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Not just child’s play: The rise of the ‘kidult’ market for licensing

With last week’s announcement of LEGO x Super Mario, it’s clear character merchandise for adults is on the rise. Source finds out more.

More than half of the kidult market is made up of Millennials, with 18 to 34 year olds looking to toys and characters from their childhood as a form of escapism and a reflection of simpler times.

Certainly, this sense of nostalgia is strong among many brands and retailers. Among them is TruffleShuffle, with buyer Lisa Cornish commenting: “A lot of our product has a nostalgic slant, inspired by kids TV shows, movies and toys from our youth, like The Raccoons, Ghostbusters, Moomins and Care Bears. Although originally aimed at children, we find as adults our customers love to reminisce about happy childhood memories. I guess life as an adult can be pretty challenging so revisiting those happy childhood times is lovely escapism.

“Key customer personas for us are kitsch and quirky, and t-shirt buying men (generally in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties) but I think adults of all ages love the nostalgia of childhood brands. We are finding Nineties and Noughties-themed merchandise such as Friends, Polly Pocket, Groovy Chick and Harry Potter perform really well for us, appealing to younger adults.”

TruffleShuffle's Shaun the Sheep backpack taps into kidult nostalgia.
TruffleShuffle's Shaun the Sheep backpack taps into kidult nostalgia.

This broad demographic is common among many involved in the kidult market, with Funko’s Saj Ismael telling us: “Funko products appeal to everyone due to the fact we have over 1,100 licences. In terms of a general demographic, we see a very even split among males and females, due to the whimsical nature of our stylisation and breadth of categories.”

So what type of products hold the most appeal for this market? “Everything from t-shirts, nightwear, mugs, clocks, Christmas decorations, jewellery and bags,” claims Lisa.

“Unique, quirky and clever designs such as the Polly Pocket heart-shaped bag have been a massive hit for us. Similarly, the Friends ‘Joey Doesn’t Share Food’ lunchbox was a big hit – the actual product fitted the quote perfectly! And our Shaun the Sheep bag is a direct replica of the one we remember having as kids – when we posted this on social media, we had loads of comments from people saying, they used to have this bag back in the day, so it’s been proving a real hit with 90s kids.”

A recent LEGO pop-up store had huge appeal for kidults.
A recent LEGO pop-up store had huge appeal for kidults.

The kidult market may be on the rise, with more and more brands taking note of this audience, but it’s far from a new phenomenon. In fact, for brands such as LEGO it’s practically old school.

“The LEGO Group has had an incredibly strong group of adult fans, known as AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) for many years, so I don’t think there has necessarily been a recent trend of adults purchasing LEGO for themselves,” argues Marius Lang, head of marketing at LEGO UK.

“We also know that LEGO bricks offer timeless, creative play opportunities that are loved across generations from kids to those ‘young at heart’. However, we have been experimenting more with how LEGO Play can be extended to these fans, with propositions that appeal to their passions and support their desire to engage with hands on-creativity and the part that can play in improving wellbeing.”

Soda Kats is the first series from Paka Paka.
Soda Kats is the first series from Paka Paka.

Its recent acquisition of BrickLink – the world’s largest online community of adult LEGO fans – demonstrates just how great an importance the brand places on its adult fan base. With more than one million members, the platform is an online marketplace of more than 10,000 stores from 70 countries; a digital building software where builders can design and showcase their creations; and a vibrant online community where fans share ideas and builds.

So what does the future hold for brands wanting to hit the target with the kidult market? For Funko, the kidult audience is at the heart of its launch plans, at least for the foreseeable future. “Funko product ranges will continue to expand into what we know is appealing to these collectors, including with our upcoming launch of Paka Paka,” comments Saj.

“Paying homage to Japanese gashapon culture. Best known as small figures available through coin operated machines in game zones, arcades and shopping centres in Japan and Korea, Paka Paka is inspired by this growing trend and ups the ante in order to disrupt the blind bag category.”

And as with LEGO, retailers including TruffleShuffle are going online to reach this often affluent kidult market. “We will continue to reach out to our customers via social media to make sure that we are giving them what they are looking for,” explains Lisa. “Our customer services team also receive a lot of requests for product focused on certain old school kids TV shows and brands, which is fed directly back to the buyers. Our tagline is ‘You love it, we get it’. Like our customers, we love all things retro and nostalgic and no matter how quirky their requests, we always take the time to look into them and work on some designs wherever we can.”

Fashion’s Final Frontier

Appealing directly to the kidult market, fashion brand Vetements collaborated with the Star Wars franchise ahead of the arrival of The Rise of Skywalker.

The 44-piece collection covered menswear and womenswear, spanning everything from limited edition logo t-shirts, oversized hoodies, socks, caps and backpacks through to evening dresses and heels, enabling fans to express their love of all things Star Wars through their wardrobe choices.

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2020 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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