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  Nic Jones Kids’ Brands: Staple, fad, craze or classic?
by Nic Jones
January 17, 2005

Is that product line a brand, or is that brand a line of products?

This is actually a very pertinent question in the kids’ market of today where, in many instances, licensing dictates that a whole range of categories are available under one umbrella, whether that be for a film, TV show or indeed a property that has been around for many years. Surely Disney, Barbie and Scrabble are brands. Shrek and Spongebob Squarepants are lines of product. But where exactly would Star Wars or even Harry Potter fit?


Realizing that I’m getting in at the deep end of an age-old debate as to what constitutes a brand I would like to open up the discussion and re-assess where the market is in regard to kids.

It is plain that most manufacturers refer to all of their ranges as brands, which is independent of whether they are producing a licensed category or indeed their own new development. Such a statement is incongruous with the market where kids are involved. Everything can’t be a brand—or can it?

In reality, kids do not give a hoot as to whether or not they are playing with, wearing or even eating a brand. They are playing with a product they like, have maybe asked for and in most cases wanted because of the fun attached. Of course they are comfortable with, and have an affinity for, the property associated with said item, because otherwise mum wouldn’t have bought it.

I put it to you that there needs to be another way. A way that allows for the market to adapt to the fickleness of youth coupled with the necessity for short-term gain against long-term asset building. A way that allows everyone to claim they have a brand, no matter its history or future. A way that finally allows brands to migrate positioning as they develop.

My instinct is to break the market into four categories (or sets), which will demonstrate a distinct point of difference, while at the same time giving enough flexibility to allow for growth and maturation.

Brands, in the kids market, can essentially be categorized as staples, fads, crazes or classics, where:

Fad = Short-term craze
Craze = Long-term fad
Staple = Can be a fad or a craze or neither
Classic = One or more of the above; here to stay

Combined, the categories can be defined by a very simple Venn diagram:

A fad is something that tends to come and go very quickly. A craze comes and goes but should last longer than the fad. A staple defines the great many products that are essential and finally, a classic is a brand that has been one or all of the first three; a brand that is here for the long term, has long term strategies, has stood and will continue to stand the test of time.

Every market has its staples and the kids market is no different. These are brands that don’t need to be hyped in any way such as stationery or a cuddly toy. Now every now and again a product will come along which can be defined as a staple but will develop into a fad and a craze. Pen variants such as the gel pens spring to mind.

Kids love a craze; they create them after all. They don’t like to admit anything they like is a fad; they willingly embrace it as a craze but as soon as it is there it has gone again. A fad is essentially a craze that just hasn’t quite managed to take a longer-term hold on the psyche.

Fads take their lead from the here and now; what’s going on in kids’ lives at home and in school. Some last no time at all, and others catch on and get passed on. Some go away and then return again. It is when the fad starts to spread beyond the school gates and gets some momentum that it can be considered…

…To be a craze. At this stage the brand has withstood the first wave of cynicism and has enough going for it to have a much longer-term future. These brands will now have more confidence than when they were fads. They will be able to talk directly to kids and should be able to withstand having kids talk back. Crazes may not have any finite time span and could last for years. They may fizzle out, they may then come back again until eventually they have the mind set of…

…A classic. All brands could aspire to fit into this category but unfortunately many, wishing to be thus considered, fail to do so. For some it is just not possible or even worthwhile. A great many classic kids brands have been around for a long time. They have the advantage of age, of being from a time when immediacy and globalization meant nothing. They had the advantage of time to mature to what they are now. Parents and kids alike are comfortable with these brands and will in turn pass them down the generations. “Modern classics” are few and far between in the present day kids market.

What is apparent is that brands can jump quickly from a fad to a craze and can even become a staple. This can be achieved in a relatively short space of time. However, there are no short cuts to becoming a classic. A brand cannot be considered a classic without having been through one or more of the three outer categories. However on achieving a classic accolade the brand has the luxury of being able to behave as if it were any of a fad, craze or staple without besmirching its reputation provided it doesn’t overstretch itself and weaken its proposition.

What we have here is not an exact science, but if any market is an art it is the kids market. Plainly we need to expand out of the playground and into the relevant territories for each brand. We need to consider what is the foundation for the brand, whether that’s a film, TV show, a stand-alone product or an extension of a classic brand name. There are many parameters in categorizing kids brands and positioning where they will be in two years time, not least of which is the fickleness and cynicism of the consumer. When considering future marketing strategies there is no shame in categorizing a new brand as a fad or stating a long-term desire of becoming a craze.

Only a small percentage of kids’ brands have become classics, and based on the present market even fewer will do so in the future.

   Nic Jones is managing director of Jammy Rascals, a specialist children and family agency.

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