Steve Starobinsky, chief marketing officer of Diverse Marketing and founder of Diverse Insights and KID@HEART, caught up with the Toy Book about several trends for the year, including sustainability, mergers and acquisitions, and more.

How have trends in consumer spending affected toy sales?
The Amazon effect on retailers created a consumer byproduct that no one is talking about: time. The consumer has more time because their dog food, toilet paper, and everything else gets delivered to their door. They have more time for hobbies and fun things — like shopping. Shopping has evolved from a necessity to an amusement. It was a tough year, and the lack of a “hot toy of the year” really hurt foot traffic, so casual sales weren’t made.

Toys that embrace classic play are continuing to edge out products that incorporate technology. How does this affect manufacturers’ product design plans?
I don’t see a clear correlation. Sometimes classic toys skyrocket, and other times Fingerlings or Tamagotchi, for example, are hot. My opinion on an item and why I recommend it to a retailer depends on how its design — simplicity or innovation — can both win out, but it depends on individual product instead of an overarching trend idea.

Do you anticipate the trend of mergers and acquisitions will continue this year?
Yes. Business is tough. People take fewer risks and look to cash out. It makes perfect sense, and for the incredible people who have built a business that someone wants to buy for a price they are willing to accept — well done! However, this industry is unique. This is an industry in which you can hit a home run, or anyone from anywhere could create the next great toy if they knew the business. Maybe we will be reminded of that this year — fingers crossed.

Last year was packed with blockbuster movies, from Avengers: Endgame to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This year doesn’t have as many major releases on the calendar. What impact, if any, do you think this will have on licensed product sales?
It’s pretty funny that the biggest license the year came from The Mandalorian, a streaming service show, and not one of those movies. Content — and the industry’s dependence on it — is shifting from theatrical to all over, from video games and skateboarders to make-up influencers and politicians. I think you’ll see some meaningful retro brands come back, fun licensing deals with collector-focused content from streaming providers, such as The Witcher, You, and The Boys.

How important is sustainability for toy products and packaging?
It’s the most important and the biggest and most important trend of the year. The consumer finally cares and is truly trying to live more sustainably. Whether it’s the Impossible Burger, the back-to-nature trend, or LEGO and Hasbro committing to … sustainable materials and packaging — there is validation everywhere. Consumerism is being questioned.

This State of the Industry Q&A response originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!