Have you come across Angry Birds? It’s a game you can get for your phone where you have to fire a bird at a structure with some pigs on it. Sounds random. Kind of is I guess. My youngest, George, loves it. And like most parents of today if we are busy or out and about we will often hand over the phone or tablet to keep my youngest occupied whilst we eat. Guilty as charged.
Angry Birds is no longer just a game, though. It is now a cartoon, a film and a range of toys. And 4-year-olds are way smarter and internet savvy than you may believe. George knows how to use youtube.com and can keep himself pretty occupied (until the inevitable meltdown). So George is currently all about Angry Birds. Toys, games, cartoons etc. We just have to give him the first search for ‘angry birds’ and the related searches do the rest. One search, first time, subsequent visits know what you like and make more and more suggestions. So he can find a phone and dive in.
And the owners of these brands know how to monetise this at every step of the way: in-app purchases, different versions of what is essentially the same game (Star Wars Angry Birds, Christmas Angry Birds), physical toys that play out like the computer game, movies. In a world of remarketing and context targeted ads, we can’t move for Angry Birds at the moment.
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
And a 4-year-old does not know how to handle this – they just want, want, want. These nuanced marketing techniques are aimed directly at children with time-challenged parents. In-game pop-ups with required in-game purchases. Alternative versions of the game. Daddy, mommy, Star Wars Angry Birds. A 4-year-old does not understand money. They just know there is a great big green call to action button they can click to get this new character, game, level etc.
These child-facing brands certainly know how to handle line extensions and in most cases, they can do this without problems as kids move on quickly from one brand to another. So they maximise exposure and lines to squeeze everything they can from us poor, bewildered parents.
Yet this is not the worst of it. Where this gets really problematic is in the world of toy videos. Now, you may not have come across this if you don’t have kids, but Youtube.com is rife with these videos of people opening (unboxing) and playing with kids toys. Some of these videos have tens of millions of views. Tens of millions of subscribers. They are clearly earning the owners a pretty penny in targeted video ads but are a new dawn in advertising opportunities for the owners of these toy brands.
So we have a perfect storm:
- kids watch toy videos on youtube
- the toy brands supply the video makers with more and more toys
- the kids watch these videos and want, want, want.
So here is a perfect example. George is big into Angry Birds. He also loves Play-Doh. So we have been making Lego structures and Play-Doh birds and piggies. Knocking them down. It’s very cute. But George has now stumbled across actual Play-Doh Angry Birds sets. And another US brand called Softee Dough (really). He wants these sets. His birthday is coming up so in principle these £10 toys are a good fit. But they are out of stock. No one has them. Well, almost no one…
There is yet another player in this awful cycle – toy resellers. These vampires folks buy up popular toys and then hold on to them till they go out of stock. Then they resell them at a considerable profit on platforms like eBay and Amazon. And clearly, people are buying.
I ran into the worst instance of this I have yet seen, and we have gone through a whole range of Batman & Spongebob toys that we could not get in the UK, and I have paid wildly over the odds for them due to these damn videos. But this one, this one really takes the biscuit.
My son came across this video – which is pushing for 10 million views by the way:
And he really, really, really wants that set. Based on other similar sets it should be about £10 to £15.00 – no major issue. I said he can help me work on our new house and earn it which he is keen to do. Teaches some work ethics. He gets what he wants. Happy days.
The problem is, I have only been able to find one seller for the product:
£395 discounted to £270 – how very good of them. something like a 3000% markup on the recommended retail price – I figure they likely paid £5 for this at trade or they picked it up at retail for around £10.00.
So What Is The Point Of This Tale?
George is not getting this set. Not at this price. Not in a million years. I would likely go to double the retail price for his birthday but 30 times the retail price. No way, not even if I had millions. Not on general principle alone. Somebody, though, somebody will buy this. And how did this happen? This happened because a person saw a video. That person may be young but it will be an adult who pulls the trigger on that £270 box with a small plastic mould and three small tubs of Play-Doh.
The Angry Birds people extended their brand to include toys. The toy video people promoted the toy as kids are eating this stuff up (10,000,000 views for this one video alone). Then poor parents (or not so poor in this instance) end up picking up the tab.
I like to look at it from a child’s perspective as it takes away a lot of the bullshit.
- see content (unboxing video)
- want the product (desperately)
- do what is needed to get the product
When you strip away everything this is no different to the videos I am watching for the new mountain bike I want. It’s no different to the magazines my wife reads with new clothes or for the car you want to buy in six months time. It may take months, even years to work up to that purchase, but slowly and surely this content is working on me and you and driving us inexorably towards that purchase.