OP ED:  The $9 Billion Market the Toy Industry is Missing

Melanie “Savvy Auntie” Notkin is an expert on the emerging demographic of childless, often single, women in North America. The independent research she completed for her books Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness (2014), and Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids (2008), as well as her research partnerships with Weber Shandwick and DeVries Global PR, provide a unique perspective of untapped marketing opportunities for toy companies.

May 6, 2014 | When my nephew was a toddler, he was determined to help his grandfather assemble his new ride-on toy. Of course, the small parts and tools were not child-friendly and the little boy was frustrated that the grownups wouldn’t let him help.

As his Auntie, it broke my heart. I grabbed my purse and ran to the local toy store to find an age-appropriate toy tool set so that my nephew could “help” his Grandpa. I can’t tell you how much the set cost because it didn’t matter. I can’t tell you if my nephew ever played with it again after that day because it didn’t matter. All that mattered to me was bringing the joy of his very own tool set to my nephew. When he saw the gift, his eyes lit up and he smiled wide. We opened the box and went right to work.

We worked on his motor skills. We worked on his language skills (hammer, screws, saw). We worked on his helping skills. We worked on his sharing skills. We worked at play. It was what I call “QualAuntie Time,” the playtime a PANK® - or Professional Aunt No Kids - can offer the children in her life. And my nephew offered me more insight into what would become Savvy Auntie, the lifestyle brand I launched in 2008 for the tens of millions of women like myself who are marrying later and having children later than our mothers did, while leveraging our generous hearts and wallets for our nieces and nephews.

Here’s what we learned from the Power of PANK, a national study I conducted with global PR agency Weber Shandwick that surveyed women ages 18+ who have at least one child in their life by relation or by choice via friendship:
  • There are 23 million PANKs in America -- that’s one-in-five adult female consumers
  • This niche is larger than the highly sought-after LGBT market, estimated to be 16 million
  • The average PANK is age 36, younger than the average mom at age 46
  • PANKs annually spend an average of $387 on each child in their life
  • And 76% of PANK spend over $500 per child each year
  • Baseline just one child per PANK, that’s roughly $9 billion spend on children-not-their-own.
The key here is that we get to $9 billion without reaching out to this demographic. In other words, it’s guess-work. PANKs are not marketed to directly, so their purchases are often made without knowing about the key drivers that toy brands are behind. In fact, it was my personal frustration over not knowing which toys and games my nieces and nephews were craving that inspired Savvy Auntie and the annual Savvy Auntie Coolest Toy Awards program.

While it’s certainly true that some wonderful toy brands, large and small, have worked with Savvy Auntie to bring the magic of their toys and games to the demographic at fourth quarter and throughout the year, it’s just a drop in the ocean compared with the potential for this underserved demographic. Imagine if these women were acknowledged, engaged and offered rewards? Sixty percent of PANKs surveyed said that would like educational material on toys, games and apps that help them know which are most appropriate/safe for children. And more than half (56%) of PANKs would like a loyalty or rewards program that builds points every time they purchase something for the child/children in their life.

Unfortunately, our study also shows that 43% of PANKs feel that marketers don’t speak to them. Perhaps some toy marketers feel that the parent market is enough. But note that 43% of PANKs say they have given children gifts their parents won’t or can’t give them and 33% of PANKs say that they give their nieces and nephews more expensive gifts than others do. Furthermore, 45% of PANKs have given parents gifts so they can provide things for their children. In fact, more than one third (34%) contribute to a child’s education. 

And this year, I consulted on a new national survey of childless women released just last week by DeVries Global PR and inspired by my new book: Otherhood – Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness. DeVries PR’s study of 1,000 moms and 1,000 non-moms is entitled: "Shades of Otherhood: Marketing to women without children," and found a whopping 80% of childless women between the ages of 20-to 44 play an active role in a child’s life. That’s a lot of spontaneous runs to the store for a toy tool set.

While we celebrate moms this Sunday, May 11, there is still time to recognize the PANK, i.e. the “secondary caregiver / primary gift giver” in children’s lives. She’s the unsung hero investing billions of dollars in the toy industry. It’s time to begin to acknowledge this Savvy Auntie. The 6th Annual Official Auntie’s Day® is Sunday, July 27.  

Melanie Notkin is the founder and personality behind Savvy Auntie, the beloved lifestyle brand celebrating modern aunthood. She is the foremost expert on the emerging demographic of childless, often single, women in North America. In 2012, she partnered with Weber Shandwick on The Power of the PANK, the term she coined in 2008 for this rising demographic of child-loving aunts. Notkin is also the national best-selling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids and author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness (March 2014). Inspired by her book, DeVries Global PR teamed up with Notkin on a national study of the Otherhood demographic. “Shades of Otherhood,” was released on April 30, 2014. For more information: Melanie@SavvyAuntie.com