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consumer electronics show 2021 youth research

Mary McIlrath

Late in 2018, I was presenting to a kids media company, and the inevitable question came at the end: “What do you think will be the next big thing?” I replied, “Did you watch the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror? I think it’s only a matter of time before that kind of choose-your-adventure hits the scene more broadly.” Well, it took a couple of years and a pandemic, but we’re almost there. Here’s what we’ve been noticing:

From the 2021 virtual Consumer Electronics Show (It’s More than Just Gadgets)

Some might say that voting is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure, though it must be done in teams and has higher stakes than watching a TV program. Snapchat users rallied to get out the vote ahead of the 2020 election and signed up more than a million first-time voters—most of them Generation Z (ages 18-24).  This makes total sense—it wasn’t safe to go knocking on doors or flagging shoppers down at supermarkets, but social media is the new grassroots way to connect.

Retail similarly exposed people to new ways of doing things, and during the pandemic, we saw a surge in delivery services for grocery and other goods, as well as e-commerce tools like Buy Online, Pick Up in Store (BOPUS, also known as click and collect). Of course, people who hadn’t tried them before did so because they had to—and the head of Alibaba reports that first-time users generally found it “fun and easy” to use such tools.

Let’s not leave sports out of the conversation. Sure, virtual fans are drooling over the new drone camera shots for every sport, especially fast-moving ones from the NHL and NBA. Those will surely stick around once fans are allowed back into stadiums. But right now, the viewer can’t switch between cameras on their own—stay tuned for next season, though. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch a game from over the goalie’s shoulder? We think that’s about as close to virtual reality as you can get without wearing a headset. For practice, when camera selection comes to fan homes, you can practice switching camera angles in NHL 21.

College used to be a choose-your-life-experience out from under your parents’ thumbs, but given restrictions during COVID-19, the on-campus lifestyle has been devalued. Virtual higher education is gaining steam and allowing traditional and nontraditional students far more options for continuing education than any single university ever could. 

From ChiTAG (Chicago Toys and Games Conference)

Kids researchSince the NY Toy Fair for 2021 was canceled, we tuned in to the ChiTAG virtual event and saw similar evidence of customization in play leading the way.  In fairness, toys have been moving in this direction since, well, the invention of the LEGO. Even the Etch-a-Sketch allows the “player” to have any adventure their heart desires (we loved the breaks in the virtual content featuring Princess Etch’s creations). That said, toys are becoming increasingly customizable—at ChiTAG we saw E-Blox, plastic snap-together circuit boxes that can be assembled many different ways, and even light up—and our favorite in their line are the Story Blox that utilize the toys and QR codes to jumpstart imaginative play escapades.

Then there’s the annual Young Inventors Challenge, which is the ultimate in making up adventures and bringing them to life. This year we saw lots of kinetics—toys for squishing and stomping (sounds like great stress relief during quarantine or anytime). There were also board games, crafting kits, and our favorite, the animatronic chicken. These are all prototypes, so not quite available at your local retailer yet, but they underscore the limitlessness of children’s imaginations and forging their own entertainment paths.

It could be argued that the transition to streaming TV services and away from traditional cable is mainstream adventure-choosing for families who cobble together curated collections of Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Peacock, the coming-soon Paramount+, and many more. Now the electronics and toy industries are offering cutting-edge ways to customize. What can your brand do to make your customers feel that they’re in the driver’s seat?

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