There’s a whole new world of toys - even for 17-19-year-olds.
There’s a whole new thing going on in the toy world – they’re not just for kids anymore.
Well, we should make it perfectly clear: toys are still – and always will be – a vital part of childhood but toys for “kidults” and even adults are growing in importance as Christmas approaches.
The boom among “kidult” toys (those that appeal to kids aged 12 plus as well as adults) has come about because of nostalgia, comfort and a new generation who shun pressure to grow up, says Pip Bannerman, Head of Marketing for New Zealand’s biggest toy importer, Planet Fun.
“The toy industry tends to lose people at around the age of 10 to expensive electronics, but Gen Z are different. They are more comfortable in expressing their individuality and fandom which has boosted sales in kidult toys.”
These toys – such as Squishmallows, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon and RC items like Monster Jam – are often chosen because they’re collectable or for nostalgic reasons; people recognise them from their own younger years – and now 17-19-year-olds are in on the act too. “This generation is ignoring pressure to conform,” says Bannerman.
The toy industry is somewhat recession-proof because parents tend to shield their kids as much as possible from any cost of living crisis; more time at home means kids need more entertaining.
“We’ve grown 45 per cent over the last year,” says Bannerman. “Much of that is because we have a really good suite of suppliers with great brands, and we invest heavily in marketing. But it is also simply because toys are really important to children.”
Toys are crucial for development, from helping toddlers with their motor skills to encouraging kids to be creative via role playing. Most of all, they’re a vital part of childhood because they spark joy.
“Often your happy memories of growing up include the toys you played with,” she says. “They warm children’s hearts, keep them occupied for hours and they love having ‘friends’ from their favourite TV shows and games to play with.
“They also make parents happy. When you’re going through tough times with mortgages going up and price challenges at the supermarket, people get a kick from creating fun and delighting children.”
The list of the most popular toys in New Zealand this year is topped by Squishmallows and includes well-known brands such as Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles along with Paw Patrol, Monster Jam trucks, Tech Deck skateboards, Gabby’s Dollhouse from the Netflix series for pre-schoolers, Magic Mixies magic Pixlings dolls, and LOL Surprise dolls. New to the list is Bitzees electronic pets in a pod and Adopt Me toys from the number one Roblox game.
Squishmallows, the cuddly oval-shaped plush toys that come in a huge range of characters, are selling five or six times more than any other products, helped in part by a massive fanbase highly active on social media. There are more than seven million videos on TikTok about Squishmallows.
“They’re very cute, super-soft and made of very good quality plush. What’s interesting is that most of those buying them are girls aged 17 to 19. The Guardian refers to them as the ‘sacrificed generation’. They went into Covid aged 13 or 14 and now they feel like they missed out on a stage of their childhood.
“There is speculation that teenagers want to anchor themselves back in that 13-14 age group and these toys help them to do that. They want to surround themselves with these squishy comforting things and they don’t care what people think.”
Looking ahead to future trends Bannerman, who recently attended the New York Toy Fair to check out what’s hot in toys, says products related to TV series, movies and gaming will continue to be in demand.
“I think action figures will continue to sell well and there will be a lot of toys coming off the Roblox [online gaming] platform, like Adopt Me pets. There will also be a lot of new ones coming from the anime area to satisfy the kidult market that is so buoyant at the moment. Nostalgic brands like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pokemon will continue to be popular.
“Squishmallows aren’t going anywhere. They’re a phenomenon – the biggest soft toy trend we have ever seen – and they’re going to continue to rocket off the shelves over the next few years.”
However, don’t just listen to Bannerman. Radio hosts from The Hits visited Planet Fun’s head office to see all the hottest toys for 2023, checking out which toys their own kids would like for Christmas.
Hits host Brad Watson says: “If you’re an aunty or an uncle or brother or sister and you want to be the ‘cool gifter’, you just can’t go past Paw Patrol… My kids have got all of these and they sleep with them, they go everywhere. Paw Patrol, the complete winner, it’s the number one rating show for the kids. You just can’t go wrong.
“Number two is Gabby’s doll’s house – Gabby and her cats. That’s the next step if you want to be that parent, that uncle, that aunty that’s buying the best gifts. This is for you. Gabby’s got this dollhouse and she jumps into this magical world – her and her cats. I can just see my daughter sitting here playing with this, coming up with different scenarios.
Megan Papas, also from the Hits, is very keen on Magic Mixies: “I’m a big fan and I have watched a lot of videos online…These are so fun. You get a cauldron and the Magic Mixies lamp, you basically put in your little mixture, you wave your wand and out pops a little furry baby. It’s amazing and your kids will be mesmerised.
“I want to do it.”
Tune in to Brad’s Drive show from 3-7 and Megan’s day show from 9-3 on The Hits for chances to win the top toys they checked out at Planet Fun.
For more information: Planetfun.co.nz