Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Reasons Why Classic Toys Should Stay Classic

I'm intrigued with this recent New York Times article: Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks. On one hand, it's another one of those 'yup, not surprised'-type articles, like the recent My iPad, My Babysitter study results via Mashable, or Screen Time Higher Than Ever for Children, Study Finds, also via The New York Times, or Always-Online Future Good for Our Kids? via The Globe and Mail.

We know, we know. Speaking from experience, not a day goes by where my own children aren't clamoring for my iPhone or whining to watch YouTube videos or play games on my computer, which is precisely why I'm not buying and iPad or upping their screen time allotment anytime soon. Our house is buzzing too much already! Now. Don't get me wrong. Apps are great. I love kids apps! Some of my most favorite clients are children's apps. But... app-propriately... there is a time and a place and for us that means not ALL the time.
Will I buy the new digital camera/Barbie for my daughter or the Match Box app for my son? Absolutely not. Do we still love classic Barbie and collect toy cars? Of course! Still, I have to say that Barbie and other classic toys like Match Box are treading into dangerous territory. Just because a brand can leap into high tech and take on some clever new features, does not mean it should. Here are 5 good reasons why.

1. There’s a reason why they call then classic toys. Classic toys are "classic" precisely because they stand the test of time. The playability is consistent, the barriers to entry are low, the product is durable, and the toy can be enjoyed via multiple generations. That’s the reason why “evergreen” brands have longevity. They aren't fads. People buy these products year after year. If you are a children's toy manufacturer and you are lucky enough to have a toy that is considered a classic, why would you want to mess with a good thing?

2. Bells & whistles aren’t necessarily better. Just because you are “upgrading” your product doesn’t mean consumers will see it that way. In fact, added features can really detract from a brand's core purpose. Remember "new" Coke? It was a branding disaster. Think about all of the classic products you've enjoyed over the years that suddenly altered their features in a "new and improved" way that were a huge turnoff to you as a loyal customer. And what did you do? You switched brands.

3. People are getting tired of technology. Not in the broad sense, of course. High tech is a hugely important part of our lives and the economy. But not everything needs to be or should be technologically-enhanced. There are plenty of us who type away on our computers and smart phones all day and can't wait 'til we can get to a place where we can turn it all off and snuggle up with a good paperback book. Kids are the same way. They need a break from the constant high-tech distractions in our lives and it's our job as parents to ensure they have some down time. And what better way to experience some quality down time than with a trusted classic toy that doesn't come with any annoying bells or whistles?

4. It dilutes the brand integrity. Say what you want about Barbie. She’s not a good role model, she creates body image issues for young girls, whatever. These things are not new. But when "new" Barbie now comes with a built in digital camera she loses her core identity, which is a terrible thing for a toy. I say Mattel is missing out on the real point of Barbie, which is that she teaches girls about self-expression and identity. Barbie can be a doctor, Barbie can be a teacher. Barbie can be a race car driver. Barbie can be the next Queen of England. But should Barbie have a battery pack? No! It's a totally different archetype and puts her in the category of toys that click and whir and magically "do stuff," which is all fine and good, but the fact of the matter, it has nothing to do with what Barbie is all about. Case in point: the uber successful American Girl dolls. Although the brands are very different and they market to alternative niche audiences, Barbie and American Girl actually have the same archetype. Both brands are about self-expression and identity. There are about a million different and wonderful ways to go in terms of types of dolls, themes and accessories, but I’m willing to bet real money that you will never, ever see an American Girl doll that requires a technological download. It would ruin - I repeat- ruin, the American Girl brand.

5. Classic toys are cool. Anyone who cherishes the Melissa & Doug brand of wholesome no-tech toys, the simple, yet highly interactive Alex kits, watched their kids spend hours creating Lego masterpieces or role play with dolls will tell you that it's the classic toys that kids cherish most. These are the toys that they go back to again and again. The ones that mom or dad save for the next generation. The ones they are willing to spend a little extra money on because of the quality and durability, and not for the latest download.

How about you? What are your favorite classic toys?


Anonymous said...

I work in a library, and just the other day there was this boy at the library who couldn't have been more than two with his mom, and he had a complete breakdown because he saw another family using an iPad as a study device and when he went over to try to take it from them, he was refused. I mean, a "I'm-pretty-sure-this-little-guy's-lungs-are-gonna-collaspe-from-screaming-so-much" kind of breakdown. The mom scrambled to find her iPhone to satiate him and promised up and down that he'd get the iPad when he got home. It's crazy! Go play with bubble wrap, or lick a 9-volt battery. Parents need to set limits, for sure. I can't imagine what a ball of delight that kid is going to be when he's a teenager.

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