It’s obvious that toy marketers are taking more time to develop meaningful content around their brands to create deeper relationships with kids. And they’re using many platforms with which to do it. They also get it: content delivered in many forms enables kids to interact at times of their choosing.
Richer experiences are absolutely needed in a kids’ market saturated with toy brands which diverts their attention due to an endless number of choices. Children will only remain engaged by a toy that offers a deeper meaning – a compelling story to which they can add from their own imaginations. They’re also more likely to return to that brand following diversions because of what it stands for in their minds. A strong relationship is already in place.
But it seems to me that many brand owners aren’t taking advantage of a golden opportunity by leveraging the full potential of packaging to enrich kids’ experiences with the brand. The visual pleasure packaging can afford kids, the tactility of it, the opportunity to engage all of their senses, including an invitation to interact with the toy within are all irresistible to children; to all consumers. Package design that entices is one thing, but packaging that extends the brand’s assets, while delighting kids with everything that they enjoy about the property is the ultimate goal.
Package design that breaks the mold
There are some tantalizing examples of toy packaging that deliver powerful brand experiences. And they do it by breaking the mold of the expected within their categories. Interestingly, there are exciting examples among this year’s TOTY (Toy of the Year) award finalists. Not only do these toys present unique new stories, but they’ve elevated their package design to deliver delightful customer experiences for kids. Why package toys in a conventional manner when doing the unexpected can do so much to enrich brand experience?
Mattel’s Mega Bloks Elephant Parade 25-piece building set by Mega Brands offers infants and toddlers a colorful toy with which they can play in different ways. First, it’s a pull toy on a rolling wheelbase. It is filled with colorful construction pieces that encourage kids to build a hippo, monkey, toucan and giraffe, by matching each animal to the right color. The menagerie can then be connected to the back of the elephant and pulled along on their own wheels. Colorful blocks within the tumbler encourage kids to build whatever else they choose to. No doubt, many adventures and unique stories will emerge from each child’s imagination.
The package design is well-conceived for this toy. The toy could have been packaged in a flexible paperboard box with a die-cut window. Instead, a paperboard sleeve wraps around the toy, telling its story while leaving the front of the colorful elephant and its wheels fully exposed. Doing this will prompt any child to pick it up and adopt it. Consider how this packaging stands out within the construction toy category for young children.
The blind-box packaging surprise
Kids love surprises. More brands are creating packaging that enables children to literally unwrap it to get at the toy(s) inside which are totally unseen – thus the term “blind-box.” Moose Toys’ Pikmi Pops Surprise presents a perfect example of package design that heightens kids experiences with the brand. When kids peel away the outer packaging of Pikmi Pops, two mini, sweet-scented plush friends appear. 3 surprise items and 2 surprise messages that promise to deliver laughs are also tucked inside the packaging. What child can resist that? And since there are 50 Pikmi Pops, kids will want to collect as many as they can so that they can experience being surprised again and again. Then they’ll trade with their friends which will pull more kids into collecting Pikmi Pops. This is a terrific concept that will doubtlessly inspire more brands in the collectibles category as they consider package design.
How about packaging AI with some emotion?
There’s nothing new among robotic toys these days, or is there? AI-infused “pets”, futuristic-looking bots and coding toys abound. But Wonder Workshop’s Cue Robot takes kids a step further. The company describes their toy in this manner: ”Powered by breakthrough emotive AI, Cue is a witty robot with attitude”. The manufacturer promises that Cue is full of interactive surprises. Consumers are exhorted to “choose from 4 unique avatars to customize Cue with a personality that’s right for you”. Imagine how kids in their late tweens and teens will love to program code for bots that have an “amazing depth of personality, expressions and interactions”. But how can they get this information? From the packaging, of course. But most packaging for tech toys is streamlined, simple and inspired by brands like Apple. Frankly, a lot of it looks similar.
Wonder Workshop didn’t do the usual with its brand packaging, making it a stand-out from among its competitors. The triangular shape of Cue likely inspired its hexagonal packaging, not in black or white, but in a deep charcoal gray with blue-green interior that picks up on the product name color as well as the circle around the robot’s “eye”. Nothing appears on the front panel other than the brand name and verbal communication: “Your robot. Your rules.” at the bottom of the package. On the upper right-hand corner: 11+ signifies the age appropriateness of the toy. But what’s cool is that product information appears on the other panels of the packaging, including the angled sides. This packaging is so unique that it stops consumers in their tracks. Kids will want to pick this up and really take in the aspects of this robotic toy that make it one of a kind. Package design structure, leveraged in this manner, creates a unique consumer experience.
So, what’s wrong with a box?
Nothing is wrong with packaging toys within a box as long as the visual and verbal cues on this packaging refer to the brand in a rich, experiential manner. As long as the packaging is so compelling that kids focus on it to the exclusion of everything else around it on the shelf.
WowWee’s Magnaflex construction toy is unique within its category. A one-of-a-kind product demands unique packaging. A clean white backdrop allows the bright, colorful magnetic strips and the toys that are constructed from them pop. A swath of color that arcs on the left-hand side of the box serves as package design architecture. The color varies to denote variety. For example, the Rainbow Set features a purple arc, while that on the Beach Set is blue. The Magnaflex logo is rainbow-colored and a custom-designed ”M” appears above it. Limited verbal brand communication appears beneath the logo. ”Bendable, connectable magnetic strips” tells kids and their parents what the toy is all about in four, simple words.
Visuals of the eye-popping toys really fire any child’s imagination. They are superimposed over simple artwork that serves as a background and is appropriate for each kit. Waves and sand featuring a shell, starfish and snail appear on the Beach Set, for example. The Magnaflex brand demonstrates that a ubiquitous box can be elevated to a whole new level of packaging. One that is highly experiential in nature.
Packaging that’s part of the game
Australia’s Moose Toys’ Boom Blast Stix is onto something when it comes to sustainable packaging. Why not make it part of the game itself? Isn’t that an environmentally responsible manner in which to package a product?
Boom Blast Stix’s canister-shaped packaging enables game players to continue to (gingerly) stack stix. The only problem is that as the stack grows, so does the potential to make a wrong move and boom! An ”explosive blast” sends the stix into the air. The brand web site succinctly states that this is the “explosive game for those with a gentle touch and nerves of steel!” The front panel of the packaging uses strong visual cues to demonstrate the premise of the game. Three pictorial insets depicting each step of the game on the side of the packaging, as well as added verbal brand communication simply, but effectively reinforce to consumers how the game is played.
A bright red lid tops the canister, which sits on a blue base. “The Explosive High Stacks Game” appears in black-outlined white lettering on the lid, as does the brand logo, which is super-imposed over imagery of a cannonball with two lit fuses. Underneath that, we see a visual of a game in progress, with stix being jettisoned into the air. Everything about this simple package design emphasizes how consumers will experience the brand. In fact, it builds anticipation in their minds concerning the inevitable “boom” that will occur.
Bringing the brand to life through package design
Manufacturers and licensed property owners should be focused on package design as part of the overall customer experience. No matter how wonderful a product is, it will never be purchased unless the packaging compels consumers to really see it on the shelf, feel a sense of connection and pick it up. There are so many choices now, that package design is the deal maker, or breaker.
Consider packaging that prompted you, as a consumer, to purchase a specific brand. Now look at your own brand packaging with a critical eye. What can you do to make your brand story more compelling? How can you engage consumers’ senses in a fresh manner? In summation: how can you design packaging that will create impactful, memorable experiences between the consumer and your brand?