Meet Toca Boca: a strange, playful, gender-neutral lifestyle brand for kids
If you haven’t heard of Toca Boca, you may not be dissatisfied with this 6-9 year old suit. Since its inception in 2010, Swedish game developers have created 39 application games for children, resulting in more than 200 million downloads and a dominant share of the paid children’s app market. According to the head of consumer product Mathilda Engman, Toca Boca’s mission is to promote and encourage open games through games that don’t have to be “winned.” In the colorful, quirky Toca universe, children become kitchen scholars, hair stylists, and surgeons in training. Now, Toca Boca is focused on a new way to reach its audience: the clothing and accessories branch launched at Target in July. Here’s how Engman and her team can extend the way children (and their parents) interact with Toca Boca products on-screen and off-screen.
Use what you know to figure out what you don’t know
Toca Boca’s grey cat backpack has toy-like features, including overhanging fish that can be fed to cats.
Although Toca Boca does not have direct experience with physical consumer goods, the company does have a mission and method that can be applied to a range of backpacks, bedding and children’s clothing. First of all, there is Toca Boca aesthetic, which combines strangeness and fantasy with everyday objects and characters. (The company’s logo – a smiley face full of yellow, blue, green and pink teeth – was eventually used on one of the T-shirts.) Toca Boca also has many years of consumer research. One major benefit: When playing an app, kids will click on each scene, character and props on the screen to discover amazing features and mini-games. So Engman applied this idea to the Target series, effectively turning each product into a toy. For example, a gray backpack with a cat face and orange ears is like a stuffed animal with a small fishing trip that children can feed. “Our goal is to make toys with everything,” Engman said. “You can play backpacks. You can make stories for the characters that are stacked on the legs of the sports pants.”
Find collaborators who share your values
This heather grey dress features a minimalist half moon pattern and a scientific beaker from the popular Toca Lab app.
The Stockholm-based company insists on its four core objectives – gaming, innovation, quality and inclusiveness – and is looking for partners with this vision. Toca Boca found a strategic playmate at Target and in 2015 canceled the gender designation in the toy department. “We believe these details are very important because we want children to be able to play together, regardless of gender or other type of background,” Engman said. “We need [our partners] to understand our brand and we need to be hands-on. We don’t want to impose any gender roles in our products.” When this line was officially launched, Target agreed to place the product in some stores. Between the girl and the boy’s clothing part, as a recognition of the Toca Boca spirit.
Know when to reinvest
Nimbus Cream Throw Pillow looks like a stuffed animal and is a physical iteration of the characters in the Toca Life app game.
If you go too far, the advantage may become a liability. Engman knows that children tend to Toca Boca’s stupid, occasionally ridiculously humorous brand (there is an anthropomorphic hamburger peeked out of the company’s new shirt pocket). But the company’s research shows that dozens of products and children (and importantly with parents) have not met the standards. A piece of clothing is characterized by a cloud of “very intense and meticulous facial expressions,” Engeman said. “It was pushed into the air by its flatulence. This design caused the giggle of older boys, but alienated girls and young children. Since then, the project has evolved into a pink cheek rain cloud pillow with orange sneakers. “We found a very unique style that didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” she said.
Rebel in your constraints
Part of Toca Boca’s gender-neutral vision includes color, like the boy of this coral T-shirt, with “quick” laziness.
Although Toca Boca wants its products to appeal to children of all genders, the company knows that Target.com ultimately needs to classify some of its apparel products as “girls” or “boys” to make online search and shopping easier. But Engman’s team took this as an opportunity to challenge traditional norms and perceptions of gender clothing by balancing classics, functional styles and subtle border-driven themes and color schemes. A “boy” T-shirt has a lazy cross with arms crossed, but the color is coral. The “Girls’” dress is part of the collection, but one of them is neutral grey with a stitched scientific beaker logo – an image pulled directly from the popular Toca Lab application series. “We tried to break the rules of color and printing,” Engman said. “We want our children to be able to pick anything from the collection, not even considering whether it should be a boy or a girl.”