Anomaly Made By Many Barbie

Great expectations: intelligent toys and the future of marketing


By Johnny Vulkan | founding partner

April 20, 2015 | 4 min read

From Hackaballs to Osmos to Barbies with brains, the next generation of consumers is growing up with vastly different toy boxes and understandings of the world. And, according to Anomaly founding partner Johnny Vulkan, vastly different expectations as to how businesses might communicate with them.


I’m a big fan of the minds at Made by Many, so supporting their latest venture on Kickstarter, ‘Hackaball’ (pictured), was an easy decision to make. Not only is it an interesting product idea in its own right – a customisable ball where kids can program their own rules and games – it’s also indicative of something long-term marketing thinkers need to start taking into account.

The last couple of years have seen huge growth in highly interactive, intelligent and adaptive toys for kids. A talking Barbie ‘with brains’ was shown off at last month’s Toy Fair that will not only keep your child engaged but ‘learn’ their preferences and interests over time. Meanwhile simple ideas like Osmo’s extension to the iPad are bridging the gap between physical play and technology, where the technology is simply a facilitator to physical play, not the focus of it.

Of course this is all very interesting if you’re preoccupied with what you’re getting your kids/nieces/nephews for their next birthday, but our focus should actually be a couple of years further ahead and towards what this may mean for communications, products and marketing in general.

The next generation of consumer is growing up with vastly different expectations about the world around them, how products act and how businesses may communicate with them.

You can see clues to what this may look like in Motorola’s Project Ara, a modular mobile phone that you can completely customise – and not just by colour or material, but the types of camera, battery and processor. This is much more profound than the play factor found in Nike ID; it’s something that will potentially impact every aspect of the electronics industry.

And what can Barbie tell us? She’s ultimately a more compelling but simplistic manifestation of what is already happening behind the scenes with data and the stories it can tell. Siri in a body. Now start adding in the new data that will be collected by your home (through smart thermostats, door-locks, and cameras) and the biometrics from your new Apple Watch.

Replace the character of Barbie with the character of a ‘doctor’ and the conversations we will be having with ‘machines’ evolve very quickly.

The ‘doctor’ has noticed you have the heating turned up while your activity levels have gone down and you haven’t left the house today. It also knows the flu is trending in your area. The ‘doctor’ sends you a message via WhatsApp – “would you like some Theraflu delivered by Uber in the next 15 minutes?”.

No ‘ads’ involved, just a bidding war to be the brands that solve the questions our data is asking before we’ve even thought to ask.

It’s a well known truth that we learn a great deal from our kids. We can probably learn a great deal from the toys they are playing with as well.

Anomaly Made By Many Barbie

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