Source: The Toy Book

by AMY THEORIN, owner and producer, Something’s Awry Productions

COVID-19 has changed every aspect of our lives, and it is no different for the toy industry. On one hand, toys are now more important than ever, with all the extra time families are spending together; yet at the same time, it’s harder to produce the highly polished content and commercials to which the industry is accustomed. Luckily, carefully crafted images are falling out of favor as consumers look for content that feels more handcrafted and less produced.

Having your staff and talent working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t create great branded content. Now is the time to inspire your customers, involve them, and show them how the power of play can bring families closer and provide a source of fun and comfort during these difficult times. As content creators find themselves operating out of their homes and the industry embraces virtual experiences and user-generated content (UCG), there are a few ways brands have pivoted to keep creatives alive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Run a Contest

When lockdown started, Annie Laurie Zomermaand knew that Schleich USA would have to shift gears. As managing director, she found herself in a position where her plans for in-store activations, flagship stores, trade shows, and events had to change. When Schleich’s year-long “Power of Imagination” campaign began in April, the company had to find a way to allow consumers to participate from home. The “Power of Imagination” campaign strives to remind adults just how rich and fantastic a kid’s imagination can be, and underscores open-ended play as the best type of play for fostering imagination and creativity.

Schleich realized that the best way to showcase the spirit of the campaign was to highlight the stories that kids create themselves. Working with renowned toy photographer Mitchel Wu, Schleich developed a tutorial to teach kids how to make their own “Power of Imagination” photos at home. Kids around the world were invited to create images that represented what they saw in their imaginations when playing with Schleich figures and playsets. Schleich’s first global photo contest received more than 5,822 entries. On June 16, the winner was announced: 16-year-old Rosa from Herriman, Utah.

The winning photo from Schleich USA’s first “Power of Imagination” contest by Rosa from Herriman, Utah. Source: Schleich USA/Rosa

“We’ve held other contests with a call to action, but nothing quite like this,” Zomermaand says. “This is the first time we’ve run a contest that allows kids such creative freedom while also supporting them with such a strong role model and inspiration. We asked kids to be kids. We really wanted to see their creativity and passion shine through. And they did not disappoint!”

Create a Virtual Customer Experience

Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of franchise management and marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products, had a robust marketing plan ready to launch with the release of the highly anticipated film Wonder Woman 1984. But, with the film’s release date pushed back to the fall, Warner Bros. had to find ways to hold audiences’ interest for several more months. Working with Rugged Races, Warner Bros. created a virtual experience in which audiences get to show off their strength and speed like Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Source: Warner Bros. Entertainment/Clay Enos

Unlike a normal road race in which thousands of people gather together to run the same route at the same time, the Wonder Woman Virtual Run allows participants to run a 5K or 10K whenever and wherever they want, whether it’s outdoors or on a treadmill. Each person can design their own route, choose a day with perfect weather to run it, dress up in Wonder Woman-inspired styles (optional), complete the run, and submit the finish time online.

“We could all use a little motivation to stay physically active and socially engaged with each other during times like these,” says Brad Scudder, senior vice president of Rugged Races. “That’s why we’re working with Warner Bros. to offer people fun opportunities to be active wherever they are.”

Utilize Creatives Working from Home

Even though many larger production companies have shuttered their office locations, some smaller full-service production studios are still up and running, often utilizing home-based studios. Brands such as Zing’s Stikbot line of toys have worked with companies like Something’s Awry Productions to create branded content and commercials featuring the StikBot toys coming alive with stop-motion animation. Other brands have turned to creatives now based from home who can use their own kids to demonstrate new toys in action, shot in their own living rooms.

Tap into Creative Collectives

Even before the lockdown, companies and creatives already existed with a specialty in creating content remotely. By working with companies such as Zooppa and Tongal, brands can connect to a global network of creatives that can produce high quality and impactful content.

“Toy companies are in an interesting position right now,” says James DeJulio, CEO and co-founder of Tongal. “For a lot of them, demand is increasing and audiences at home are incredibly engaged. At the same time, their usual content creation levers aren’t available, so they’re looking to flexible platforms and communities like ours — with a product that’s made 100% remotely — to get creative. For us, that’s meant everything from finding a photographer with kids for an at-home shoot and editing content to take a would-have-been live playdate event virtual to developing a branded digital summer camp experience.”

The full extent of the pandemic’s effect on the toy industry is still unclear, yet that doesn’t mean that we don’t have ways to respond to it. These are just a few examples of how some companies are adapting, and with some creative thinking and an openness to new ideas, there are sure to be plenty more.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 edition of the Toy BookClick here to read the full issue!