Thursday, January 31, 2008

What European toys say about European views

Consider toy brands, such as Denmark's Lego or Germany's Playmobil. These firms may be dwarfed in America by titans like Mattel, but in
Europe they are cultural giants, vying for top spots in markets such as
France and Germany. In their designs, business models and philosophies,
they offer a striking snapshot of European aspirations, anxieties and
foibles. (Tellingly, toy bosses see Britain as a case apart, closer to
the American market in taste, and showing what they call an
“Anglo-Saxon” fondness for heavily marketed novelties tied to films or

Playmobil's chief executive, Andrea Schauer, [says]: “the dream of every German
mother” used to be to have an engineer for a son. Parents liked to see
boys assembling elaborate structures in their bedrooms; Lego is the top
toy brand in Germany. In contrast, the French shun construction toys,
preferring the world of the imagination. Playmobil is their leading toy

Most Playmobil figures are made in Malta and their accessories made in Germany. Playmobil plants are highly automated—its main factory in Bavaria is
strikingly empty, with tiny dinosaur arms or car parts falling from
unmanned injection moulds as a few blue-dungareed staff trundle about
on large tricycles. Its young customers are fickle and unpredictable,
meaning that production volumes often need swift tweaking. Like many
“fast fashion” chains, Playmobil suspects the lead times demanded by
factories in China are too long for it.

When the firm experimented with making toys in China four years ago,
the costs of moulds and raw materials were no lower than in Europe. And
it took too much time and effort to prod suppliers to set standards
high and keep them up.

Europeans are squeamish about warfare and armies. American shelves
groan under tanks and muscle-bound action heroes; European parents are
less keen. The firm [...] avoids links with violent licensed brands, such as
Spiderman, saying it prefers older stories that leave children's
imagination free to roam.

When it comes to race, Playmobil figures are almost all white. European children have never asked for anything else. American customers are different.

Article Link (Economist)

No comments: