After successfully breaking into the collectibles space — a product category focused on fan conventions, licensing deals, and limited-edition action figures — some pop culture-focused companies are expanding their offerings beyond collectibles made for teens and adults and into the toy aisle.
This year alone, manufacturers including Funko, The Loyal Subjects (TLS), and Boss Fight Studio are creating original intellectual properties designed specifically for a younger audience. Why make this move? All three companies expressed similar motivations: They want to offer their brands’ strengths to a younger audience and fill a void in the toy marketplace.
Stop anyone on the street and chances are they have a Funko Pop! figure sitting on their desk or hanging on their keys. At Toy Fair New York this year, the company introduced Snapsies — its first original brand targeted toward kids — which will arrive at retail this December.
Then, this summer, Funko launched Marvel Battleworld, a game that is designed for a young audience but also incorporates the collectibles that the company is known for. According to Jessica Piha-Grafstein, Funko’s director of corporate communications and public relations, the company’s Pop! line already attracted a wide age range, and the team wanted to offer more for its young fans.
“Funko has a unique approach to collectible products,” she says. “We are excited to bring this perspective to the toy aisle and give children new ways to express themselves. … We know [kids] are more savvy and complex than previous generations, and our approach will reflect their modern sophistication.”
Paul Gitter, senior vice president of Marvel licensing, says that Funko understands how character depth can lead to collectibility, which is what made them the right partner for this cooperative kids’ tabletop gaming experience. Gitter says that the reception to the line has been positive, especially because Funko also developed animated shorts to accompany the product.
“The game, character collectibles, and content are all interconnected, which enhances the overall experience for kids,” he says. “The story of the animation sparks kids’ imagination to play out what they see in the content through immersive game play and characters in an expanded, deeper way.”
TLS — known for its Action Vinyl collectibles and 5-inch scale BST AXN figures — is launching a line of fashion dolls called For Keeps, which features positive message affirmations as its key component. Each doll comes with a cupcake keepsake that is full of positive messages that kids can share with their friends.
Jonathan Cathey, founder and CEO of TLS, says this positive messaging component is especially relevant right now, and that the desire to make a positive impact is what drove his decision to create For Keeps.
“If we’re to mold it, it has to have impact. It has to impact someone’s life,” he says. “It can’t just be another widget to sell. TLS has always approached product with this virtue. … If you get an opportunity in life to make a difference, take it! Being in service to others is a great feeling.”
This fall, Boss Fight Studio’s new action doll line I Am Brilliance will be available for preorders with an early 2021 release. Each of these highly articulated dolls has a STEM career and comes with an animal sidekick. While Boss Fight Studio is best known for its original Vitruvian HACKS line and a growing lineup of licensed figures, Boss Fight Partner and Art Director Catrina Arana says that kids’ products have been part of the company’s plan since the beginning. In fact, she considers I Am Brilliance to be a passion project of hers, inspired by her own desire for articulated dolls as a child and wanting to offer more options for her own daughter.
Moving into the competitive kids’ toy space, these companies have all faced some challenges. Testing for a lower safety age grade, for example, comes with a higher cost. These new lines also require a completely different approach to marketing, as the companies aim to attract a different group of consumers.
To some extent, Arana expects that existing Boss Fight Studio fans will purchase I Am Brilliance dolls for their kids. “We have seen a lot of dads, especially, who have bought toys from us for years [and] are excited that their daughters will have something,” she says. “But that’s definitely not enough to support a completely new branch.”
Yet, there are also some upsides and advantages that these companies have as they develop products for a younger audience. “It’s kind of the same skill set, just different,” Arana jokes. She also notes that she enjoyed getting to team up with illustrators, sculptors, and other creatives who she normally wouldn’t work with when creating Boss Fight’s traditional action figures.
Each company also has team members who bring decades of diverse experience in consumer products to the table. However, moving into this new space is ultimately a gamble.
“We appreciate that kids have limited time and there is a tremendous amount of competition for their attention,” Piha-Grafstein says. “It is always challenging for new brands to break through in this landscape, but we are confident that Funko products will deliver experiences that will resonate with this audience.”
And, as Cathey puts it, there’s no way to know unless they try.
“If you don’t take the swings, there’s no chance you’ll hit the ball,” he says. “Like anything in life, you need to grow to challenge yourself. Making toys for kids [ages] 4-8 is a different experience than making collectibles for 30-40-year-old fans. They are both challenging, both nuanced. We’re ready.”
A version of this article was originally published in the October 2020 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!