Updated: 3 August 2023
Toys and games are no longer solely for the primary school set. Recent statistics show that adults are purchasing toys and games for themselves at higher rates than in the past and that’s good news for toy and gaming brands. Dubbed “kidults”, these spenders are shelling out money for items like action figures, collectibles and other nostalgia-driven merchandise to the tune of about $9 billion per year.
While some brands like LEGO and Disney have been leaning into the adult market for a few years now, other brands risk missing out if they don’t court and win this customer segment. Why? Kidults are more than fad-followers. Instead, they tend to be fans and even super-fans of particular toys and licensed merchandise which means they spend more money on toys, games and accessories.
Who Are Kidults?
These kidult consumers are the same people who were exposed to the movie-based licensing frenzies of the 1970s and 1980s. Think Star Wars bed sheets, collectible glasses that came with Burger King meals. Beyond movies, an entire generation of young girls saved up for or begged their parents to buy them American Girl dolls. The Marvel movie madness that started in 2008 has also contributed to communities of super-fans coming together (and purchasing merch). Even Barbie has remained relevant and even has a new star-studded movie slated for release next summer.
The children who grew up with such massive cultural icons, and the merchandise associated with them, are now adults with spending power of their own. And, even though they are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, these fans are not afraid to own their enthusiasm. Kidults feel free to express themselves and their not-so-inner geek by collecting and owning the toys that make them happy.
What do They Buy?
In general, kidults are fans of cartoons, superheroes and nostalgic collectibles. These grown-up fans are buying everything from action figures to home décor.
Superheroes have moved from the pages of comic books to the big screen to the ecommerce toy aisle. For $250, Marvel Universe fans can build a LEGO version of Sanctum Sanctorum. For around $10 each, kidults can more than call Ghostbusters – they can own their figurines.
Also rating high on the nostalgia scale are American Girl dolls. Since their introduction in the 1980s, the dolls have been highly collectible. And now that the generation of women who grew up with the brand are having children of their own, the dolls (and the bevvy of additional accessories) have taken on an almost heritage quality.
In July 2023, the Barbie movie was released and along with it, hundreds of licensing deals with brands ranging from Crocs to the Gap. Barbie nostalgia also spiked among collectors. Online collectable toy site, Brian’s Toys saw a 200% jump in Barbie sales in the week following the movie’s release.
Ecommerce has made it easier than ever for any adult of any fandom anywhere in the world to find and buy the toys and games that scratch their nostalgic itch and make them feel part of a community.
How Brands Can Capture Their Hearts and Their Money
Brands looking to capture the kidult customer segment have tremendous opportunity. More than lukewarm shoppers, kidults tend to be super-fans who appreciate and are motivated by the chance to own a piece of memorabilia. Brands can tap into their deep-seated devotion and create buzz and loyalty.
Since adults buy toys and games for children as well as for themselves, brands must accurately identify and segment their kidult audiences for proper marketing and promotion. Pushing the right promotions to the right customer segments not only boosts brand engagement but also increases full-price sell through and margins throughout the sales cycle.
Brands should promote pre-sale events as a way to generate revenue before products even hit the warehouse. Not only do these events generate buzz, they allow brands to sell products at full-price to a targeted audience that is all but guaranteed to bite. In addition to revenue, pre-sales give brands insight into the market and can help direct purchasing and merchandising.
Successful pre-sale events should be targeted and can include non-physical products like an associated digital element or an invitation to an online or in-person event with an item’s creator or brand SME.
Since pre-sales are likely to generate an influx of interest and orders, brands need to prepare. Having the right infrastructure and localised experiences will ensure a successful pre-sale.
Similar to pre-sale events, product drops also tap into customers’ FOMO and feeling of exclusivity. Product drops are effective for brands in the toy space because the target audience generally appreciates scarcity and will pay to be the first or only person to have an item. Also like pre-sales, product drops do not offer discounts; brands capture full-priced sales.
In fact, limited-edition items are the norm in the toy and collectibles industry so not only are super fans familiar with a product drop event, they are more likely to participate. However, if a brand delivers a poor online experience (site crashes, overselling, long payment processing times), customers may seek alternative channels to get the items they want.
Flash sales are like product drops in that both offer limited inventory for a limited time. Unlike product drops, flash sales often include price incentives to encourage buying. Such pricing strategies can be straightforward discounts or could involve bundling multiple items at special pricing. Brands and retailers can bundle slow-moving inventory with more popular items to reduce stock. They can also bundle physical products with digital products like exclusive access to an online event or an NFT.
Brands can expect the same success with flash sales that they see with product drops. Again, flash sales are targeted to customer segments most likely to make a purchase. Flash sales can be targeted at segments that typically purchase sale or discount items or at full-price paying superfans that are enticed by a collector’s bundle.
No matter the audience for a flash sale, brands must ensure they have the infrastructure to handle order volume and velocity.
Kidults are responsible for one-fourth of all toy sales annually. Toy and game brands have tremendous opportunity to reach these super-fans. They can deploy more and targeted promotions that tap into the naturally occurring FOMO and exclusivity. But brands need to be both strategic and prepared to handle a high number of online orders that come in quickly. Offering the right product and an exceptional experience will keep kidults engaged and coming back for more.
ESW helps the world’s best-loved brands reach their customers with localised experiences that build loyalty and increase revenue. Contact us to find out how your brand can reach global customers in less time. Let us increase your speed to market and speed to revenue.