Playmobil, Lego and Barbie usually feature on children’s Christmas lists but this year they are going after adults’ hearts, too, with collectible toys with a feelgood factor.
The usual range of Playmobil firefighters, knights and pirates has been joined by the spacemen James T Kirk and Spock, as the German company targets “kidults” with a £450 model of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise.
Forced lifestyle changes during the pandemic led to a step-up in demand from adults for games, building sets and collectible toys linked to their favourite shows and childhood interests. Without the constraints of pocket money, kidults have become a major force in the UK sector, spending close to £1bn a year on toys.
The adverts for U.S.S. Enterprise, with its 7.5cm tall crew and warp-drive sound effects, feature adults sipping drinks and admiring the assembled spaceship on their coffee table. It comes with a wire to suspend it from the ceiling, suggesting that like many toys in this area, it is designed to be looked at rather than played with.
The spending power of kidults (buyers aged 12 and over) is now worth 29% of UK’s £3.3bn toy market, according to market researcher NPD. The rise of the adult buyer was apparent pre-Covid but accelerated during lockdown as Britons sought escapism in new and old hobbies. That has continued. In the first six months of 2021 “kidult” sales were 14% higher than in 2019 set against an overall increase of 6%.
Melissa Symonds, an analyst at NPD, said this part of the toy market had benefited from the cash saved on commuting and socialising during the lockdowns, but that it was also about “bringing some joy into your life”.
“The world has been extremely challenging for everyone and these toys spark joy for a subject people are passionate about,” she said. “I think that’s what is really driving it. There are still limits on experiences and toymakers have noticed adults and are giving them more choice.”
The kidult market is a lucrative one as the average spend per toy is twice that of the wider toy market at nearly £16 – reflecting the huge quantities of figurines and merchandise linked to blockbuster media properties like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that are bought each year.
NPD research shows adult buyers have a wide variety of interests, ranging from puzzles and board games to sophisticated kits for models, drones and robots. The biggest shoppers are 20- to 35-year-olds, who account for nearly 40% of sales, while two-thirds of spend is down to men, it says.
The dearth of new film releases during the pandemic prompted people to revisit classic shows and films, fuelling demand for toys based on titles such as Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, as well as the expanding MCU.
The US toymaker Hasbro has launched a UK website called Hasbro Pulse, aimed at collectors. Its Christmas selection includes a £108 Ghostbusters blaster – although you are limited to buying three – and figures from the Marvel series Loki.
The model railway maker Bachman has also entered the fray with a range of Thunderbirds kits based on the classic 60s series, while Mattel is catering for grownup Barbie fans with the more expensive Signature range, which includes dolls based on historical figures such as Florence Nightingale.
Lego says more adults than ever are playing with its plastic bricks and it has expanded its range of technical builds as well as models based on cult film and TV to appeal to adults fan of Lego.
The Danish company’s profits more than doubled in the first six months of the year and it has upped the ante this Christmas with sets costing as much as a mobile phone. It is taking orders for a Titanic set after it sold out in less than a fortnight despite a £570 price tag. A £750 Star Wars At-At walker will also go on sale last this month.
The 9,000-piece Titanic replica is more than 1.3 metres long and (like the real thing) breaks into sections. This poses a dilemma for adults with expanding collections and the Lego website now includes a section on what to do with a “massive” set.