How Smart Toy Companies Appeal to Kids’ Christmas Lists

By Lauren Orsini · December 11, 2019

How Smart Toy Companies Appeal to Kids’ Christmas Lists

As the winter holidays approach, toys are on every kid’s mind. Of course, toy companies hope to add inspiration to their Christmas lists, but it’s not as simple as making a commercial.

In the online video space, brands need to be careful about complying with children’s advertising guidelines.

This holiday season, we are already seeing the way stricter rules regarding advertising toys to children are affecting online content from the largest toy companies.

Learn how the big two, Mattel and Hasbro, are adjusting their strategies by:

  • Designing toy-centered content that parents can supervise
  • Experimenting with creative new content formats
  • Featuring real kids playing with this season’s toys

Read on to learn how these toy brands are confidently problem-solving in the online video space this year.

YouTube and the World of Toys

Though YouTube specifically states that it’s restricted to viewers 13 and up, and has a separate YouTube Kids app, the Pew Research Center found that 81% of American parents with kids aged 11 or younger let their kids watch YouTube.

One-fifth of the platform’s top 100 channels with the most subscribers are about toys, many designed for preschool-aged children. These channels come from toy manufacturers and “kidfluencers,” who unbox or review toys on screen.

There’s no mistake that YouTube has changed the way children discover toys and even how they play, and it’s a major transition that continues to impact the toy industry.

In early November, the FTC penalized YouTube with a record-breaking $170 million fine for violating children’s data privacy law COPPA. Toy videos, which increasingly blur the line between content and advertising, were to blame.

It’s a development that has toy companies rethinking their online content strategies just in time for the holiday shopping season.

However, you don’t need to panic about your digital video strategy this season (or next). Here’s what’s working for Mattel and Hasbro, and what you can learn from it.

Mattel Gets Parents on Board with Its Entertainment

In the digital age, American toymaker Mattel has transformed into a global entertainment brand.

In addition to its primary YouTube account, the toy brand maintains dozens of high-performing video channels focused on iconic toys like Barbie, Hot Wheels, Polly Pocket, American Girl, and Fireman Sam.

In the past 90 days, Mattel uploaded 5835 videos across YouTube and Facebook, garnering more than 2.9B views and 8.5M engagements.

In a recent webinar with Tubular, Isaac Quiroga, Director of Video Engagement at Mattel, explained that the goal for Mattel’s video content is to cater not only to children but their millennial parents as well, with programming for both audiences.

Entertaining enough for kids and nostalgic enough for parents, who may remember Mattel toys from their own childhood, these videos are designed to be co-watched.

Interested in the webinar? Watch it here!

Take Barbie, who is no longer just a toy, but a YouTube vlogger with a channel of her own. In October, 10M subscribers provided 169M views for videos like “Barbie and Ken ‘Hands Tied Together’ Challenge” and “Will Barbie Get Pranked?!”, which mirror the vlog content of real-life YouTube influencers but hailing instead from one of the top toy companies in the world.

These videos introduce kids to Barbie while reminding their parents of the classic toy, and ultimately influencing their toy-buying decisions.

“We see the power of video and content for our particular audiences and the proof is in our overall sales and our brand-affinity lift,” Quiroga said in the webinar.

That power is clear: in 2018, Barbie’s global sales reached a five-year high, 14% more than in 2017, which Mattel attributes to an increasingly positive perception of the brand.

Hasbro Uses YouTube as a Launchpad for Experimentation

American toy brand Hasbro also has a YouTube presence to be envied by other toy companies.

In the past 90 days, the company’s YouTube and Facebook channels, dedicated to toys like Transformers and My Little Pony, uploaded 839 videos for 405M views and 1.6M engagements.

Between Monopoly and Play-Doh, Hasbro operates multiple classic game and toy brands. However, its YouTube presence can be defined by a willingness to experiment with content.

The brand began shaking things up in 2017 when it kicked off the year with its first digital series, Hanazuki Full of Treasures.

The girl-focused series catered to fans of My Little Pony, but with completely new content available exclusively on YouTube and YouTube Kids. With digital-only content, Hasbro could test the waters with a new IP without a lot of spend.

Hasbro continues to experiment with YouTube-only content with discussion of a 2020 My Little Pony series of shorts to be available exclusively on the company’s channel. My Little Pony was ranked #43 on Tubular’s October global brand cross-platform leaderboards with a combination of original content and toy demos to catch kids’ eyes.

For older kids and teens, Hasbro’s Dungeons & Dragons channel boasts original watch-along campaigns that have been so popular, the company noted in its most recent earnings call that the franchise was responsible for 20% revenue growth in the third quarter of 2019.

Hasbro uses its YouTube channels like a sandbox, trying out new IPs in order to see what sticks. By focusing on original launches, it avoids advertisement claims while ultimately expanding the range of toys and games it has to offer.

Takeaways for Toy Companies: Content, Not Commercials

As toy ads continue to occupy an increasingly gray area, brands can follow Mattel and Hasbro’s cue by putting an emphasis on original content.

Rather than commercials, new toy-focused content can catch kids’ attention without directly selling to them.

Toy companies looking to mimic this strategy may want to consider:

  • Content that can be co-watched. Videos that appeal to both kids and their parents can make the people doing the actual toy-buying feel good about the brand.
  • Freedom to experiment. A digital platform means low-stakes testing for new concepts.
  • Show how they play. Forget unboxing or ads. Instead, try videos that show how kids can make the most of toys through watch-along games.

YouTube’s wake-up call from the FTC means that toy brands have to get more creative with their digital marketing.

But measured success from Mattel and Hasbro shows that it’s possible to succeed without advertising this holiday shopping season and beyond.

Curious to learn more about Mattel’s content strategy?

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