Donna MacNeil, President of Beacon Communications — part of Genius Brands International’s Beacon Media Group — discusses marketing trends in the toy and game space in this extended edition of The Toy Book’s 2023 State of the Industry Q&A roundtable. Want more insight from the all-stars of the toy industry? Click here to explore this year’s lineup!

The Toy Book: What will be some of the top marketing strategies in 2023?

Donna MacNeil: We believe that the most significant determinant of brand success in 2023 will be media mix effectiveness across paid, earned, and owned channels, meaning brands must pay close attention to the media consumption and influence habits of target audiences, and skillfully layer marketing activities to achieve complete awareness, engagement, and conversion.

As they say, “social is the new search,” and TikTok will continue to become a tentpole, even while facing increased scrutiny around regulatory issues. Influencers continue to lead the way for brands with well-targeted and create relevant content that gets meaningful engagement and moves the needle. Social commerce and affiliate marketing are keenly on our radar for this year.
With more inventory available following periods of pandemic and supply chain issues, we also look forward to getting back to more product demos and sampling at a grassroots level. We can now get more products in kids’ hands, which has always been key to creating trends and building buzz around products.

TB: How has the influencer space changed in the past year, and of what should toymakers be aware?

DM: The influencer space is exciting, dynamic, and continuing its rapid pace of convergence at the center of all things media and marketing. It is public relations, it is social, it is creative, it is driving paid media, and as we move into this year, it is evolving as a tool for social commerce as more influencers graduate into affiliate marketing. We’ve seen the top influencers re-identify as content creators and lead the rise of the creator economy, and audiences start to shy away from anything that appears too overtly branded. We’ve even seen boomers move into the influencer space and start to gain meaningful traction with grandparent audiences that are now more comfortable in the social space.

Related: The 2023 Edition of The BIG Toy Book is Here!

Micro-influencers currently demonstrate significant power in achieving high engagement, proving that reach alone does not always equal impact or influence when measuring effectiveness or return on investment. YouTube still leads in kid engagement, but TikTok follows close behind and has evolved an ecosystem and approach that is now more differentiated from other platforms like Instagram.

Influencers are helping brands position themselves creatively in fresh and relevant ways to target audiences on different platforms. As we move into 2023, brands must trust and rely on that direction to stay current. A well-crafted strategy works.

TB: How will your recent partnership with Flint & Steel benefit clients in the toy and game space?

DM: Through our new partnership with Flint & Steel, we’re leveling up opportunities for high-impact, multitiered creative solutions offered as part of our integrated media and marketing mix. 

Creative content needs have grown exponentially — not only are there more platforms, each requiring its own unique approach, but also more diverse and targeted audiences and quantities of creative needed to serve compelling multilayered campaigns. Companies are also now selling to more savvy retail buying teams that want to see bigger and better creative as part of integrated planning. 

In our work with Flint & Steel, we are excited to offer that specialized approach, execution, and big creative thinking to clients in not only toy and game, but also other categories reaching kids, parents, and families.

TB: What were some of your biggest wins in 2022?

DM: We’ve had many wins over 2022, in another year uncharacteristic of those that have gone before in the toy industry, including client wins, new partnerships, and amplified traction with consumers. Supply issues and retail dates were in flux, putting pressure on media and marketing plans in truncated timelines requiring plans to work faster and harder to drive consumers to purchase. We’re proud to have done that successfully. 

What we’ve learned always wins is a committed audience-first approach to understanding the target consumer and being purposeful and strategic in opportunities to connect. In our business, we are paid to do a lot of talking, but we must never forget to listen. Biggest surprise? Celebrities called us back a lot more this year!

TB: How does Toy Fair moving from February to September impact your business, and what’s your take on the trade show shift?

DM: From a communications perspective, we’re really excited about Toy Fair’s move from February to September this year. We’ve generated a lot of swell in February shows in the past, but channeling the energy and excitement straight into Q4 will be topical, timely, and powerful. It will, however, change the direction of what is shown to media versus buyers and require some strategic planning. For example, we will need to ensure clarity in editorial presentation so that 2024 product doesn’t end up in 2023 buying guides, confusing or disappointing consumers.

TB: What are your overall predictions for the state of the toy industry and its trends this year?

DM: The last couple of years have each come with new sets of challenges requiring the industry to be sharp, adaptable, and solution-seeking. We anticipate the same this year, with new economic and retail difficulties that keep us all on our toes. Value and emotional connection will play a much more significant role in marketing positioning, and companies will get a little scrappier in trying to break through with leaner budgets. Data insights and analytics will be critical to optimizing and maximizing campaign activations. And, as it has always been, great play will continue to win with kids, parents, and families. 

This year we’re also keen to track the kidult/collector market, which has been progressively becoming more and more mainstream. As costs may put higher price “toys” out of range for adult fans, we think there could be a win in the action figure/collectible/novelty space for adults to satisfy their entertainment cravings with great licenses they love. 

A version of this Q&A was originally published in the 2023 edition of The BIG Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue! Want to receive The Toy Book in print? Click here for subscription options!

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.