Trend-Spotting: How Toy Brands are Transforming into Successful Lifestyle Properties

March 6, 2018 | Toy companies are becoming increasingly focused on licensing their own brands – and doing an incredible job of it.

The licensing business is a lucrative business for toys and games, with licensed playthings accounting for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. toy sales in 2017, according to The NPD Group. When a company enters the licensing space wisely, the payoff can be huge – not only are the profit margins very high, but many companies also see a surge in brand loyalty.

“With the ubiquity of licensing, kids have become more enamored with – and more loyal to – their favorite brands,” said Adrienne Appell, trend expert at The Toy Association. “They’ll love the toy first, and then want to incorporate that brand or character into every aspect of their daily lives. For many companies, extending the life cycle of their property into other categories simply makes a lot of sense.”

Toymakers who have successfully transformed their properties into best-selling brands cut across multiple consumer categories – from apparel and fashion to backpacks and school supplies.

WowWee hit the proverbial jackpot last year with the release of its Fingerlings animatronic toys – and the company is poised to build on the momentum in 2018 through “exciting new items that further engage children’s imaginations within the Fingerlings fandom,” said Richard Yanofsky, co-founder and president of WowWee.

Licensing initiatives throughout entertainment, accessories, clothing, and more will “bring to life new environments and contexts for kids to play in and express their personality,” said Yanofsky. “We are also working to create real-life characters in the Fingerlings family so that audiences can engage with the brand on a real and relatable level.”

Known for its top-selling toy brands L.O.L. Surprise!™  and Num Noms™, MGA Entertainment has an expansive licensing program with upwards of 80 global licensing partners in key categories for each property, spanning toys, apparel, accessories, home, beauty, party, publishing, craft/activity, and stationery. 

Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment, said the company focuses on “the most popular attributes” of its toys when building out its licensing programs. For example, knowing that Num Noms™ are best-loved for their scents, the company has ensured that all licensed product based on the collectibles are scented – even bedding and apparel. And the L.O.L. Surprise! ™ board game “keeps players on their toes with fun surprises that fans of the brand have come to expect,” said Larian.

Moose Toys’ Shopkins brand has well-surpassed its beginnings as a collectible toy – today, it’s a cross-category franchise that has over 220 licensees and 15 agents supporting the brand’s global growth.

While it may be a current trend for toy brands to branch out to other categories through licensed product, “the brand DNA still needs to ring true to these extensions,” said Dianne Bellchambers, head of licensing at Moose Toys.

“A hot toy brand is no longer all that is required for success in the licensing space. To be successful in a broader licensed program, toy brands need to be robust with a clear identity that captures their audiences’ attention and continues to engage and delight fans,” said Bellchambers, adding that the Shopkins brand is a “great example of this,” with a licensing portfolio that continues to grow at a rapid rate.

A new Shopkins home entertainment release is scheduled for the first half of 2018, as well as a brand-new partnership with Pez. “We are also very excited that we have secured the first licensing partners for Shopkins Cutie Cars, including Scholastic for books, Mighty Kingdom for a mobile app, and many more that we can’t talk about just yet – but you will be sure to see a bigger rollout in fall ’18,” said Bellchambers.

The Toy Association’s Trends Team reported on the top toy and game trends at the 115th North American International Toy Fair, including new and licensed products from the show floor. A video of the Trends Presentation is now available online.