Toys Really Are Us

Toy Store

Photo by John Martinez Pavliga — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Holiday season is toy season and toys tell a lot about ourselves.

In the old days, when visiting someone for the first time, one of the best ways of learning about them was to peruse their bookshelves. What had they read? In what book categories (literature, science fiction, biography, history, etc.) did they have the most titles? What books appeared to be prize possessions?

Today we delve into their social networks. What photos do they choose to post? What are their “Likes” on Facebook? What kind of information do they tweet?

The difference between the two methods is that one reveals the person (books on the shelf) and one shows the person as they want to be shown.

Now, there’s another way to learn about someone and their cultural associations: What kind of toys they have.

According to a recent article in The Economist, toy buying habits can shine a light on national tastes and character. Research from the NPD Group shows German parents buy the most toy building sets. Germany is also the biggest European market for Legos. Spain leads with the most doll purchases.

The Brits lead Europe with buying the most toys — 41 per year. They also lead Europe with buying the greatest amount of licensed merchandise, almost one third of all toy purchases. Globally, the top licensed merchandise sellers (in alphabetical order) are Barbie, Disney Princess, Dora The Explorer, Star Wars, and Toy Story. Are you starting to get a picture of our cultural training?

In 2010 the toy market increased by 5%, for a whopping $83.3 billion in sales. The United States led with a $22 billion market followed by Japan, China, the United Kingdom and France. These five nations make up just over 50% of the total market. Apparently, about half of all toy purchases are items specifically requested by the children.

What’s the key draw for a toy? Apparently the most attractive feature is something that the kid can play with alone and for a long time without getting bored. Yes, that’s right: “Sweetheart, go play on your own; and, go play for a long time.”

No wonder an online company such as Facebook is so successful. This is what we’ve been trained and educated to do: play alone and stave off the boredom of existence.

Of course, the old fashioned amongst us still believe that the best “toy” for playing alone and for a long time would be a book. Not only is the kid occupied, they just might discover insights into the world we live in, politics, other people, and even themselves.

We can’t miss the opportunity to plug one other gift solution for the holiday season. Why not do something that you can all play together and that is as entertaining as it is mind-expanding: Go to a Festival!

This month there are hundreds of live event festivals taking place in the world. Surely, at least one of them fits your budget and is worth your time. Trust us, the experience will last longer than any new toy.

- Bill Reichblum

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