Three macro-trends to keep an eye on

Three macro-trends to keep an eye on

Maurice Wheeler 31.01.2019 10 Mins

It’s January, so it’s that time of year where one talks about the year ahead and what trends to look out for. Rather than trying to specifically pin point this year’s L.O.L Surprise (which would be way too hard and besides, it’s probably going to be L.O.L Surprise again anyway), I thought I would instead look at some of the big trends of last year and examine what was at the heart of them and how that might evolve into something new this year.

1. The family experience:

Millennials are now the biggest cohort of parents; aged between 23 and 38, over 80% of new parents are millennials. One defining factor of the millennial was that their status in society was more defined by the experiences they had rather than the things they owned. This philosophy has now squarely moved into the family home.

Along with the millennial’s motto of “pics or it didn’t happen”, they are also really struggling with their work / family-life balance. You only need to look at the last two BBC Christmas idents to see that parents are feeling guilty about spending too much time at work and not enough time with their children. 48% of families have both parents working, and only 1 in 5 say they have managed to get the balance right between work and family.

These two things combined, the continued rise of the experience economy and the increase in wanting more time with their children mean that we will see an increase in bigger and better family experiences available. Families want to want to watch movies together, they want to play video games together, they want to do escape rooms together, and they even want to do fitness classes together.

The family holiday will become less dominated by “dropping the kids off at the kids club” and more dominated by “exploring the hidden temple together”. Brands and leisure locations that help facilitate an increase in quality and quantity of family time will be rewarded over the following few years.


2. TV is no longer king:

I was in a presentation recently where a wide range of media owners, consultants and measurement bodies were all talking about their latest TV-viewing research. It was quite telling that it was just the TV media sales business that painted a rosy picture of the current linear TV landscape. Whether it is a 5% or 15% year-on-year decline, linear TV’s days are most definitely numbered. Sure, preschool is being resilient, however the moment children have the option of what they can watch and how, they are moving - almost full scale - to mobile devices, watching streaming services.

YouTube is clearly picking up a lot of this audience with children now naming YouTube as not just their most favourite app, but also their most trusted brand. 72% of young Gen Z consumers said they’re far more likely to buy a product if an influencer that they follow on YouTube advocates it. With YouTube’s increasing and almost monopolistic influence on children (outside of friends and family obviously), we are seeing the toy industry react by making sure their products are all “YouTubetic”.

Key traits of a YouTubetic toy include:

Gross – Gross comes across really well in a YouTube video. Not only do you get to film gross things, your reaction is also pretty compelling. Some of the big names in “Gross” this year were Spin Master’s Flush Force, “Don’t step in it” from Hasbro and the many, MANY slime products still selling well.

Cute – Almost to prove a point that we are now, as a society, just drifting out towards the extreme ends of the scale, to counter the gross theme, we have the cute theme. Super soft, super fluffy, big eyes and adorable personalities are the name of the game in this theme. Pomsies, Fingerlings, Hugs, and Myla the unicorn were all cute, and more importantly were cooed over by many YouTubers.

Collectables - L.O.L Surprise! continues to do well and shows no signs of slowing down. With now over 300 different L.O.L. dolls to collect in a variety of different series, their online following continues to have new things to open and get excited about. Along with L.O.L Surprise!, other popular collectables include Fingerlings and Hatchimals, along with the evergreen Kinder Surprise and Lego Mini Figures.

A watchable Play Pattern – If a toy has a highly watchable play pattern, then people will film it and put it on YouTube. The more compelling it is to watch, the more popular the video and therefore the more popular the toy. Creating a toy with a highly watchable play pattern will ultimately deliver YouTube views and thus, sales. From the laughing Chewbacca Mask lady, to Pie Face, this is a trend that always delivers. This year the game where you must put in a gumshield type device and say sentences for others to guess, along with the flipping gymnast, have captured the heart and video cameras of the YouTube elite - with both ending up on Ellen, the queen of the viral YouTube clip.

Creative / Recipe Driven - A product where someone can personalise it and customise it is always a winner with children; but where a YouTuber can create and share their own recipes for others to follow, has all those qualities but with added star power. We’ve seen how children flock to creative ideas, from Loom Bands to Slime, and also how they turn to YouTube for inspiration and ideas for how to make new creations.

One of last year’s hot toys was a combination of pretty much all the themes we’ve covered, Poopsie Unicorn Slime Surprise! You feed ingredients into Poopsie using the collectable bottle. Then the Unicorn poops out a slime creation...the excreted slime poop’s appearance is dependent on the combination of mixtures you fed the Unicorn.

Toy Manufacturers should consider these themes in the toy development process, but this is not a guaranteed recipe of success by any means. YouTube only works for you if you invest - you really do get out what you put in - and even if you create a collectable range of backflipping, cute llamas with squeezable boils, if no one knows about them they are not going anywhere.

3. Aging down of adult technology

The last theme I want to cover is the aging down of technology that is typically aimed at the adult market. Examples include -

  • Stress management apps for children, such as: Headspace Kids, Moshi Twilight and other mindfulness, Yoga, or self-esteem building apps.

  • Banking and financial management apps such as: Go Henry, Spriggy, Rooster Money, and MyBnk.

  • Social Media for kids such as: Facebook Kids, LEGO Life, PopJam and CBBC BUZZ.

While I feel it is maybe a sad indictment on the pressure we put on our children, I think the stress and anxiety reduction apps are great and doing a valuable job for our children. However, I’m very much in two minds about the banking and social media apps for children. Both these categories will explain that they are introducing children to the concepts of finance and social media but in a safe, private and controllable environment. Parents can monitor everything they do and can control what they do.

The finance applications are a great way of managing your child’s money. Give them pocket money, let them see the benefits of saving money in an interest earning account. However, does the gamification element devalue money? Does the removal of cash-money entirely from their lives somehow reduce money to just numbers on a screen? Do the apps encourage going into debt by normalising credit facilities?

The social media apps I do think are slightly more concerning. There is an argument that social media will be a reality of children’s lives when they reach 13 and therefore, we should be giving them safe spaces to get up to speed with it and help them scratch any itch they might develop before they are 13. However, are we really just getting them into the habit and hooked at a young and impressionable age, in order to be able to properly exploit them later on? Could the same argument be given for inserting gambling games into children’s apps? After all, they are going to gamble when they are older so why not let them do it first in a safe environment… Sure, social media has more to bring to society than gambling, but still, getting kids into social media when they are 8 still sits uncomfortably with me, especially considering the recent news regarding Facebook and Instagram’s seeming reluctance to want to actually protect them from harmful material.

These three themes are only part of a broader suite that we have been following and exploring over the last 12 months. If these helped shape any new thinking, or you would like to explore the trend’s we haven’t shared here, let us know - we’d love to talk to you further!

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