Today’s culture of apps and Internet memes has spawned a new category for licensees. These new digital brands have inspired toys that carry the excitement, reference, or joke of a digital property beyond its original state and into the physical world. Smartphones, apps, and the Internet have allowed people of all ages to swap images, play games, and contribute to digital communities faster than ever before. The appeal of a licensed toy can largely be attributed to an emotional connection—such as victory, challenge, or humor—to the property by a consumer. When I see a toy (or any other type of product) that I identify with a funny meme or a favorite app, I’m instantly drawn to it, almost like being in on an inside joke.

For the past few years, many a birthday card that I’ve given and received has featured cringeworthy images of a person (or several) in an array of ridiculous outfits, making odd facial expressions, in questionable poses, and more. Since 2009, Awkward Family Photos (AFP) has accrued nearly 2 million Facebook fans and currently offers plenty of products for fans to enjoy. AFP has also expanded its brand to include Awkward Family Pet Photos, adding a whole new hilarious dimension to the theme. Fans can purchase the AFP puzzle in either the pets or siblings versions, which feature 999 puzzle pieces and come together to create a collage of several awkward images.


Fans can also enjoy a rousing game of ridiculous photos, questions, and answers with the AFP Board Game, from All Things Equal. A player flips over a card featuring an Awkward Family Photo and reads an open-ended question aloud. The other players must come up with their own answers; the player with the best answer wins the round.

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With more than 150 million users worldwide, Plants vs. Zombies has naturally inspired a plethora of tangible toys. Kids ages 5 and up can defeat the zombies at sea with the Pirate Ship Building Set, from K’NEX. The 52-piece set includes a pirate zombie figure, a snapdragon figure with finger-flick action, and a small, buildable pirate ship. I think this is a great way for kids to have some fun away from the screen, while still drawing on the fun of the game.

Tying a toy to an Internet property is a great way to take the fun off-screen and into real life. When fans can appreciate the property in a physical way, it speaks volumes about both the property and the toy manufacturer. Simply adding an image to an existing product is easy, but finding a way to engage the consumer with the toy in a unique way gives consumers a double dose of fun.

For more commentary from Christine, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!