Peter Pan had the right idea: Fly away to Neverland and stay a kid forever. While we can’t all go to such extreme lengths to hold on to our childhood pursuits, we don’t have to give up our toys.
The term “kidult” is a portmanteau that represents adults full of big kid energy. From dropping serious cash on designer dolls and action figures to spending free time at board game cafes or playing video games with friends, it is quite common for adults to incorporate play into their everyday lives. The Toy Foundation even introduced a new “Grown-Up Toy of the Year” category for this year’s Toy of the Year Awards, with the LEGO Ideas The Office building set taking the prize during the September show.
The toy industry is embracing kidults in new ways as manufacturers alter their strategies to boost cross-generational appeal. Unlike collectibles that are specifically marketed to adults with a “this is not a toy” tagline, there is a sudden surge in toys that are traditionally made for kids, but with a new twist that makes adults want them, too.
The Fisher-Price Little People brand has been popular with toddlers since it debuted in the ‘50s, featuring chunky figures and playsets made for little hands. In 2019, the brand expanded in a new direction with the debut of Little People Collector sets featuring licensed intellectual properties that have more pop culture collectibility, including RuPaul, Ted Lasso, Golden Girls, The Office, Run-DMC, Masters of the Universe, and more. Although the toys and play patterns are still kid-friendly, the licenses appeal more to adults than they do to toddlers. Most 3-year-olds probably have no clue who Jim and Pam from a TV series about office employees are, but their parents will get a kick out of sharing their favorite characters with their kids.
“For adults who grew up playing with the Little People sets, there’s an inherent sense of irony and comedy that adds to the collectibility. You’ve got a toy that’s clearly designed for kids with a theme that’s clearly designed for adults,” says industry expert Chris Byrne, aka The Toy Guy.
Putting a pop culture twist on kids’ toys is a way for brands to breathe new life into a product, broaden their demographic, and maybe even get a publicity bump out of it.
“When was the last time you thought about Little People as a product for anyone other than a 3- or 4-year-old? Now, adults are gifting it to their friends or collecting it for themselves. That’s why I think it’s brilliant,” Byrne says.
Fans of various properties may already own tons of vinyl figures or T-shirts with their favorite characters on them, but toys give them a new format to collect and a way to share their interests with their kids.
CreateOn is bringing a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll to Magna-Tiles building structures with sets inspired by The Beatles and Grateful Dead. The brand launched its first Beatles Collection set last year as its highest-priced item at $134.95. Fans can arrange individual Magna-Tiles to create Beatles-themed structures such as the Abbey Road crosswalk, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club drum, the Yellow Submarine, and the Magical Mystery Bus. The tiles themselves feature iconic Beatles imagery, including song lyrics, album art, logos, and more. There is also a new Yellow Submarine set for about half the price and a Grateful Dead set for $49.95.
CreateOn Vice President Steve Rosen says that the people purchasing these sets are usually repeat customers that already own other Magna-Tiles sets. Sometimes, they even purchase two of the same set to build one and keep the other in the box.
“It functions for both kids and adults. You can display it as decor, but kids can break it apart if they want to play with it and then grandparents can easily put it back together,” Rosen says. “You can get a lot of use out of it.”
When it comes to licensing, Rosen stresses the importance of iconography. “As soon as you see the Grateful Dead bears or The Beatles’ yellow submarine, you know exactly what they are,” he says.
The marketing for The Beatles and Grateful Dead Magna-Tiles is a little different from what CreateOn normally does because they included all three generations of grandfather, father, and grandson in the lifestyle shots instead of just kids.
A NEW APPROACH TO MARKETING
The LEGO Group took a slightly different approach. Adults have been collecting and building LEGO sets for years, especially clamoring for select Star Wars and Marvel sets. The company recently began an increased focus on that older demographic when it launched an “Adults Welcome” marketing campaign in 2020. There are now more than 100 LEGO sets specifically marked with an age range of 18 and up on the box, featuring more complicated builds, higher piece counts, and more expensive prices. Of course, kids can still build these 18-and-older sets, but the promotional images usually feature adults only rather than multiple generations playing together.
Playmobil is also leaning into an adult fan base with entertainment-inspired sets such as the Knight Rider K.I.T.T. vehicle; the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 — Goldfinger Edition; and a variety of Star Trek sets, including a massive model of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701.
STRAIGHT TO THE CONSUMER
This new wave of kidult marketing meshes well with direct-to-consumer (DTC) platforms. CreateOn only offers the Grateful Dead Magna-Tiles Structure Set as a DTC product, and, according to Rosen, the company does a lot of business with Maisonette, a DTC platform with a high-end clientele.
The Mattel Creations e-commerce platform launched in 2020 as a space for adult collectors to purchase more in-demand Mattel toys and edgy collaborations, including the Little People Collector sets, the Monster High Skullector dolls, the MEGA Tesla Cybertruck, and special UNO decks created by popular artists. Fans can also find limited-edition drops from brands like Barbie Signature, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and more.
Razor launched a Kickstarter campaign in March to bring back its original folding kick scooter from 2000, only this time for adults. The Razor Icon Electric Scooter project banks on the nostalgia of the company’s first customers, who were kids that grew up with Razor scooters of their own two decades ago.
The marketing strategy for adult-targeted products is much different than products that are strictly for kids.
“It is a totally different path to purchase for an adult buying for themselves, and that’s why we have done unique strategies like Kickstarter, personal profiles, and even showcased them at experiential events,” says Razor President Jim Wagner.
In the past, most toy companies built their businesses by focusing on a target audience of kids. Now, the industry is reimagining the way that toys can be appreciated by all ages to find untapped market potential. It takes creative thinking to get adults to buy kids’ toys for themselves, but the payoff can be huge.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Innovation & STEM issue of The Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue! Want to receive The Toy Book in print? Click here for subscription options!