DIEGO — Children used to gravitate toward the Rokenbok
display at mom-and-pop stores to get their hands on the
toymaker’s monorail sets, robots and battery-powered
as big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target drove many of
those specialty stores out of business several years
ago, the San Diego area toy brand struggled to give
shoppers a close look at their pricey play sets, which
can cost hundreds of dollars.
when they turned to YouTube. The privately owned
business started shooting two- to three-minute
stop-animation videos of their toys in action.
clips show Rokenbok’s small Lego-like figures
launching a rocket ship, fending off a robot invasion
and being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Views have
climbed into the millions and sales quickly grew 25
not a mass-market toy," said Caitlin Bigelow,
Rokenbok’s director of marketing who also directs and
scripts the company’s YouTube videos. "The great
thing about YouTube is we could target our niche
audience. We discovered this whole subculture of kids
who liked watching things like trash truck videos."
every toymaker can be like Walt Disney Co., a behemoth
that pipes original content onto its own cable network
while releasing blockbuster movies to hordes of adoring
others, there’s YouTube. The Google-owned video
platform has become an increasingly powerful tool for
toy brands seeking to reach kids in an age when Saturday
morning cartoons are a relic of a bygone age and mobile
devices are quickly replacing televisions as the primary
source of entertainment.
especially benefits small and mid-size companies that
may not have the money to create full animated
series," said Jim Silver, editor in chief of toy
review website TTPM. "It’s cost effective and it
gets seen by kids."
not to say some bigger names haven’t benefited too.
said YouTube is credited with helping propel Lego’s
massive resurgence in the last decade after fans started
making live-action videos with the toys reenacting
cultural touchstones like Michael Jackson’s "Beat
It" music video and Indiana Jones’ "Raiders
of the Lost Ark."
toy giants Lego, Mattel and Hasbro all run YouTube
channels with varying degrees of original digital
content. The popular series "Barbie: Life in the
Dreamhouse" leaned heavily on YouTube, as did an
animated series for the dolls in "Monster
High" — both Mattel properties. Even Toys R Us is
getting into the action with YouTube videos introducing
the hottest toys.
want to go where the eyeballs are and a generation ago
that was Saturday morning cartoons," said Jason
Moser, a toy analyst at the Motley Fool. "Today
though, that dynamic has shifted with not only the move
away from linear television but also the very redefining
of what a TV is with the proliferation of mobile
least three-quarters of all U.S. children ages 8 and
younger have access to a smartphone or tablet, according
to Common Sense, a nonprofit organization that helps
families promote safe technology and media for children.
of those kids are eschewing the big three of children’s
programming — the Disney Channel, the Cartoon Network
and Nickelodeon — for YouTube. There, they’re
watching millions of hours of original content from
brands as well as "unboxing" videos, a
phenomenon in which amateur video creators unpack new
toys on camera. (YouTube says Americans have watched 60
million hours of "unboxing" videos this year,
already doubling last year’s total.)
the big budgets required, a TV show is often out of the
question for smaller brands. And even if they did come
up with the dough, they would find it challenging to
break into a space dominated by the three major children’s
networks, Moser said.
the triopoly is a more difficult puzzle to solve as they
are responsible for many of the most popular brands on
the market today and so much of that stems from the very
content they create," Moser said. "Disney in
particular has really set the standard for creating
wonderful content and then monetizing that content in a
number of different ways including toys, games and other
consumer goods. Like the saying goes, content is
company that started with a YouTube-only strategy is
currently giving Disney a run for its money on the toy
Toys, an Australian brand, has exploded onto the scene
with collectible figurines called Shopkins. In just over
a year, the dolls, which depict everyday consumer items
like vegetables, cupcakes and shoes, have become one of
the top-selling toys in the U.S. Rare pieces are
commanding thousands of dollars on EBay.
is no Shopkins TV show like there is for other popular
toys such as Disney’s "Doc McStuffins" or
Hasbro’s "My Little Pony." But the company
released 20 so-called webisodes — "Shopkins"
cartoons clocking in at under two minutes — during the
toy’s launch in summer 2014. The videos have
collectively garnered 30 million views and counting.
didn’t launch with any TV series or any mainstream
entertainment because we knew consumers were on YouTube
as much as traditional TV," said Paul Solomon,
co-chief executive of Moose Toys. "Kids are looking
for instant engagement from the brands they love."
by fans’ "unboxing" videos on YouTube,
"Shopkins" toys and accompanying webisodes
turned into a smash success. The company had to more
than double the number of its factories in China to meet
demand. One of its ultra-rare characters called
"Cupcake Queen" sold for $4,300 on EBay.
established, Solomon said the company is looking to
break into regular TV with a "Shopkins" series
by next fall, though no broadcaster has been named yet.
certainly room for everybody here," Solomon said.
"TV is still extremely powerful even though YouTube
is fast becoming the preferred screen."
at Rokenbok’s headquarters, about 20 miles north of
downtown San Diego, staff continue to churn out up to 40
YouTube videos a year. The painstaking process of stop
animation means it takes three to four weeks to produce
a typical two-minute clip.
takes place in a toy lab. Paul Eichen, Rokenbok’s
chief executive who founded the company in 1995, often
helps build sets for the shoots.
have dwindled the last year since YouTube stopped
allowing brands to customize their YouTube pages for
desktop computers with advertising and links.
the brand’s channel has garnered more than 61 million
views — not bad for an educational toy company with
only a handful of full-time employees.
not Lego or Mattel," said Bigelow, the marketing
director. "We’re also not as big as people think
we are. We’re a small company with a big Web