2021 Toy Trends Briefing
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Many of the hottest toys on the market right now highlight how playtime can be a multisensory experience. Part of the larger Zen-sational Toys trend we identified earlier this year, fidget toys like slimes, putties, and other compounds continue to be popular with the added bonus of helping ease stress and anxiety − a bonus SEL (social-emotional learning) skill development. Popit fidget toys − bolstered by social media − are the latest viral fidget toys on every kid’s wish list. As we continue to track the evolution of this trend, we expect to see it play out across multiple categories, from games and preschool toys to STEM/STEAM toys, collectibles, and more.
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Today’s toy aisles prove you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy toys and games, and the pandemic only heighted the demand for playthings that cater to an older group of toy consumers as we first identified with our Not Just for Kids trend at the beginning of 2021. Retailers are setting aside more dedicated shelf and online shopping space for grown-up toy lovers, and toymakers are rolling out products with cross generational appeal to get the whole family playing together. In further recognition of this trend’s staying power, the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards has debuted a new Grown-Up Toy of the Year category for 2022. This trend includes retro toys relaunched for a new generation of families, collector-driven action figures and games, as well as toys driven by old-school properties making a comeback. It also taps into the direct-to-consumer movement of fan-driven and backed toys.
There is a growing movement of today’s young parents looking to be more eco and socially conscious in the products they purchase and the companies they support. In the toy aisles, this translates to toys made of more sustainably sourced materials coupled with messaging that encourages kids to be more socially responsible individuals. In response, toymakers are developing products that highlight their own commitments to going green and giving back to other social causes families care about. First identified by The Toy Association’s trends team earlier this year, this is currently one of the fastest growing trends in the toy & youth entertainment space and is sure to impact purchasing habits this holiday season.
Movie toys took a back seat to evergreen branded toys last year, but we’re predicting the influx of more ways to consume entertainment in 2021 (i.e. more streaming services, hybrid film releases, social media, and online gaming) will fuel growth of licensed toys once again for holiday. This will be most visible in categories including collectibles, dolls, action figures, playsets, and roleplay and dress-up. Also be on the lookout for toys infused with innovative new play features—from unique unboxing experiences to cool techy traits.
During a historic year that saw the entire world shut down, families rediscovered the joys of spending time together and found value in bringing play into their daily lives in 2020 – a trend that is sure to carry forward in 2021. Families will be seeking new toys that promote togetherness, as well as inclusive playthings that can be enjoyed by kids of varying abilities and interests. This trend includes educational toys and activities that families can use to help their children learn new skills and subjects.
The growing “kidult” trend was fueled by the pandemic, with more adults than ever turning to toys to bring some joy and levity into their lives. Toys and games have proven to be a means of escapism for adults and offer a way to reconnect with their own inner child. This trend includes games fueled by adult topics, social media trends, and other fads; collectibles and building toys that appeal to hardcore fans; and toys that invite casual fans into the fold across a wide range of fandoms.
Driven by social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok that have become incubators for viral music and dance crazes, toys that get kids moving and grooving are expected to grow in the toy aisles. This trend includes toys inspired by music-infused social platforms, channels, and programming; innovative new audio players that encourage screen-free play; unboxing toys that incorporate music into the reveals; and, of course, classic musical toys.
Toys aren’t just fun; they also serve up a healthy dose of emotional support and wellness in times of stress and uncertainty. According to The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative, families surveyed nationwide said playing together was the best way to help kids process their emotions. This year will see a growing demand for toys that help develop children’s social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, toys that promote mindfulness and self-care, and feel-good toys to make kids smile.
As families look for new ways to become better global citizens, toymakers are responding with toys that foster social responsibility and awareness. This trend includes toys that promote diversity and cultural awareness; encourage sustainability and minimize waste; promote the protection of endangered species; and give recognition to the essential workers critical to society.
In 2021, more theatrical releases will be moved to streaming services or will take a hybrid approach and launch both in theaters and digitally. Licensed toy sales will be driven by what’s happening on non-linear channels (Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, and others) and, in the absence of live events, through video gaming (i.e. gaming systems, platforms, and brand anniversaries). Likewise, with continued delays expected for major blockbuster film releases, this will create new opportunities for original IPs bolstered by social media platforms (such as TikTok and YouTube) to cut through the noise and make an impact at retail across multiple categories.