This year’s biggest toy trends were identified at the North American International Toy Fair held February 17-20. The Toy Association’s leading trend specialist Adrienne Appell and her team meet with hundreds of global toy companies throughout the year to track the latest developments in toys and youth entertainment. At Toy Fair, they comb through thousands of products on the show floor before making an official announcement of the year’s hottest trends during the second day of the show. Here is a summary of the trends they spotted for 2018.
Toys that Teach
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that STEM jobs will increase to more than 9 million by 2022, so parents are eager to get their children interested in STEM at a very young age. And while STEM/STEAM toys have been a mainstay in the past few years, they are now engaging kids in different ways and incorporating new technologies and licenses to get them excited about learning. Today, we’re seeing toys that teach toddlers everything, including counting, the alphabet, opposites, and even coding. Toys for school-age kids teach high-level topics once reserved for the classroom only.
The “Toys that Teach” trend also encompasses the increasing number of toys that teach kids how to make the world a better place – by being responsible citizens, kind to their friends, and open-minded about different cultures.
Growing interest in board games over the past few years has led to phenomenal growth in the Games & Puzzles category. Game play appeals to people of all ages no matter what their interest, thanks to niche games, licensed games, cooperative games, quick games, new takes on old classics, and innovative board games. Social media is also giving game sales a boost, as laugh-out-loud, silly, and gross-out games continue to inspire social media sharing by teens and adults – with some even going viral. Most importantly, games of all kinds are fostering face-to-face play and getting families excited about playing together.
The “Big Reveal”
The toy industry has capitalized on the social media phenomenon of unboxing to introduce a variety of toys across several different categories.
One version combines unboxing with the mounting popularity of collectible toys. (Sales of collectible playthings grew 14 percent globally in 2017.) Mini “surprise” collectibles in blind bags offer kids surprise of a reveal that’s often as fun as the toy itself. Blind bags come with the added bonus of being affordable, making them attractive to parents and easy for kids to buy with their own pocket money.
Another form of unboxing includes larger toys that focus on the tactile aspect of opening and putting together the toy as part of the play experience. Both versions get kids excited about the reveal – to discover what they got, how it feels in their hands, and what the toy can do.
Moms and dads born between 1981 and 1997 make up the majority of young parents in the U.S. today. Though the generation has been defined by its obsession with technology, Millennial parents also believe it’s important to engage with their kids on an unplugged level. To do that, they are turning to classic toys and retro brands; toys that are nostalgic and offer tried-and-true play value for a new generation of kids to enjoy with their parents. (Classic toy categories continue to perform very well. In 2017, U.S. plush sales grew 8 percent and doll sales were up 4 percent.)
Playing with pretend pets – whether they are furry plush or digitally interactive – is a growing trend, especially among children who are eager to care for their own pets, but not yet ready for a real, live animal. Pet toys run the gamut from fantastical creatures (like unicorns, dinosaurs, or other made-up animals) to cats, dogs, horses, and other pet toys that feature realistic details, grooming and food accessories, and online worlds that bring them to life. Included are “anti-virtual pets” that interact with kids in a funny way by being grumpy or gross; and collectible or wearable pets that are fun to trade and display.
There are more and more options and opportunities today to help children create and build lifelong skills through play, from dress-up items to open-ended building kits, and from larger-than-life playsets to arts & crafts.
Tech & Entertainment
2018 will see the release of the movies “Aquaman,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Incredibles 2,” “Wreck-It Ralph 2,” “Duck Duck Goose,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Madagascar 4,” and many more family-friendly blockbusters that will influence the toy aisle. New TV shows are expected to result in creative new toy lines.
In terms of tech, the Toy Industry team expects to see more affordable and user-friendly virtual and augmented reality toys, interactive and buildable robots with new features, and RC fliers (like drones) that are easier to handle and fly.