Playing the game: 10 tips for a successful toy brand experience

toy brand experience

FAO Schwarz reopened its doors to experiential last year with a theatrical retail experience, Carton Network is due to launch a hotel hosted by its adored characters this summer, and a fully immersive Toy Story-themed hotel will open its doors in 2021. Take note: the big players in the toy industry are maximizing brand experience like never before, reimagining what’s possible with technology and leveraging a tribe of ‘kidfluencers.’

In part, this is due to the rise of toy brands as entertainment franchises – companies such as Hasbro Inc., Mattel Inc. and The LEGO Group have shifted from being ‘just’ toymakers to becoming licensees, studios and fashion houses.

Toy brands today encompass a world of entertainment that is better sampled through real-life interaction, play and technology, in order to capture the attention of Generation Alpha – whose influence in big household purchases is set to outrank previous generations.

So, what should you keep in mind when planning an experience for toy brands?

1)   Think like a kid. Your creative should be led from a child’s perspective. Ask yourself, what role can you play in their ever-evolving and enchanted world?

2)   Never allow a dull moment. If an activation includes a wait, it should be a joyous part of the experience, not a chore. Disney World encourages guests to download a new app whilst waiting in line, to access quizzes and interactive family games – ‘turning wait time into play time.’

3)   Enhance character connection through technology. There’s something quite magical about seeing your favorite characters appear in the real world, and AR provides the gateway experience to facilitate this. Disney Animation, in partnership with National Cinemedia, recently invited children to play ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ to reward them for be patient.

4)   Consider a voiceover screen. Google Assistant has rolled out a new skill that allows kids to talk to the Wiggles via voice commands, taking them on all sorts of adventures. A recent MIT Media Lab study discovered that children find autonomous technologies such as Google Assistant friendly, trustworthy and smart. Ask yourself, could this level of direct engagement with characters be incorporated into the experience?

5)   Embrace the rise of ‘kidfluencers.’ After all, 22% of U.S. kids get their toy envy from online influencers, accordingly to a Hotwire study.

6)   Learn from in-store toy brand experiences. The American Girl Rockefeller Plaza store engages guests during multiple touchpoints throughout their visit – via an American Girl Salon featured inside the space. Dolls can be ordered online for collection, created in-store via a virtual interface or sent for a full pamper treatment at the in-store “spa.”

7)   Don’t forget, parents play a role. The Toys that Made Us Netflix series is testament to the power of adult nostalgia. Don’t underestimate the opportunity for kids and adults to play together – rather than just observe.

8)   Allow no barriers to play. Data capture can be key to a big brand toy experience, but try to diminish obstacles to hands-on play. Walmart launched a website called Toy Lab, also dubbed “America’s Best Toy Store” to help children learn about products through video demonstrations, allowing them to select their favorite toy for their holiday wish list – an excellent data play.

9)   Appoint an all-star front line. Parents love it when someone else entertains their kids. Be sure your staff has experience working with children and that they can embody the values of a toy brand.

10)    Boring will result in brand failure! There is no worse sin for a toy or game brand than to fail to be entertaining. If you can infuse your work with a childlike sense of joy and wonder, then you will not only entertain the kids but inspire their parents. A perfect example is Fatherly’s The Playroom, which meets both needs via a packed entertainment activity schedule and creative spaces.

Kateland Turner is senior account manager at the New York branch of our sense experiential marketing agencies.


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Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Futures Lab


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003


Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

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Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.