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Beyond Novelty: How Toys Reflect Our World and the Future

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Q&A with Charlie Anderson of Mattel

Charlie Anderson, director of worldwide trade show services for ‎Mattel, knows first-hand how toys can influence and enrich our lives. We caught up with Charlie just a few days after Mattel wrapped its 24th year of dazzling fans of all ages at New York Toy Fair.

Here, Charlie discusses what today’s toys tell us about the future, how digital rules the game, the beauty of visual storytelling in brand experiences, and why embracing childhood wonder and play, even as adults, makes life fun. 

Q: You just completed New York Toy Fair. How was the show?

CA: It was fantastic — hands down the best year I've experienced. My view of that includes the success of our partnerships and a smooth installation, which transforms an empty 45,000-square-foot space into a Mattel presence.


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Q: As a seasoned veteran of Mattel, what do you like most about working in this industry? I mean other than playing with toys, obviously!

CA: Yes, I am a big child, certainly, and a fanboy — I enjoy all our toys! I also enjoy being on the front lines communicating and engaging with consumers and customers, and helping shape and share how Mattel aspires to impact the world — there's no other place I'd want to be. 

Q: You mentioned Mattel impacting the world. What are some examples of how our world and our culture has impacted toys and the way they’re marketed?

CA: That major push in toys is the diversity and inclusion aspect of play and how it models and shapes the people and the future world we're all envisioning. I think it's a great marker in time — what we’re focusing on, how we’re looking at the world, and what the world responds to.

For example, we have the DC Superhero Girls, an action figure line — it just won the Best Action Figure Line at Toy Fair this year, which is really fantastic. And the Barbie Fashionistas with the new body styles, which also won at Toy Fair — these create diversity in the world of Barbie. Both allow more accessibility and real-life play patterns girls can relate to.

For campaigns, we have “Dads Who Play Barbie,” which is another wonderful addition to the storyline. It’s celebrating how fathers can be an influence in play, too, since so much of toy marketing is mom-centric. As a father of two small children, I feel more included these days!

Q: What do you think today’s toys tell us about the future?

CA: It’s our digital world — the digital platforms and the variety of opportunities available to both parents and children. That's really impacting the industry, our culture, and the future. It couldn't be a more essential time to be in the business, so we're excited for what's on the horizon. 

Q: How does Mattel weave in education through play to influence the young minds of tomorrow?

CA: Each brand has its focus and what it is trying to accomplish in the world, starting with early childhood development, learning, and up. More than ever, it’s about building skills that are useful and relatable now, as well as later in life, by connecting play patterns and products that lead to creating healthy, well-rounded, critical thinkers. Schools have a huge role in this obviously, but it also can be set up, supported, and driven by products and play. 

Q: We believe you don’t have to be an artist to be creative because it’s an essential life skill. How does Mattel cultivate creativity and innovation?

One of the benefits of a company like Mattel is having an expansive portfolio. There's something for each consumer to engage in from an early age, all the way to the adult collector world — you get to stay a kid as long as possible; the brands grow with you. You can engage and return to memories of your childhood and the great experiences you had. There’s artistic output and creativity within that.


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Q: Mattel creates immersive connections through storytelling, which naturally occurs with toys. So, how do you extend storytelling through marketing and brand experiences?

CA: It's a constant challenge to bring in someone who has no history, understanding, or relevance to a new brand or product and make an immediate connection. It's the strength of the story we create and how we leverage it. Everything has a story — that's marketing 101.

So as people, how can we get hooked in? We can be hooked by a sentence, a visual, or a moment — suddenly we relate deeply; that hook gets our interest and we want to know more. It's like the first line of a book. Did that line make someone want to continue reading, or have you lost them on the first sentence? That's the creativity and artistry of expressing and translating storytelling into an opportunity. 

Q: What would you say about the value of play and holding on to that spirit of wonder?

CA: Play is such an essential part of humanity — as we grow into adulthood, it’s not necessary to leave behind the interests and excitement we had during childhood. We need balance, and we need to fit play into our daily lives. When we lose sight of that and start taking ourselves too seriously, we go down a path I don't believe we're built for.

There are times in life when you find yourself saying, "I'm an adult now. I'm going to stop doing this or that." Like what I said about feeling like a big kid. But in this day and age, you don't need to let go of those childhood connections because they can stay relevant your entire life. 

For more perspectives on our Global Outlook, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience.


What you need to know to stay ahead of the ever-changing experiential marketing curve.

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