After Toys 'R' Us, Where Do Toymakers Go Now?

With Toys ‘R’ Us announcing the closure of its 700 stores across the U.S., toy and games brands are faced with fresh dilemmas in reaching their audiences.

Toys ‘R’ Us’ shutting up shop is one in a lineup of examples showing just how much the retail industry, cultural norms and consumer habits have transformed in recent years, even for traditional categories like toys. E-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay have fundamentally shifted the way most of us shop, while the rise of online events like Cyber Monday are further pushing the needle on how and what we buy.

This shift is clear in the toy industry: the category’s overall market size may have remained steady over the past few years, but the number of U.S. consumers who state that they’ve shopped online for toys and games over a 12-month period has shot up from 21.64 million in Spring 2008 to 47.99 million in Spring 2017, according to Nielsen Scarborough



This shopping shift is par for the course in the 21st-Century digitization of just about everything. Where it was once every child’s dream to wander down the magical aisles of a toy brand’s megastore, kids today are less concerned with where the toy comes from than they are with getting the best toy — and fast.

Whether it’s Paw Patrol, Fingerlings or Roarin’ Tyler, kids are discovering the hottest new toys and trends less from ads or brick-and-mortar store visits than from YouTube videos and social media platforms, as are their dollar-wielding parents. With the digitization of media, entertainment and retail changing how consumers find and buy new products, brands must change how and where they market themselves.

With the influence of social platforms on the rise for adults and children, brands should be looking not only at influencer marketing as a key component of their digital strategies, but also at becoming content creators themselves. The Care Bears were once for the aisle only but have since jumped into creating their own content. Their latest show, “Cares Bears and Cousins,” is in its third season on Netflix.

Hasbro has jumped on this trend, creating a “My Little Pony” mini-series on YouTube that garners millions of views for each two-minute episode. This allows brands to own and define their story, engage with their audiences where they are, and build greater affinity for the toys associated with the content’s lovable characters and storylines.

Of course, while brands look to become the creators of content, they should also tap into the existing influencer ecosystem by partnering with creators who have ready-established, loyal, and engaged audiences. Toy reviewers like Ryan ToysReview and CookieSwirlC command followings of 12 and 7 million, respectively, and in many ways, provide the experiential aspect of browsing that a storefront has traditionally offered.

With parents and guardians increasingly going digital to research potential purchases, searching the web for reviews and recommendations, toy brands should pay attention to this phenomenon and look to influencer partnerships as a pertinent, authentic and scalable way to insert their brand into the content consumers are watching.

Whether your brand is in the content or behind it, a multi-platform approach encompassing social media influencer, TV, film and streaming will represent the future of advertising. From brand-owned content like Mattel’s “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse” on Netflix to, well, every classic toy integrated into the “Toy Story” series, brands need to be where their consumers are discovering products and in the content they’re using to discover them. The days of the Toys ‘R’ Us kid may be over, but toymakers and games brands have a host of new directions in which they can turn.

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