Crisp popping noises, slimy feels running between fingers, funky smells wafting through the air, and unpleasant shapes of things usually kept in the bathroom: The gross trend is here and it’s all about the sensory experience.

Fake bugs and vomit have always been classic gags, but this trend is more about embracing the yuck and getting everyone to interact together with a bit of humor. In a sea of unicorns and sequins, the popularity of ickiness seems to balance out the toy world, particularly in the games and collectibles aisles.

The slime craze took over much of last year, as the easy-to-make compound kids started to create themselves at home sparked the launch of kits available for puchase that include non-toxic ingredients. The “all other toys” category grew by 14 percent last year, driven primarily by fidget toys and slime kits, according to The NPD Group.

But that ooey gooey trend will reach a new level this year.

Zits, from NSI International

No. 2 is No. 1

There is a bit of a bowel movement happening within this trend because kids can’t get enough of poop. It’s the obvious go-to in a trend that focuses on the disgusting, but there’s a reason for that. Poop is, and probably always will be, funny. This trend finds humor in what’s usually taboo or uncomfortable, and accepts the fact that no matter how complex of a species humans may be, we all poop—and that’s quite humbling.

“Bodily functions have always been funny to kids and people of all ages,” says Michael Bernstein, senior vice president of marketing at Jakks Pacific. “The marketplace is catching up to the trend and is now accepting of these types of products.”

Jakks Pacific’s new game, Toilet Paper Blaster Skid Shot 30, is one of several that find innovative ways to play with poop. There’s no shortage of toys that use toilet paper, plungers, toilets, and, of course, farting sounds hitting the shelves throughout this year.

Toilet Paper Blaster Skid Shot 30, from Jakks Pacific

What’s Poppin’?

Poop and slime are tried and true for gross connoisseurs, but new to the trend is a pimple obsession. Social media is filled with pimple-popping and blackhead-clearing videos that are oddly satisfying, yet equally disgusting, to watch.

NSI International’s ZITS is a simple representation of what’s so satisfying about this part of the trend. The peel-and-stick pimples come in different sizes, and kids can squeeze and pop it until the zits can ooze no more.

But the suspense of popping a pimple lends itself to several games as well. In addition to poop, Jakks Pacific also embraces the pimple game with Pop-A-Zit, a roulette-style game that will explode with anything players decide to put inside—from water to mayonnaise. “Pimple popping is gaining tremendous popularity online,” says Bernstein. “Pop-A-Zit is a fun, lighthearted game that features an oversized zit on a cartoon-faced boy. It is the perfect mix of fun, suspense, and silliness that kids love.”

Spin Master’s Pimple Pete has a similar suspense-filled, pimple-popping gameplay, but diverts players’ attention to additional pimples across Pete’s face to distract from when the “mega zit” will pop. Countless beauty experts preach resisting the urge to pop, but all of that is forgotten in the toy industry. Rather than try to clear the skin, the pimple passion focuses on the gratification of the “puss” oozing through from the pores.

Pimple Pete, from Spin Master

Garbage Collectors

The collectible category is expanding with characters inspired by poop, bugs, garbage, and literally anything associated with a toilet.

Moose Toys first created the gross collectible back in 2011 with Trash Pack. “After Shopkins launched in 2014 and quickly became the biggest collectible in the industry, we saw a chance to revive Trash Pack with a new twist: ‘Grosseries’ that parody real food,” says Ronnie Frankowski, CMO at Moose Toys. “The result has been an even bigger global hit than Trash Pack.”

Moose launched Grossery Gang in 2016 with a web series, which expanded to a movie last year. Another movie, Grossery Gang: Time Wars, will debut on YouTube this year, supported by a line of gross, time-traveling action heroes.

The Grossery Gang Bug Strike, from Moose Toys

But you can’t have gross collectibles without poop, of course. Both Basic Fun!’s Poopeez—which also has a web series in addition to the toy line—and Spin Master’s Flush Force plant their collectible lines in the bathroom with clever packaging that strays away from the typical blind bag reveal. Poopeez are hidden in toilet paper-shaped capsules, while Flush Force has “flush-to-reveal technology” in their master packs. Kids can fill the toilet with water and shake it to find two Flush Force characters inside, adding a little slime to their new toy.

And who says you can’t cuddle with gross? Even the dolls and plush category will see some of the funk sprinkled in soon. TOMY’s Stink Bomz—plush characters that make farting noises and have their own distinct smells—and Spin Master’s Fugglers—dolls made with fake teeth—somehow make the weird feel endearing. (For more on what’s popular in plush, flip to page 20).

Stink Bomz, from TOMY

Gross Games Galore

The entire success of a gross toy hinges on the sensory experience it provides, though luckily we haven’t quite gotten into the realm of taste, apart from the Harry Potter Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Jelly Belly. This embracing of the senses is why this trend is strongest in games.

“The biggest challenge lies in finding that meaningful play through the gross humor—kids are not going to come back to a toy or game over and over again if it’s not fun to play with at its core,” says Eric Levin, strategic director for KD Group. “Another challenge
is finding that happy medium between creating something gross, but not so repulsive that Mom or Dad will say ‘We’re not buying that.’ You can’t lose the playfulness in the grossness.”

What’s That Smell?, from WowWee

KD’s new Snot It game features boogers and snots attached to silly glasses that look ridiculous on everyone.

At the core of any game is having fun, which is what makes gross and games combine so well. Other games—such as Who Cut the Cheese?, from Epoch Everlasting Play, and What’s That Smell, from WowWee—embrace the sense of smell as a way to bring people together. Catching wind of… broken wind is miserable on your own, but being forced to smell it with friends and family around makes it more humorous.

“I think that parents today are much more relaxed about the way they interact with their kids than they were 20 years ago—they are willing to indulge the fascination with potty humor and even to join in the fun themselves, which kids get a kick out of,” says Levin. “In a way, these games and toys give kids an outlet to laugh about gross humor at home and get it out of their systems.”

This article was originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of The Toy Book.