If I ran the world, a lot of things in kids toy advertising would be very different. For starters, I would ban the following from any girl advertising: The color pink, bubbles, and any precocious little girl breathlessly exclaiming ‘pretty!’ I would pass a law requiring action figures from movies or TV shows to actually look like the actors. Todd McFarlane can do it. Why can’t everyone else? You know, I still haven’t figured out which one of the Jurassic Park figures is supposed to be Jeff Goldblum….
But if there were only one thing I could change in the toy world, I would choose to instruct toy companies to broaden their audience and start targeting adults. It is time for toys to start being sold to all kids. Young and old. And advertised to appropriately. That’s right, I’m talking kids in their 20s, 30s and older who never took the advice of First Corinthians and `put away childish things.’ Not just the hardcore collectors, either. I’m talkin’ the average Joes out there who are still buying toys.
Who are these people? They are the adults watching Cartoon Network and Nick at Nite. These aren’t comic book geeks scooping up the `misfit toys’ either. They are the same folks who helped make both Toy Story movies hits for adults as well as kids. These are the people who bought Todd McFarlane’s line of Yellow Submarine dolls and Austin Powers action figures. Dolls and action figures and plush toys are not just kids stuff anymore, and it is high time all toy companies recognized that. And started doing something about it.
What’s the first rule of business? Fish where the fish are. That’s why everybody and their brother are jumping on the kid and teen bandwagon these days. They are a market with a lot of disposable income and an inclination to buy. Well, that’s also true of adults. Adults today are more `childish’ than ever. They gravitate towards nostalgia and the past more than any generation before them. Why? Well folks, it tends to be a rather big, mean and ugly world out there and today’s adults need some insulation against it. When you realize that you are the first generation that is not going to live as well as your parents, you need some comfort. That’s why you rediscover mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. (Have you noticed that those two items are showing up on countless restaurant menus across the country?) When you realize that you cannot afford a house the size of the one you grew up in, you are going to try to get as close to that as you can, so you spend hours each week watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie. It beams into your living room like it did when you were a kid, and it almost feels like you never left your parents’ family room.
That is why adults are buying more toys than ever before. It’s a chance to reconnect with a better time and make the existing one more palatable.
So, marketers, target those adults. Start by running print ads in publications like Time or Newsweek. Let them know there is relief between the stories on Kosovo and gun control. Blanket the pages of Entertainment Weekly and advertise during prime time. Just think how toy commercials aimed at adults would break through the clutter during an episode of Meet the Press. (How much ADM does one person need, anyway?) Toy marketers could finally get around all those pesky CARU rules because they wouldn’t have to sanitize everything for the kiddies! Hell, isn’t that reason enough alone to do it?
In my perfect world, every toy has a dual strategy: One for kids, one for adults. I know most adults don’t actually play with their toys, but rather use them as objects of art, conversation pieces or office tchotchkes. I have over 50 in my office alone. And that was before I ever worked on any toy account. Still not convinced that there’s a big enough adult market? Let me ask you: Can 10 million Beanie Babies possibly be wrong?