Influencers are becoming a force to be reckoned with in toy marketing, replacing Saturday morning cartoons and great placement at big-box retailers with engaging TikTok and YouTube videos.
While TikTok prohibits ads “marketed specifically toward children,” some toy companies are shifting dollars from TV to social media to reach kids this holiday season.
According to a Qustodio report, kids ages four to 15 spend an average of 85 minutes per day watching YouTube videos while the same group spends 80 minutes per day on TikTok. The report also found that the latter platform drove growth in kids’ social app use by 100 percent in 2019 and 200 percent in 2020.
Last year amid the pandemic, the hours kids spent watching videos on the aforementioned platforms surged, which drove up influencer-driven toy sales and caused many marketers to permanently shift marketing spend.
Bill Uzell, president and chief executive of Canal Toys, told Forbes: “My budget for TV this year is zero. Last year I only used influencers, and this year only influencers, and I don’t see myself going back.”
Uzell partners with influencers to help promote his toys and this year debuted a toy called Studio Creator 2 for aspiring kid influencers that want to make their own content. The kit, which Uzell says has been selling out, includes video creation tools like a ring light that meet toy safety regulations. Canal Toys has plans to branch out to related products, such as a light that clips onto a mobile phone for filming.
Toy company Spin Master has also experienced an influencer-induced disruption to its toy marketing strategy. The three primary reasons Spin Master invests in influencer marketing include: when it’s trying to enter a new platform, to access an influencer’s audience that it wants to reach and to extend storytelling about its toys.
“We want to build the ecosystem around those fans as deeply as we can, and that means we have to go to new channels, and we have to tell our stories in different ways,” Spin Master executive vice president of marketing, Laura Henderson, told Forbes.
This holiday season, Spin Master has tapped WeWearCute, a sister duo with 12.1 million TikTok followers, to promote its Inkfluencer arts and crafts kit and Cool Maker activity kit. The brand’s new Mermaid High fashion dolls are being promoted via a theme song written and performed by singer-songwriter Claire Rosinkranz, who boasts 236,000 YouTube followers and over 660,000 TikTok followers.
TikTok has previously run into hiccups with violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and in order to comply with personal information collection age restrictions, it prohibits users younger than 13 years old; anyone younger can join TikTok with the “TikTok for Younger Users” setting.
But according to an August report from The New York Times, over one-third of TikTok’s daily users in the US are 14 years old or younger. To navigate the rules safely, toy companies aren’t making real advertisements for their toys but instead creating TikTok-friendly content and campaigns based on new launches.
According to TTPM Influencer Talent Management, an agency that represents influencers in the family and entertainment categories, several of its clients receive as many as 20 to 30 inbound requests a day from brands looking to partner on product promotions.
Jim Silver, co-owner of TTPM Influencer Talent Management, has witnessed firsthand the growth of influencer partnerships with toy brands. Silver was a publisher of trade and consumer toy publications and is the owner of popular toy review site TTPM.com, which hosts a bi-annual toy showcase event. He told Forbes that more and more influencers started attending these showcases either in search of new toys to promote in videos or as guests of toy manufacturers.
Silver and TTPM co-founder Kathleen Tomes founded the agency in 2019 and now represent 52 influencers, from families and teens to tweens and pets. The two aren’t familiar with the agency business but come from a background of content and partnerships.
One of the earliest signs of “kidfluencers” emerging onto the social scene goes back to 2011 when a father named Jared started a YouTube channel—EvanTubeHD—featuring his five-year-old son Evan playing with toys. At its peak, the channel generated over $1 million in annual income for the family. Today, Evan’s YouTube channel has over 7 million subscribers.
Then in 2015 came Ryan’s World, a children’s YouTube channel featuring 10-year-old Ryan Kaji and his family. Kaji creates science experiments and plays with DIY arts and crafts for his 31 million YouTube subscribers. Today, Ryan’s World toys and apparel are sold at both Walmart and Target.
“Kids want to be influencers. You offer them something they can use to make TikTok and YouTube and Instagram videos – now you’re talking their language,” Uzell told Forbes.