TOY TRENDS

Every shopper wants to know … what’s hot this year?

Just like fashion, toy trends come and go. Our toy trend experts spend months meeting with toy companies, attending trade shows and reviewing new products to scope out what the cool trends will be for the coming year. Take a peek at some of the observations we’ve been sharing recently:

TOY TREND NEWS

Skill-Building Toys and Games Help Prep Kids for School Year
Featured StoryWith the upcoming school year just around the corner, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) has pulled together a fun crop of educational toys and games that will help bring young minds back into focus after summer vacation.

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SEEN ON-AIR

Adrienne Appell on Fox

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Spotted at Toy Fair

Every February at the American International Toy Fair we unveil a list of what we expect will be the year’s strongest toy trends. Check out our team reporting live from Toy Fair 2014! 

Key Trends 2014

Larger Than Life

2014 will feature a lot of large-sized toys that pack “big” play value. And not all come with hefty price tags, either. We see a range of price points in this trend, from very affordable to the splurge items. This is a counter-balance to the micro-sized toys trend that we’ve seen in years past. These toys can be found in just about every category, from plush and playsets to RC and building toys. Many of these toys will fit into another trend as well.

Full STEAM Ahead!

This trend is all about toys that teach or reinforce science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). You will find these toys in a range of categories and for kids of all ages. These educational toys encourage kids’ interests in these subjects in a fun and engaging way. They can also introduce kids to new subjects and encourage curiosity and creativity.

RC Rampage

2014 is the year of the RC. From traditional vehicles to animal RCs and RCs for both boys and girls, we are seeing an abundance of remote-controlled vehicles for all ages, from infants to adults. Not only has the number of RCs grown, but the diversity of RCs available speaks to the innovation in the category. In addition, many of the traditional types of RCs include more features like flying higher, projectiles, etc., for lower prices.

Frightfully Fun: Zombies, Monsters and More! 

Vampires were hot, but now zombies, monsters and ghouls are all the rage with kids of all ages, and aremaking their way to store shelves. Some of these toys  have more of a storytelling component (à la Monster High) so kids can learn about the characters and relate to them, making them less scary. For older boys and girls, many of these items have a “gross out” factor. Tween and teen toys that fall into this category focus on the goth fashion trend, which includes detailed figures for older collectors and trivia games for fans of popular TV shows.

Retro / Back-to-Basics

The retro and back-to-basics trend, first identified in 2013, is alive and well in 2014. There are a ton of retro toys that today’s parents and grandparents remember fondly from their childhoods and are excited to share with the children in their lives. These toys are terrific for families to bond over and foster intergenerational play. In addition to re-releases and refreshed toys, there are also a lot of fun classic toys that are available for families. These back-to-basics toys (mostly low-tech) are for when families want to “switch off” from technologly. This trend reinforces the fact that classic play patterns remain the same, and just as popular, over time.

Custom Built

Building on the construction trend TIA named last year, 2014 takes building to a whole new level. In addition to building and construction toys, this trend includes toys that allow kids to create and customize their playthings to reflect their unique tastes, styles and imaginations.  The trend extends way beyond the construction toy aisle and crosses into action figures, puzzles, arts and crafts, etc.

Two sub-categories exist within the overarching Custom Built trend:

  • Mash-Up: 
    This trend speaks to toys that have been “custom built” in unique ways and incorporate many uses or ways to play in one. These toys engage kids by allowing them to choose how they’d like to play; they also appeal to value-conscious parents because they continue to engage kids at different ages and stages. (Think: role play and game in one, collectible and building set in one, a puzzle that is also an arts and crafts item, combining two types of games in one, etc.)
  • Fashion Forward: 
    This trend focuses on all fashion-related items, from DIY sets that let kids make their own accessories to fashion dolls that can be styled in a personalized way. This trend can also include realistic-looking building sets, dollhouses, and playsets with fashionable interiors.

Key Trends 2013

So Retro!

In 2013, it’s back-to-basics for many toymakers, who are introducing an abundance of nostalgic, vintage and classic playthings. Just like bell bottom jeans and neon colors, the best-loved items of generations past can grab hold of a new generation decades later. These favorite toys and characters bring kids, parents and grandparents together in reminiscent fun.

  • Nostalgic toys are playthings that evoke feelings of excitement among nostalgic parents, who in turn want to share their favorite childhood memories with their children.
  • Vintage toys have retro styling features with old-school touches, finishes, and coloring that give toys a specific look and feel. While the product itself may be brand new, the design gives it the appearance of something from early- to mid-20th century.
  • Classic toys are the beloved toys and games, such as Monopoly, Checkers, a ball, blocks, puzzles etc. These are tried-and-true staples in every household that children will always love.

Pop Culture Persuasion

The runaway success of reality television shows – particularly those that celebrate the creativity, talent and skills of contestants – have inspired a new range of toys, games and crafts that encourage kids to build skills across several areas, such as cooking, fashion, design and performance arts. Toys in this category are heavily influenced by popular shows on Food Network, HGTV, Bravo, MTV, TLC, ABC and more.

  • TIA’s Little Chefs category includes food-themed toys allow kids to make actual food or engage in creative role play. The food ‘theme’ is also infused into traditional game play. This trend ties into reality food shows and cooking trends on a wider scale in the adult world. Fun for Fashionistas toys build on the success of TV shows like Project Runway, The Rachel Zoe Project, Fashion Star, etc. this category includes craft, design and sewing projects for all ages.
  • Pint-sized Pop Stars are toys for kids who love to perform and enjoy shows such as Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and The Voice will gravitate to toys that encourage them to play music, dance and show off their vocal skills.
  • DIY Design products are for kids who like to build … and have a flair for creativity.

360 Degree Play

Toymakers are always coming up with new and innovative ways to leverage technology and new production techniques to enrich playtime. As advancements are made in other industries they trickle down and find their way into toys of all kinds – from educational games to active toys and everything in between.

  • Virtual Reality toys draw children and the physical world around them into the play experience, making the real world part of the game.
  • Augmented Reality products that allow users to “change” or enhance the physical world as they play.
  • 3D toys create more interactive experience, even in lower tech products such as nail art.

Enticing Teens and Tweens

During the “KGOY” (Kids Getting Older Younger) phenomenon a few years ago, the toy industry was of the belief that older kids were beyond the age of playing with toys and more interested in technology and electronics. Now, there are many more options for tweens and teens seeking to engage with something other than a computer or a TV screen, such as licensed figures, augmented reality games, outdoor activity toys, and design kits.

Additionally, social interaction is becoming more paramount to the way older kids are playing. You might even say that they are craving social activities… While they may love Words with Friends online, they might discover that an old-fashioned game of Scrabble is equally exciting. This is a big opportunity for the toy industry.

24/7 Play

Compact, portable toys fit into lives that are very busy and scheduled, allowing kids to enjoy more play time – in the car on daily errands, at the dentist’s office, during recess, at family functions, and so on.
Building on last year’s trend, “Many Ways to Play,” we are also seeing more and more toys that serve multiple purposes. Multi-function toys are appealing to parents for being practical and good value

Construction Craze

According to NPD Group point-of-sales data, the building sets category grew nearly 20% in 2012 … and 2013 will be even hotter. Many manufacturers are diversifying their existing building lines (ex: LEGO Friends, MegaBrands Barbie, etc.) and other companies who may not have previously specialized in building toys are responding to this surge and creating construction sets for kids of all ages, interests and abilities.

Families will see more innovation and licenses in this area, giving them even more exciting options to choose from.


Key Trends 2012

Reporting from the 109th American International Toy Fair, TIA trends specialist Adrienne Appell discusses the hot new trends for 2012 in this “Toy Trends Tea” video.

Generation App

There are an abundance of toys that work with smart devices and apps. It’s important to note that technology is not replacing the physical toy. Technology is being leveraged to enhance traditional play patterns by incorporating the latest advancements in the tech world. In many cases, companies have created traditional toys that interact with popular tech devices like smartphones and iPads that are already in so many homes ... while tying in educational or active components for a well-rounded play experience.

Glowing Wild

Toys that glow in the dark or light up will infiltrate the toy aisle this year across multiple categories – from outdoor and active toys to arts and crafts and creative products. Glow toys add a fantastical element to playtime for kids of all ages. They “ignite” imaginative play by drawing kids into a world of whimsy and wonder – from arts and crafts toys that incorporate LED components to exciting light-up toys that safely simulate fireworks. Some toys that fall under this trend are equally enjoyable in the light of day as they are in the dark – meaning the glow component is a nice addition / twist on the toy but doesn’t drive the play experience. Think glow-in-the-dark wooden building blocks!

Little Learners

U.S. birth rates bottomed out in 2010 as a result of the recession – but they are now on the rise, according to Demographic Intelligence, which provides fertility forecasts to companies working in the juvenile products industry. Increases in total U.S. births are predicted for both 2012 and 2013. With this in mind, toy companies are coming out with a broad array of toys and games that capture the attention of the youngest of children. Products found in this category are not simple “watch me”/ generic toys – they build cognitive and developmental skills beginning at a very early age, transforming little ones into well-rounded, lifelong learners. Thanks to toy innovation in the infant to pre-school category, “Little Learners” are presented with a wider range of play options than ever before, allowing them to explore their interests and talents … and develop these skills as they grow older.

Many Ways to Play!

Toys in this category engage kids on multiple levels. Parents can buy one very dynamic toy that will entertain and educate a child for hours, days, weeks and months … allowing them to truly get their money’s worth when they’re buying. Many of these toys grow with a child and they can play differently depending on their age. Toys that combine multiple play patterns – one toy serving many different needs. Toys like this have depth and allow kids to play differently each day, depending on their moods or interests. These aren’t “watch me” toys – they are truly dynamic. Other toys are built for customization – kids can make these toys “theirs.” Their playthings become unique and a reflection of their individuality.

Save ‘n’ Splurge

Toy industry data released by The NPD Group in early 2012 showed that consumers are increasingly making “purchasing trade-offs” – that is, buying higher-priced toys at the expense of mid- to lower-priced ones ... and spending more on their own family than they do on friends or acquaintances. As a result, a top trend for 2012 is a resurgence of toys that fall on the higher end of the price spectrum, as consumers have demonstrated that they are willing to loosen their purse strings a bit and spend more on products that pack a high play value punch or have a certain “WOW” factor … aka “The Big Ask.” HOWEVER … shoppers will always be attracted to affordable prices. Affordability was a trend in the past few years – with toy manufacturers coming out with a wide selection of toys at many lower price points – and this sub-trend will persist in 2012 as parents and other shoppers have really come to expect big play value at affordable prices.

Young Maestros

A wide variety of musical toys are flying off the shelves. From infants to tweens and teens, kids of all ages will benefit from toys and games that teach them how to play different instruments, practice their singing or show off their dance moves. This trend is being driven largely by pop culture – such as television shows like American Idol, Glee, The Voice and X Factor. Young children will learn the basics of music while older kids will be able to emulate their favorite pop stars or act out their rock fantasies.


Key Trends 2011

Simply Social

Lots of apps are based on classic toys, but now an increasing number of physical toys are being introduced that originated with or will work with apps. The toys that keep children looped in with social networks include toys that connect to Apps or other electronic connections. They also include virtual worlds and toys that have an online component. There are also Social Face-to-Face games, also known as All-Play. Reducing the “wait time” while other players take their turn, “all-play” games engage each competitor throughout the gaming experience with consensus play, team play, cooperative play rules, and other techniques. Socially aware games also keep children socially conscious by integrating a pro-social play pattern. A steadily increasing number of toys are teaching kids about the world around them and how to be a better citizen and are showcasing “everyday heroes” such as firefighters, teachers, moms and dads, and others that kids look up to and learn from

Cent-sational

Cent-sational games include a broad range of affordable collectibles for both boys and girls. These new influx of “mini” toys (smaller versions of larger products already on the market as well as new stand-alone miniature products) are made as a range of products within a line that can be adapted for every wallet.

Performance Play

Performance play toys are brain-challenging games that encourage logical thinking, strategy and mind puzzles for individuals, teams and head-to-head competition. These games can also include active sports, dance and role play products that get kids up and moving to exercise their bodies. Toys that use children’s body movement and motion-sensor technology to advance a game are being seen everywhere in 2011 and are considered performance play because they keep children active while playing. These are enhancements to classic racing and competition play patterns emphasize the “need for speed”.

Design, Discover and Learn

Includes three primary sub-trends:

  • Camouflage Learning Akin to “Spinach in the Cookies”, many toy manufacturers are expanding their brands with new toys and games that engage kids in interactive, “hands on” experiential play patterns that emphasize “learning through doing” . Camouflage learning games can include games and activities that build skills and knowledge and/or enhance memory or those that encourage experimentation. Capitalizing on the increasing affordability, availability and prevalence of tech tools and social media, many new kid-focused products are using technology to integrate learning into play patterns ranging from hand-held gaming devices, digital cameras, and role- and imaginative-play.

  • Geek-Chic In conjunction with an increasing nationwide focus on the importance of education in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts, toymakers are helping to make learning “cooler than ever” with expanding product lines designed for kids of all ages. These lines include toys in which kids can carry out experiments, model-building and trial-and-error scenarios. These hands-on experiences engage kids in chemistry, biology, physics, and other sciences.

  • Constructibles and Crafts The third sub-trend which helps children design, discover, and learn which is flying off of the shelves in 2011 is constructible and craft toys where kids are being challenged to think spatially. The arts and crafts play pattern holds strong with a broad range of products for kids to get in touch with their creative side and innovative new twists on classic products.

Key Trends 2010

Active

Building upon the exercise trend in 2009, active toys that encourage kids to use their minds and bodies, are all the rage this year. These products tie together physical play with active intelligence and imagination. Examples of toys in this category range from brain teasers and creativity generators to exercise toys that keep the body up and moving.

Accessible

Accessible toys refer to the category of products that make playtime possible for kids and families wherever they are. Whether on-the-go or in the home, kids can connect to their favorite toys and characters 24/7 through online or travel play. This type of play is made possible through iPhones or other mobile applications and e-reader programs that offer playable content for kids.

Affordable

Affordable toys are part of the “economy” trend that gained traction in 2009 as consumers continued to face challenging economic times. This year there are even more affordable toy options priced at $25 and under – all with tons of value built-in. The types of toys in this category range from action figures and dolls to accessories and child-size role-play options. Construction toys, games and arts and crafts are priced at “pennies per play” due to their reusable nature. (ie. think about how many times a toy will be used – and factor that into the cost – a board game may be around for years in the home for the price of $20 vs. an arts and crafts toy that can be only used once).

Aspirational

Aspirational toys are a new category of products that empower kids to make their own choices. It encourages kids to think about what they would like to be – and who they can become, letting them know that they can truly make a difference in the world. These toys include eco-friendly products that help to make the world a greener place, foster innovation and creativity, and embrace community-strengthening activities such as mentoring and charitable giving.


Key Trends 2009

Economy: The Price-Value Relationship

Multi-tiered pricing strategies provide options to fit all wallets. The price-value relationship appeals to all categories: classic and new play patterns with multi-dimensional play experiences, toys that grow with a child over time, and games and educational products that offer skill-leveling as they represent the value gift-givers expect in tougher economic times. In addition, there are lots of options priced under $25. Manufacturers of all sizes are approaching price and price-value, using a variety of methods.

Exercise: Get up and Move-It

Today’s parents want their kids up and moving. The goal is to build healthier habits, to combat obesity, and to promote long-term active lifestyles. New 2009 product solutions include Motion Gaming, which uses the accelerometer technology (made famous in the Wii); plug-n-play options for under $30; and RFID technology for preschoolers. Also, old-fashioned water blasters, soft darts, and outdoor sports and ride-ons provide retailers with both new technology and classic brands to support active play.

Entertainment

Entertainment can add the wow factor to draw audiences and the sizzle that creates a lifetime of memories for fans. Licensed and entertainment properties can propel products to stratospheric success or drag down the bottom line if not managed or executed properly. The entertainment industry is the inspiration for many toys and games, and accounted for 27 percent of all retail toy sales dollars in 2008, according to the NPD Group. Entertainment genres range from blockbuster movies to TV and DVDs, to celebrities from pop culture (TV, sports, and music), to nostalgic and classic brands. New entertainment vehicles and celebrities drive the pop culture side, with older favorite actors and classic licenses and brands driving the nostalgic side. Character licenses are popular, whether they are derived from TV, publishing, video games, or websites. More than two-dozen family films will launch in 2009, and more than half of them are associated with a strong licensed property or entertainment celebrity. About 40 percent of the movies will feature the newest 3D technology. With scenes literally popping off the movie screen, toys will need to be just as exciting to appeal to buyers and consumers. Since more manufacturers are tapped as master toy licensees across properties, buyers will see more choices, increased innovation and possibly more competitive prices.