There’s been a lot of noise made about the affect portable audio and video devices are having on tween consumer purchasing patterns. Toycos are continually on the lookout for ways to keep this demo engaged, and both Hasbro and Zizzle struck paydirt last year with their toyetic iPod compatible speakers that move and light up when connected to the most desirable of MP3 players. At Toy Fair in February, attempts to capture this burgeoning niche got turned up a notch with at least two companies debuting music toys that key into both the hot iPod trend and tweens eternal desire to customize their belongings. These musical hybrids not only hook up to iPods, but they also let kids create their own tunes.
Certainly the iPod craze among U.S. kids doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Kids specifically listed iPod on their wish lists in ’05, as opposed to the generic digital music player, NPD Group entertainment analyst Anita Frazier says. She’s confident the number of kids owning and using iPods has increased dramatically since last year. (In fact, The NPD Group is conducting a new study to test her suspicions, set to be released this May.) And that’s good news for this new breed of music toys. For kids looking to enhance their music experience, toys that work as both iPod-specific accessories and extensions might just be what they’ve been waiting for.
Hong Kong’s Blue Box has even gone so far as to make its new b2 music toys resemble the iPod. Cliff Seto, president of the toyco’s U.S. division, says there’s no mistaking the toys are iPod compatible with this design.
The b2 music line hits shelves this fall with six products. The miJam set includes electronic drumsticks, a toy guitar, a custom mixer and a headset mic, with prices ranging from US$19.99 to US$49.99. Kids don’t need musical training to master cool beats with these toys. The drumsticks, for instance, work by tapping a rhythm in the air, without actually hitting a surface. The guitar and mixer function via a simple configuration of buttons and switches, making mixing, looping and scratching a snap. The headset is like a karaoke microphone, where vocals can be heard over background beats and kids can just plug the instruments into their iPod or other MP3 player to play or sing along with their favorite tunes, or create new ones. Seto adds it is possible to transfer the original tunes to a computer or send digital copies to friends.
As evidenced by all the new wallpapers and ringtones popping up on tween-owned cell phones, Frazier believes kids are looking for new ways to express individual personalities through their electronic devices. This breed of music toys plays right into that and not surprisingly, Seto says that the b2 line was created with this factor in mind.
ToyQuest is taking a similar approach with the help of some very colorful stage performers. The toyco has teamed up with the popular stage act the Blue Man Group (BMG) to create a set of iPod-compatible musical instrument toys that are as offbeat and awe-inspiring as the group itself. This isn’t ToyQuest’s first foray into the music-making realm. The company has been quite successful with its line of Disney Princess instruments with sell through rates hitting 97% in 2005. According to product manager Josh Weichbrodt, however, the BMG instruments are in a league of their own.
Weichbrodt believes the new musical toys strike the right note with kids for a number of reasons. Along with the iPod boom, he says the BMG license, while an unusual choice, will resonate with kids because of the wacky, frenetic approach the group takes to creating music.
Certainly, a lot of kids aren’t familiar with BMG, which has had a long-running stage show and appeared in various commercial campaigns in the U.S., so the toyco is going to some lengths to get kids attention. Aside from a planned TV campaign, Weidbrodt says the company’s going to stage live in-store demonstrations of the products. Each instrument will also come with a BMG concert DVD for kids to watch and emulate.
Finally, there’s a lot of tech behind the new noisemakers. The first two instruments, a keyboard and a set of percussion tubes, are outfitted with custom proximity sensors to register movements and make corresponding sounds. So instead of blowing air through the tubes to make different noises, kids simply need to move their hands over them to create music.
The BMG Keyboard and BMG Percussion Tubes hit retail shelves this summer at US$79.99 and US$69.99 respectively, and ToyQuest plans to continue the line into 2007 with the release of the Drum Suit and Air Pole. The wearable percussion toy (US$39.99) consists of a pair of motion-activated gloves and five sensors that strap on to the user’s body. Like the tubes, the Drum Suit emits sound when a hand gets waved over the sensors. ‘It’s like you become a human instrument,’ Weichbrodt says. Meanwhile, the Air Pole (US$19.99) makes different sounds when it’s swung around like a baton.
Both Seto and Weichbrodt say they have plans to expand their electronic music lines and are playing with some new ideas if these items take off at retail.