Reflections on the toy industry's digital understanding

After visiting the Nuremberg Toy Fair, we were left with the feeling that the toy industry was two (or maybe even three) steps behind when it comes to the possibilities of using today’s technology effectively. So we borrowed strategist Casper Mathiesen from Designit to talk about the toy industry – and the challenge of entering digital ground.

Nuremberg Toy Fair 2016

The world's biggest toy fair

The international toy fair in Nuremberg is the biggest toy fair in the world, and this year, more than 2,800 exhibitors showcased their latest additions. We talked to a wide range of toy exhibitors, and yet we were amazed to see the lack of target group understanding. They produce toys for kids. You know, digital natives. But it seems like they either haven’t quite understood how to use the technology available to match their users or simply are afraid of going digital. We saw a lot of attempts at using digital platforms - apps in particular - but the successes seemed to be far apart. Most of all, we got the impression that companies produce apps, just to be able to say: “Check! Now, we have a digital product” and then lean back.

Are we forgetting the real purpose?

Apps can do marvellous things including creating brand awareness, loyalty and retention, but not any app will do. It takes high-quality content to make an app live up to its real potential, and the toy industry seems to be groping in the dark. Casper Mathiesen sensed quite the same when leaving the NY Toy Fair.

"It seems like everybody is forgetting the real purpose of the app - the possibility of creating an engaging space for your users."

Casper Mathiesen, Lead Business Designer at Designit

Expanding the business

Apps provide golden opportunities of expanding business, but there are indeed pitfalls to avoid. Poorly executed apps without any real content might just end up as poorly executed marketing. And that does not sell or expand anything – let alone business.

As Casper says: “There doesn’t have to be a 1:1 relationship between the physical product and the features in the app. Rather, focus on translating the core play experience instead”. Some random app that does something random to your product doesn’t do anything for your company or brand. So let the marketing mindset stand in the background for a moment, and let the game experience stand in the spotlight.  

Combining physical toys and technology

“We all know LEGO Dimensions and Skylanders, and they are fine examples of combining the physical and digital dimension - but I wonder, where does the play value of the physical toy go after having transferred it to a digital platform?” says Tine Knudsen, Marketing & Sales Manager at Funday Factory. LEGO Dimensions and Skylanders are successes, indeed, but the real magic arises when there’s an indestructible tie between the physical and the digital dimension and they become two sides of the same coin.

Even though the successes seemed far apart in Nuremberg, we did come across something that came close to being truly mindblowing: The release of the #StikBot! From the tentative beginning, StikBot sought out to fusion a physical object with an app. StikBot allows users to create stop motions videos with the physical StikBot as the moviestar and share it with the world on social media. It’s possible to use the app without StikBot, but because of a viral hype, there seems to be the indestructible tie between a physical and a digital product that we’ve longed for.    

So, where does that leave us? There are indeed great examples of companies who understand how to use and exploit today’s technology - but it seems like the toy industry is either scared of going digital or lacks the required knowledge to enter digital ground effectively. At Funday Factory, we are interested to see what the future holds for the toy industry - and we’re going to keep a close eye on the digital development.

Published: 18.03.2016