favourite childhood toy was, Ruth answered without hesitation, “My brother’s Scalextric and a big box of Lego, with lots of random pieces”.  She goes on to add that “open ended, divergent play allows you to work out a few laws of physics, whilst building to a set of instructions bypasses this aspect of play.”

The mindset of millennial parents is having a strong influence on the direction of trends in the toy market ranging from a new wave of 90s inspired nostalgia products and the advancement of STEAM products alongside new technology. Hear more about the direction of toy trends from Ruth at Spring Fair 2020, Ruth’s session, Trends Uncovered: Toy Trends 2020-2021 will be at 12:15 on the 2nd of February on the Inspiring Retail Stage at the NEC in Birmingham.

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