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The Top Three Ingredients to Create a Must-Have Toy Craze

…and What Marketers Can Learn

I was at Meijer the other day in search of some sand toys for my toddler, and at the back of toy department, sitting on a non-descript shelf within a group of unmemorable toys were the Hatchimals. If you recall, Hatchmials were “the toy” of Christmas 2016.  Parents were waiting in long lines and paying outrageous prices to make sure their kid had one to open Christmas morning.  Nearly six months later, there they sit.

And let us not forget  Tickle Me Elmo, Furbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies…

Now your kids are probably on to the fidget spinners.  Here is just one example of the lengths a parent went to get her children the newest toy craze…and it’s not even Christmas.

Helen Holden heard about fidget spinners last month when her 7-year-old twins demanded she stop at a 7-Eleven to buy them. “I thought it was a drink,” says the bank vice president and blogger from Los Angeles. That store was sold out, and so were several other 7-Eleven locations that she called. The chain says spinners have “been flying off the shelves” since they went on sale in March.

Holden’s kids said they needed them before school on Monday so they could practice spinning them. So she signed up for Amazon Prime, paid $5.99 for one-day shipping and had two $15 fidget spinners delivered on a Sunday. “I totally got suckered by my kids,” she says. 


What is interesting about a toy craze, from a marketer’s perspective, is that they rarely result from the halo effect that we see from certain brands.  For example, the Apple, Jeep or Harley Davidson disciples that will camp out overnight for the latest iphone or get the brand logo tattooed on their body.  Other than video game systems, the one-off toy craze isn’t necessarily from the same brand or even the result of a similar product.

There is something about that toy in that moment that spreads like a bad case of lice. Every kid has to have one.  And even more shocking, parents are seemingly willing to walk on hot coals to get them one.  Honestly, I’m not sure how much of this is dumb luck, but when certain elements come together they form the perfect storm…on Black Friday…at Walmart…at 4am.


In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (sidenote: this was required reading for me in college, and if you haven’t read it, I give you permission to stop reading this post right now and go buy it) Robert Cialdini describes a simple experiment he conducted.  He had a small group of people stare at the sky.  As you might guess, almost everyone who walked by at least looked up to see what they were looking at.  Some even stopped and stared as well, looking for whatever intrigue the random strangers on the street were studying.

It’s in our nature to be curious.  To want to jump on the bandwagon.  As adults, we have learned to control our impulses…for the most part.  But kids have no self-control.  Or less of it.  Trust me, I have a toddler.  It’s something we are taught…” wait your turn”, “share your toys”, “no, you may not put that sharp object that you found God knows where in your mouth.”  Sound familiar?

Kid’s become influencers without knowing it, simply by having something new or different.  And other kids just can’t control their desire.  It goes from one kid on a playground to all the kids on the playgroud, to the kids at soccer practice, to the next school over, and so on.

Marketing lesson – Create content around your product that facinates. your consumers 

Influencers + The Internet 

Influencer marketing is trending big time.  It’s not a new concept, brands have been promoting their products through celebrity for years. But social media has paved new ways for brands to utilize influencers.  Additionally, it’s paved new ways for average people to become influencers.

In regards to the fidget spinners, there are hundreds of videos on You Tube and Instagram of the toys in action.  Even people doing tricks.  Kids are on the internet these days, and they are soaking up video and image content like the little sponges they are.   Now it’s not just the boy down the street that becomes an influencer, it’s the boy in the next state.

Marketing lesson – Create your own buzz with content driven campaigns.  Develop your own content or use influencer content – and promote it.  Let the buzz spread. 

Influencers + The Internet + Scarcity 

In my opinion, scarcity is the double edged sword of the toy craze.  It’s the third most important catalyst for launching the craze, but once all of the retailers catch up, and you can find the toy du jour at your local Seven 11 (pretty sure you can pick up a fidget spinner there right now), the craze starts to lose steam.  But, if you can ride the scarcity wave long enough to get the public’s attention, then you create an air of exclusivity around your product that can result in higher demand and potentially higher prices. Scarcity forces action.  If people want something, they have to act now.  They can’t wait until tomorrow.

Marketing lesson – With the right product, scarcity makes your product exclusive. Think designer brands. Scarcity also forces action. But, use scarcity with caution…because abused, it can make for mad customers. 

Influencers, the internet, and scarcity are all marketing tactics that work on their own, but together they form the ingredients for a money making product blitz.  Any marketer can apply these tactics to campaigns and product launches to create a successful return on their marketing dollar.

Toy crazes, and product crazes in general are an interesting study in marketing psychology.  I love watching them happen.  I find them facinating and education at the same time.  And, like any good parent, I’ll probably be caught up in a toy craze of my own at some point.

Happy shopping!


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