Toys 'Я' (for) us grown-ups!
Sales of toys are down – except to adults, who love to collect the toys that were popular when they were younger.
Toy sales in the US have steadily dropped for the past few years. But for more than a decade, the bright spot in an otherwise gloomy market has been toys aimed at grown-ups. In 2007, retail sales of playthings geared to the over-18 set were up nearly 10 percent.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Whether it's the Los Angeles rock musician who owns thousands of dollars of "Star Wars" action figures and costumes, a Dutch physiology professor with a basement full of LEGOS, or a Washington State chef with storage units and glass bookcases jammed with Muppet toys, this is a trend that grew from the era of mass-market tie-ins.
"These companies got accustomed to reaping the profits from film and TV tie-ins," says Mr. Shamus. "And they regrouped and retooled their products to hold onto their customers as the fans began to get older."
Even as adults are holding onto their toys longer, children are setting them aside at an ever-earlier age. Toy industry expert Richard Gottlieb calls this "age compression." Increasingly, he says, both ends of the spectrum aspire to the "sweet spot of our time, which is teen culture. Everyone wants to be that eternal youth."
Icons of baby boomers' childhood years have crafted sophisticated campaigns targeting their nostalgia and pocketbooks. LEGO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the famous plastic brick this year, Barbie rings in her golden anniversary next year, and even the Cabbage Patch Kids marked a quarter century with a birthday bash in New York's Times Square this year. These companies have gone to great lengths to hold onto their fans and have been rewarded with a deep, abiding loyalty.
The Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL), which grew 22 percent this past year, is a sophisticated international network that could rival any teen fan club in Hollywood. "Manufacturers have retooled to produce more sophisticated versions of the products the kids were buying in their first encounter with films such as 'Star Wars,' " says Reyne Rice, a trend tracker for the Toy Industry Association. As examples, she points to such items as a Spiderman collectible action figure with more than 50 moveable joints and a Star Wars sculpture with the fine detailing of an adult work of art. "This is workmanship that a child wouldn't care about. It's clearly targeted at adults."
Earlier generations regarded adults who played with children's toys as "creepy," says Christopher Noxon, author of the book "Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-Up."
But attitudes have changed with the times. "Clearly, there are some adults who use an obsession with childish things to avoid adulthood responsibility," Mr. Noxon adds, "but these days, it's much more complex."
The model of putting away childish things when moving into adulthood is an artifact of the industrial, urban world. That image has been replaced by a more flexible, adaptable age-resistant worker, one for whom the childlike qualities of curiosity and openness are now as important as a "serious, adultlike attitude," he says.