Have you ever noticed that kids often love the packaging that a toy comes in more than the toy itself? They usually find creative ways to integrate colorful packaging into their play. Even basic cardboard boxes are turned into dollhouses, spacecraft, robots, puppet stages or anything else that comes out of the minds of children. This has been so prevalent for generations of kids, that the cardboard box was actually inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005. Fast-forward to 2018. #IKEAtoybox is a new interactive app being launched by IKEA for kids. It’s really cool and helps parents to access ideas on toys they can help their kids make from cardboard boxes. Not only are these projects fun, they eliminate packaging that would otherwise go into the waste stream.
Most packaging is thrown away after unboxing toys, so doesn’t it make sense to design it so that it becomes integral to the toy since more pressure is on manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in the waste stream? Or to create packaging that becomes a cool storage receptacle for toys that feature many parts? Or to design high-end packaging for collectibles that people will keep for display purposes or to add value to the product? We know that if kept in pristine condition, packaging adds to the value of limited edition items and collectibles.
In fact, packaging of quality and expert design adds value to every consumer product. Great packaging actually makes one product more desirable than any other within its category. That has been proven time and again. It effectively removes a product from the perception that it is just one more commodity item.
But how can toy packaging be so compelling, so ingeniously designed, that kids won’t want to part with it?
Disney leading the way
Over the years, I’ve pointed out examples of sustainably designed packaging which became part of the toy itself. I’ve discussed how beneficial the reduction of materials in the design of toy packaging has been. Not to mention, how much easier many toys are to unbox, as a result. But many of these initiatives came initially from small, entrepreneurial brands that were purpose-driven from their outset. More recently, the leaders of the toy industry have been actively embracing more aggressive sustainability measures in their packaging.
And then there was Disney. The global entertainment behemoth felt a responsibility to go beyond its established sustainability efforts and take it to a new level. In 2014, Disney’s SPI program was born. The Smart Packaging Initiative launch was the culmination of six years of work at Disney. SPI is aimed at reducing the amount of packaging, making more of its components recyclable, optimizing its performance on the shelf and reducing costs not only for the company, but for its licensees and the entire toy industry. By generously sharing their data and the SPI measurement tool, toy manufacturers and licensees are making a positive impact industry wide.
Sarah Levine, the former Manager of Global Sustainability at Mattel stated: ”Mattel is using the SPI to enhance packaging, not only for the products we create with Disney, but as an additional input as we look at packaging efficiency for all of our brands.” The Lego Group, Hasbro, Mattel and Jakks Pacific, have all implemented SPI principles into their packaging decisions.
Smart Packaging Initiative in action
Walt Disney Animation Studio’s film, Moana, opened in theaters in November, 2016. The Classic Moana doll was also launched in a unique, sustainable package. Not only was the packaging made from 70% recycled paper printed with vegetable-based inks; it was also created without any glue or tape enabling kids to take it apart easily. But not to throw it away. This packaging was designed to be turned into a boat for Moana, a fun project that parents and kids could work on together, effectively extending the storyline from movie to toy to packaging in a seamless manner. While most packaging tells a story, this package design became a physical part of the Moana story.
Disney has been integrating the SPI across all toy packaging and hosting sustainable design workshops to drive packaging innovation in a voluntary program dubbed “License to Lead,” which it offers to licensees.
Kid turned licensing superstar
When most adults think about hot licensed properties their thoughts turn to some of the most dominant sports and entertainment properties in the world: Star Wars, the NFL, Superman, Spider-Man and classic Disney properties. These are heritage brands which appeal to multiple generations and some of these properties have an impact among kids. But there is a world of other brands that are top of mind for them of which parents can attest and many adults are unaware.
Kids across the globe have made a superstar, and a millionaire, of a 6 year old named Ryan. Ryan ToysReview is the most popular kids YouTube channel on the planet thanks to kids who regularly tune in by the millions to watch Ryan unbox, critique and play with toys. Ryan posts daily reviews on YouTube, an endeavor which he began at the tender age of 3, and now his videos are getting a billion hits per month. Forbes Magazine reported that Ryan earned a whopping $11 million last year, prompting his mom to quit her job so that she could work on her son’s YouTube channel full time.
Recently, Ryan’s star power was leveraged into licensing. Pocket.watch, a kid’s media company with a focus on digital media stars, inked a contract with Ryan’s family to negotiate licensing deals in multiple categories. As a result, an extensive line of toys branded Ryan’s World for kids aged 3 and up launched exclusively in Walmart stores in August, 2018 with more retailers coming online in October. There are also t-shirts featuring Ryan’s favorite things: pal Gus, the Gummy Gator and pizza and more merchandise categories are currently in the works, including home décor.
This news was all over the toy industry during the summer but there’s nothing unusual about the licensing of a popular brand in this manner, or is there? Ryan’s licensing deal broke new ground on several levels. Anne Marie Kehoe, Walmart’s VP and DMM for toys, observed in a press release: “This is the first time that a YouTube star in the children and family space has created their own dedicated line of toys and apparel, and we are excited to be partnering with Pocket.watch to have it available at Walmart stores nationwide.” In a stunning, but shrewd move, Ryan himself was named creative director for Ryan’s World, hand selecting all of the toys for which he has a passion. Expect to see toys that few adults get but kids go crazy over: super slimy slime, blind bag collectibles, plush, racing vehicles, squishies and a giant surprise egg, all from Bonkers Toys.
A 75 city experiential tour is wisely being planned so that kids can fully engage with the Ryan’s World brand. Ryan himself will surprise fans by appearing at select venues in person. While most kids around the globe will never meet their favorite star, or take part in the tour, the idea that they can acquire Ryan’s favorite toys and play along with him is a not-to-be-missed opportunity.
Licensed and packaged by a kid for kids
Since Ryan came to fame unboxing toys, it isn’t any surprise that his own, hand-selected toys are boxed in a manner which appeals to him and to his audience. The brand-centric logo confirms this. A smiling, rising sun over multi-colored Ryan’s World lettering is held within a burst. Ryan himself is depicted on some of the packaging in his characteristic thumbs-up pose, signaling his approval of the toy. His stamp of approval is all most kids need to see to clamor for these toys. The signature brand color is red but the packaging is filled with bright, primary colors as one would expect on toys aimed at young children.
Due to Ryan’s notoriety, much of this packaging is meant to be savored and kept as much as the toys are. A great example of this kind of packaging is found in the Giant Mystery Egg. According to the Walmart web site, each egg features ”an exclusive lights and sounds vehicle, ultra-rare figures, special slime and putty, a limited edition squishy, plush and more.” And no two are the same. How cool is it for kids to unbox, play with the toys contained inside and then experience the thrill of doing that over and over again just as Ryan does.
The element of surprise
Who doesn’t like a surprise? Some of the greatest toy hits of the past couple of years feature uniquely packaged toys that hide what is inside. Spin Master’s Hatchimals eggs and LOL Surprise’s ball-shaped packaging featuring a thin outer wrapper that must be removed to reveal what lies inside, are good examples of this. Both franchises continue to be red hot as they roll out new generations of toys in packaging that promises to surprise and delight. Even though the toys are cute, a strong argument can be made that they wouldn’t sell half as well without their intriguing packaging.
A new entry in the realm of mystery toys, Little Live’s Scruff-a-Luvs, is on Amazon’s list of the hottest toys for holiday 2018. The packaging is an octagonal-shaped pet carrier with a heart-shaped handle that poses the question: “Who will you rescue?” Inside, a scruffy, small animal peers out. Is it a cat or a dog? When kids follow the on-pack instructions to wash, groom and love their new pet, all is revealed. The packaging, with its air holes and message: ”Handle with love and care” make this toy come alive for children. This ”pet carrier” is definitely a keeper. Not only does it make it possible for kids to take their Scruff-a-Luvs with them; it begins to foster a special relationship and growing bond between the owners and their toys. Packaging like this becomes an integral part of the toy, and the story that each child creates around a very special new friend.