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Playmates tackles fear of the dark and forges a new nighttime category

WE all know intuitively that kids are afraid of the dark, but according to the US Census Bureau and Parenting.com, this common childhood phobia affects 21 million three- to eight-year-olds in the US. And it was with this figure in mind that Costa Mesa, California-based Playmates turned its R&D efforts towards pioneering a new nighttime toy category.
May 1, 2008

WE all know intuitively that kids are afraid of the dark, but according to the US Census Bureau and Parenting.com, this common childhood phobia affects 21 million three- to eight-year-olds in the US. And it was with this figure in mind that Costa Mesa, California-based Playmates turned its R&D efforts towards pioneering a new nighttime toy category.

Night Guardians, Defenders of Dreamtime (US$39.99) is on track to hit global mass retail this fall. The line’s two plush animals, a male wolf (Thayer) and a female fox (Skye), come with two sun crystals that can be placed in the darkest corners of a child’s bedroom. If the wee one wakes up in the middle of the night and is too scared to go back to sleep, he simply squeezes Thayer’s paw to activate an infrared sensor that lights up the crystals and reveals that there’s nothing lurking in the shadows. The light automatically dims after five minutes – just long enough for most kids to drift off again – while Thayer comforts with phrases such as, ‘It’s OK, rest your head. Night Guardian is by your bed.’

While working on the concept, Playmates conducted several focus groups with moms and children for feedback on prototypes. Rick Revezzo, senior director of marketing for youth electronics, says the company discovered that Night Guardians not only helped kids sleep more comfortably, but also gave parents a full night’s rest, since their children weren’t constantly running into their rooms for reassurance.

This insight drove Playmates to define a mom-targeted marketing strategy encouraging them to use the product when putting their kids to bed. The campaign encompasses print ads, product sampling, web promo opportunities, direct sales and a strong focus on POP displays, with everything getting underway in early- to mid-summer.

To help kids buy in, each Night Guardian SKU contains an extensive 10-page booklet explaining how the creatures captured energy from the sun in the crystals. The next phase of product in fall ’09 will introduce new animals suggested by the kid focus groups, including a tiger, cheetah, raccoon, bear and dragonfly. Playmates will sell extra crystals separately (US$6.99) for kids who need a little extra light action, and the team is looking to develop a portable crystal that can go on the road to sleepovers.

Revezzo also sees licensing potential for extending the brand into consumer products categories that jibe with its nighttime hook, and is exploring apparel, room décor and bedding for late 2009 and 2010.

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