Held between two fingers and spun like a little fan, these small gadgets have experienced what I can only foresee as a meteoric rise in popularity. It is difficult to explain what games or toys gain popularity and which ones flop spectacularly and even to many companies that have been very profitable producing toys or games, it is a gamble.
Last summer, I worked in the marketing department in a startup app development company. What surprised me the most was not the number of profit-sharing employees, or the incredible youth movement that drove the company, but the sheer number of games produced by this small company. We operated in a number of small teams engaging in sprints – work schedules that spanned a few months with objectives that we needed to hit every week. I was involved in four sprints at a time and the company juggled around 15 projects at any given time.
When I first heard about fidget spinners, I chuckled. In a world moving methodically towards digital entertainment, I was more than a little surprised to see these plastic toys capture the interest of a young population that grew up with technology. The recent trends were tied into developing technology in increasingly advanced and available mobile games, as well as gadgets like drones and smart watches. Everywhere I looked, people spent more time with their eyes glued to screens than their surroundings.
So, what were so special about these spinning toys? One of my friends told me that they reminded him of Beyblades – the game where you had a spinning top hit another spinning top to knock your opponent out of a ring. These tops, with custom add-ons to make it look cooler, were one of the staple toys of my childhood. Our conversation gravitated towards the popular toys of our generation – Pokemon trading cards, yoyos, putty, Yu-gi-oh and more.
All of these toys and games would use up my meager allowance and cause me to beg my parents for more money, which is why advertising to children is so protected and a danger to the current form of marketing over the internet. I realized that many of the toys I desired as a child stemmed from television advertisements that riddled the commercials around my favorite television shows. The rapid rise of the internet has changed much for toy companies, as television is no longer the dominant way to promote a toy or game.
Look back at the past few years.
Candy Crush and Farmville were some of the top cash cows for their respective companies. Angry Birds was an even bigger story, as their company, Chillingo ended up being sold to Electronic Arts for 20 million, who then boosted the popular app into games across multiple platforms, movies and merchandise. With such a ludicrous upside, comes an almost insurmountable barrier to determine which game will succeed. Almost 50 000 apps are released in the Apple store each month, so naturally it is hard to stand out among the e-crowds.
Game companies often gamble (and invest) into games becoming viral. Instead of a bulk of money spent into explicit advertising like television, print ads and sponsorships, more and more money is being spent into creating brand ambassadors and spokespeople for a product. It is no longer enough to forcefully market a product like Beyblades – who’s mantra at one point was known to every kid on the playground, a catchy “One, Two, Let it Rip!”
No, game developers and toy producers now gain popularity through a number of ways unavailable to the successful toys of the past. Content curation sites like StumbleUpon have succeeded in promoting the latest gadgets and toys. Instagram and YouTube – content sharing platforms that often connect to people through their reliability and genuine interest in a product. Ironically, they are getting paid to endorse a game or toy, but nevertheless this is how the process has shifted – blossoming into billions of dollars that are taken away from traditional sources of media.
It has become more important to reach pockets of an audience through multiple ambassadors – requiring strategies that are more targeted – than to use blanket advertising to blast you with the same television spot over and over again until you can recite the slogan to the brand.
Do you remember the slogans of some of the new toys?
Out of the 15 projects from the small company I worked at, I think the most successful game was downloaded 3000 times. There is a steep hill to climb to the top of app mountain. Every member of the company was invested in each game and would only make money if it succeeded – they all gambled together. After all, what is a game without a little bit of chance involved?