Editor's Picks: We're Not Just Playing Around

With today’s hectic pace and the increasing amount of stress we shoulder, it’s no wonder that people are looking for more ways to play. Many of them turn to toys and games that teach, entertain and keep hands—big and little—busy. Digital games are popular today, but so are toys that are basic and uncomplicated. And you might be surprised who’s playing: a growing number of adults are reaping the benefits of play through games and toys.

The NPD Group, a market research company, says the trend of adults buying toys and games such as puzzles, building sets and action figures for themselves is continuing to grow. In fact, the research firm refers to this group of consumers as “kidults.” Millennials account for almost half (48 percent) of the spending in this group, followed by Gen Xers and Boomers at 28 and 24 percent, respectively.

The “kidult” trend is not just influencing the retail toy market, but it is also alive and well in the promotional products industry. “I think it’s safe to say most promotional toys and games sold today are geared toward adults,” says Mark Jenkins, MAS+, managing director, promotional markets, for Wichita, Kansas-based supplier Pioneer Balloon Company. “Having said that, children’s toys also remain a viable giveaway for adults to re-gift to their kids.” 

Toy Category Drivers

David Goldfarb, MAS, product manager for Garden Grove, California-based supplier Evans Manufacturing, attributes the rising popularity of adults buying toys to the influx of Millennial workers. “As Millennials have increased their presence in companies, the importance of fun in the workplace has risen,” he says. “Promotional items that are fun and engaging let clients know that a company has a fun, dynamic culture that promotes team building.”

The size of the total toy industry in the U.S. is estimated at approximately $28 billion annually, according to data from The NPD Group, and it includes arts and crafts, games and puzzles, building sets, plush toys and others.

“We’re seeing a growing popularity in toys and games in general,” says Robbie Reynolds, director of digital marketing for Celina, Ohio-based supplier Visions/Awardcraft. “We believe this is due to people looking for more meaningful connections. What better way to bring people and brands together than with a fun game?”

Reynolds says she is seeing distributors buying products that are more innovative and different than she’s seen in the past 15 years. “With the rise of social media in today’s culture, people love to share their experiences,” she adds. “If we can create a product and experience that is worthy of sharing, that is a marketing opportunity.”

Trends In Toys

In the promotional products industry’s toy category, don’t expect to see just cuddly teddy bears. Kelsey Schrader, account manager for Allentown, Pennsylvania-based supplier Artistic Toys, says the most popular types of toy animals today are the more unexpected: sloths, llamas, unicorns and dinosaurs. “Customers are also looking for sequined, glitter and metallic prints,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Goldfarb is seeing a rising demand for desktop versions of popular games such as Jenga, cornhole and foosball. He says these types of products work well for campaigns that emphasize healthy relationships and teamwork, as well as strategic planning.

During the warm summer months, outdoor games and toys are popular choices for corporate gifts and incentives, says Kevin Hagan, vice president of sales for St. Louis, Missouri-based supplier Incentive Concepts. “Distributors often suggest outdoor games to casinos for loyalty programs or as a bulk-buy gift for frequent players,” he adds. “Whether it’s an outdoor or indoor game, bringing friends and family together for fun competition creates amazing memories for the recipient.” 

Product safety is a key factor to consider before making a buy, since any toy or game can end up in a child’s hands. The sources we spoke with emphasized the importance of ensuring that products comply with all U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) product safety requirements.

“Product safety is top of mind in purchasing children’s products, regardless of the age of the item’s immediate recipient,” Jenkins says. “End buyers and distributors are increasingly aware and concerned that their brands are not associated with a risky inferior product.” 

The CPSIA provides four factors to consider in determining whether an item is a children’s product: a manufacturer’s statement, including labeling; the product display, such as packaging and advertising; whether the product is commonly recognized as intended for use by a child; and age grading. Find details and additional resources at www.ppai.org/media/1802/pr-bp-determining-childrens-products.pdf.


Celestial is a soft, eight-inch unicorn that is best decorated with an imprinted bandana. It adds a mystical touch to brands at trade shows and other events. Safe for children of all ages.

Artistic Toys & Promotions   /   PPAI 110753  /  www.artistictoy.com


Both entertaining and challenging, this Cube Maze relieves stress and keeps hands busy. Simply twist the six-sided interactive cube to release the ball and rotate it through each side. A one-color imprint in one location is standard but a full-color front imprint is also available.

BIC Graphic NA  /  PPAI  114187   /  www.bicgraphic.com


Your client’s promotion will fly high with the flying disk that folds into a matching case. Made of durable polyester so their brand will endure through rain or shine, this is a useful and fun item for those visiting parks and other outdoor spaces this summer and fall, and for RV parks and campsites.

Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant/Lanco   /   PPAI 111662  /  www.chocolateinn.com


Designed for a spin time of up to two minutes, the Safety Spin-It helps relieve stress and reduce boredom. This promotional toy’s bearings and weights are permanently molded in plastic, so they won’t fall out, and it has a large imprint area on the center cap to continuously promote your client’s brand or message.

Evans Manufacturing   /   PPAI 110747   /   www.evans-mfg.com


Bowl over your competition with this giant inflatable bowling set. Providing hours of fun for ages six and up, it includes six inflatable bowling pins, one giant inflatable bowling ball, a hand pump, instructions and a polyester carrying case.

Vitronic   /   PPAI 114197   /  www.vitronicpromotional.com


Reveal your message with lottery-style Scratch-n-Win Cards, which feature a full-color customizable front with gold scratch-off coating applied in any shape or location. These scratch cards are an attractive way to hide discounts, promotional offers, quiz answers or secret messages. They are perfect for training and education programs, and for workplace safety quizzes in addition to retail discount coupons and lottery-style games.

California Tattoos    /    PPAI 111028    /   www.californiatattoos.com


Help build your client’s brand by piggy-backing on the highly popular sport of cornhole, a game in which players take turns throwing small, weighted bags to hit the hole in a raised platform. A bag in the hole scores three points, while one on the platform scores one point. Now the Double Chuck, a contagiously fun mini tabletop game, is available to the promotional products industry because of a partnership between Visions/Awardcraft and the American Cornhole Association.

Visions Award Craft  /  PPAI 110751  /  www.visionsawardcraft.com


The perfect gift for the executive who’s always having to make decisions, the Executive Decision Maker is a “magic” answer ball that can be customized with your client’s logo. Ask a question, shake the ball and watch for the answer to pop up, including “Sleep on it,” “Danger!” and “Ask tomorrow.” This fortune-telling ball is a fun and creative choice for a corporate gift, incentive or premium.

Alpi International, Ltd.   /   PPAI 111221   /   www.alpi.net


The Triumph Sports Wood Quoit Set is a safe, entertaining toss game that plays like horseshoes. Quoit involves throwing the rope rings a set distance to land on or near a pin. The tournament quoit pitching distance is 21 feet between pins, but this quoit set can be played at any fun pitching distance. Score points by tossing ringers or landing rings on the wood target platform. It’s a unique choice for training, recognition and outdoor events.

Incentive Concepts   /   PPAI 212912  /   www.incentiveconcepts.com 


Roll the dice and bet on a successful promotional campaign with these Traveler Dominoes, which come in a convenient carrying case for on-the-go games. This mini domino set makes a great giveaway for regional and national trade shows, or for casino or Las Vegas-themed events. The zippered pouch can be customized with your client’s imprint to make a lasting brand impression.

Jornik Manufacturing Corp.   /    PPAI 111065    /    www.jornik.com


A budget-friendly way to get the message out, the AdPunch Ball comes in a variety of colors and has an attached rubber band. These promotional balls can drive traffic at trade shows, grand openings and outdoor festivals, or used as fundraisers for clubs or after-school programs. 

Pioneer Balloon   /   PPAI 113823   /    www.pioneerline.com 


Play a favorite childhood game again and again with the Tic Tac Toe Desktop Game. Made of sturdy wood for classic appeal and as a safer alternative to plastic or metal, this stylish desktop size features nine rotating blocks with a full-color front imprint.

BIC Graphic NA   /   PPAI  114187  /   www.bicgraphic.com


Inspired by Japanese Shinto Kumi-ki puzzles, the Areaware Cubebot is a non-traditional take on the toy robot. This promotional toy’s powerful hardwood frame can hold dozens of poses, and its elastic-band muscles and durable wooden limbs make it impervious to breakage. Keep your hands busy for hours and when it’s time to rest, the Cubebot folds into a perfect cube for everyday carry convenience and endless exposure.

International Merchandise Concepts  /  PPAI 112198  /   www.imc-miracles.com




A memory care rehabilitation facility needed a promotional piece to help patients with memory therapy. The facility chose the Jumbo Promo Blocks promotional toy designed with two different sets of words. The patient was given the word order and the unassembled blocks and asked to put the toy together in the correct order. Different sets were created for those with dementia and those with traumatic brain injuries. Full-color printing on one side of the jumbo blocks serves as a constant reminder of the care facility.

Source: Beacon Promotions


A special report by The Genius Of Play conducted with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center confirms that children learn critical developmental skills through play, including the ability to tap into their imaginations—a key skill that helps develop out-of-the-box thinking. And having an active imagination serves children throughout their lives. A survey of more than 1,500 CEOs from 33 industries around the world report believing that creativity is important in navigating our increasingly complex world. Developing this creativity comes through play, which helps cultivate innovative-thinking adults who can find solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

  •  Increases energy and prevents burnout
  • Triggers creativity and innovation
  • Helps see problems in new ways
  • Relieves stress
  • Refreshes the mind and body
  • Encourages teamwork

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees. Throw parties, put a basketball hoop in the parking lot, arrange a miniature golf tournament, stage an office treasure hunt.
  • Encourage creative thinking or just lighten the mood of meetings by keeping tactile puzzles on the conference room table.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks from their desks, and spend a few minutes engaged in a fun activity, such as a word or number game.

Source: HelpGuide.org


Brittany Glenn is a Plano, Texas-based writer and a former associate editor of PPB.

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