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Well, it's the political season in America, and although politics aren't the main thrust of toy companies, a form of politics does work its way into the decision-making process. Not a right/left or republican/democrat kind of way, but more of a who’s got the clout and power way. It does make it hard to see the great product from the profit desires.

After spending many decades in the toy industry, I have witnessed the constant push/pull between creatives and the marketing/business folks. The tension is always there; sometimes, it's a good balance, but rarely. There always seems to be a person or persons who vocally oppose the other side, and you sometimes wonder what their end game is. Lost somewhere over the decades is the goal of creating the best playthings for children and replaced with the desire to gain the biggest margins while using the hottest licensed property. It'd be business on one side and quality product on the other. It's timeless.

I’m seeing this happening in some of the new and existing mergers and acquisitions. One company is bought and brought into the other's corporate culture, and invariably, there's a clash of minds. I am sure it's similar in many businesses, but it is especially true in the toy industry that the company's culture makes the company, not the profits. I am now seeing what feels like forced compliance with the acquiring company's new culture, something that never seems to work. I also see acquired companies reporting into people that have no knowledge of the product they just bought. That is unfortunate. Even with a similar product offering, a connection never takes hold. New leadership must be right? Uhh, not always. It often seems any problems result from the acquired company and not the new team. Change has to be better, right? Uhh, not always.

I am not suggesting that a company should always default to doing things the way it has in the past but rather keep the integrity of its culture and move it forward into today’s world. I have personally seen this, and it is a constant struggle. Outsiders blame the lack of either sales or growth on poor leadership and often overlook the simple fact that what a company buys often is not about what it stands for but rather the opportunity to pad profits. When I am contracted to do consulting, the first thing I ask is what does the company stand for and what made it successful. By staying out of any internal politics, I can view the needs and vision without the baggage.

You have two competing groups; what gets lost is the quality/innovation for the end user: the child. You might say constituent.

In writing this, I do not intend to bash the toy business, but rather to issue a call to reflect on what’s the current state of play and perhaps go back a few decades and think about what caring about the product first is about. It certainly is possible. Can two sides work out an amicable approach to growing the business without sacrificing the great product? It takes work and not just opinion or blaming the other side. It’s not always about being flashy but rather dedicated to the best for the kids and their families.

But it’s not just enough to say let’s do things like we used to. We must really understand our audience and dig into what motivates the prevailing generation of consumers. How do they feel about their kids in today's world? How is their life affected by current social environments? How does the product offered inspire, entertain, educate, or become meaningful in their lives? Change is inevitable and shifts as each generation evolves. Getting culture and agency right is an art in itself. What we don’t need is one group of people feeling they know it all because that's the way we always do it!

So, much like the constant blame-the-other-side of politics, the fix to get the toy business right is often in the players involved. A little less “my way” and a little more “let’s get it right” will go a long way to reshaping products into meaningful, purposeful, and memorable moments for the child and their families.

Of course, I'm a sketch pad carrying creative, so I suppose this is…well…politics.


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