The Market on Licensed vs non-licensed toys

The market for licensed toys is huge, so it’s essential that toy manufacturers and licensors ensure that their offering stands out from the crowd. Here, Dr Gummer looks at some of the potential problems around licensed products and offers her tips to avoid these.

Often, we hear criticism from parents and other consumers regarding licensed toys, with comments such as that they are uninspired or poor quality. As one dad blogger put it:

“Oh my gosh, do we really need thousands of identical toys and products…but just with the latest […] character slapped on it?”

–  Daddoes

Despite the negative outlook from some, however, there are many benefits to licensed toys. It doesn’t have to be an either/or decision though; licensed and generic toys both have their place in a balanced play diet.

Do licensed toys stifle imagination?

Some consumers worry that licensed toys encourage less originality during make believe play because children are spoon-fed pre-told stories and existing characters, which prevent them from coming up with their own ideas.

While children will usually begin by imitating the character (assuming they are familiar with the licence), scripted play soon turns into imaginative play as their story develops. The licence gives children a starting point and a little structure to boost their confidence initially and for this reason, I think of licensed toys as a springboard for children’s imaginations.

Are licensed characters just advertising – or do they offer more?

Consumers often see licensed products as a vehicle for companies to target children, while the TV shows are just another way to advertise to them.

In fact, having a familiar character to play with is very comforting for children. Imagine a Peppa Pig fan on their first scary day of pre-school, finding a licensed play set.Immediately,, they can dive into a world they know and feel comfortable in. 

Moreover, these familiar characters can give children common ground with each other. Dressing up as superheroes means that even when communication is limited, children are on the same level, with the same understanding of how their make believe play might pan out.

Do traditional non-licensed products provide healthier play opportunities than licensed toys?

Non-licensed toys are often thought of as having very open play opportunities because they aren’t tied to a brand and aren’t prescriptive -the child  comes up with their own ideas and adapts the toy to their needs.

Unlike traditional toys, a licensed toy has a predefined audience; it needs to be developed with engagement, usability and brand values in mind. Knowing your target audience is therefore essential in getting the perfect fit between a licence and a product in order to offer appropriate play opportunities.

Top tips for successful licensed products

  1. Understand your customer – who is the fan of your brand, and how do they engage with it? Is it a babysitter brand or a parent endorsed one? Do you know the gender split or the core and skewed ages of the audience?  Do you know the developmental characteristics of that audience – what do they like playing with, what are their hobbies and what skills are they learning? The more you understand the audience, the more successful your licensing programme will be.
  2. Don’t skimp on quality – licences can be expensive and margins are always tight, but, especially for a premium brand, you’ll soon lose customers and possibly the licence if you produce products that are lower quality than the brand itself.
  3. Encourage brand collaborations – Children naturally bring licences together in play – we’ve seen many a Teletubby or Bing Bunny riding on a Thomas train or in a Peppa Pig ferris wheel! The children don’t follow the script of the licence so don’t be too proprietorial about your brand; look for complimentary brands to help share costs and cross-promote the toys.
  4. Engage children with the brand – experiential marketing at family events, in-store play days, themed competitions or road shows are great ways to do this. Observing children engaging with your brand is obviously great for raising the profile to your target audience, but it provides a great opportunity for market research and consumer feedback.



Dr Amanda Gummer and Fundamentally Children Associate, Trudi Bishop, will be at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo between May 22-25, if you’d like to meet up with them, follow and send us a DM on Twitter under @FundamentallyHQ or learn more about the launch of our Licensing Framework for Licensors and Licensees



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