Zany Brainy will try to summon the Thomas Edison that resides in every child when its Kid Inventor Workshops kick off this month. The workshops, which science toy toiler Wild Planet helped to devise and is sponsoring, will involve store staff leading kids through a series of brainstorming sessions to get them to think of new designs for toys and gadgets. One exercise will ask kids to ponder the possibilities of toys that could grow with their owners. Another talking point will get kids to consider the ways that they can apply technology to everyday gadgets, like combining a camera with sunglasses to create spy glasses, for example, or morphing goggles with binoculars to create a swim mask that kids can use to see long distances underwater.
The event, which Zany has been promoting through its summer reading clubs, is a first for the retailer and marks a pleasant departure from its typical store promotions, says the chain’s promotions manager Carol Mackin. ‘What’s nice about this event is that it will force kids to become active participants, instead of our staff having to put on a show,’ she says. Kids won’t need to register for the workshops, which Zany will run once a month starting this month through the end of October.
To inspire attendees, staff will highlight Wild Planet toys as examples of products that embody the creativity the workshops are trying to foster. During each session, kids will be asked to doodle out their ideas on paper, which they can later refine at home and, if they feel so inclined, submit to Wild Planet’s Kid Inventor Challenge Contest, which kicks off next month.
For the contest, Wild Planet will award the top 100 ideas and the kids who have developed them with a variety of Kid Inventor Team (KIT) hats, tees and sketch pads. From that group, the company will then select the top 10 toy ideas by allowing kids to vote on them on its website (www.wildplanet.com) in late October. The top 10 winners will receive one of every toy Wild Planet makes, plus a profile of themselves and their toy on the company’s site. As well, all winners will receive personalized KIT business cards and will become de facto consultants for the company, which entitles them to special access to Wild Planet’s site, where they can check out toys the company is developing and give feedback to staff on how they might be improved.
Call it enlightened focus group-testing. For Wild Planet, which runs several play days at schools and community centers around the U.S. every year, the contest is another way for it to establish a direct link into kids’ psyches. And it can prove a profitable exercise too. One of the company’s products, Lighthand (a glove that comes with tiny lights attached to the end of the fingertips), was the brainchild of nine-year-old Shahid Minapara, who developed the toy after attending one of Wild Planet’s play sessions two years ago.
‘The contest will help us to build our brand with kids, but it’s also a way to champion kids. It recognizes that the way kids feel plugged into a brand is to make them feel that they are contributing to the brand,’ says Sam Toole, director of marketing at the San Francisco-based toyco.
Starting in September, kids and parents will be able to pick up entry forms to the contest from Zany Brainy stores, at select school districts in the U.S. and directly via Wild Planet’s website.