Is the boom in jigsaws and board games a blip on the entertainment radar, or the beginning of the rebirth of a category? Coley Porter Bell's John Clark imagines the future of analog entertainment post-lockdown.
In a world that has suddenly shrunk to the confines of our homes, with face to face interaction limited to those who we live with, many of us have turned to simple pleasures to fill our lockdown lives.
While books and TV are obvious ways of filling our time at home, and food has taken up a much bigger mental load beyond what fills our plates at mealtimes, people are also rediscovering stress-relieving pastimes that may have long been forgotten.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a massive spike in searches for old-fashioned leisure and play products. Looking at Google search, ‘jigsaws’, ‘board games’ and ‘puzzles’ reached peak popularity between 29 March and 4 April – the first two weeks of lockdown in the UK.
Sales of games and puzzles rose by 240% in the week ending 21 March, compared with the same period last year, according to the NPD Group. And among the top 10 best-selling toys were classic board games Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo. As people combat their isolation and look for ways of bringing the family together, they have returned to the most familiar products and brands.
There are also new kids on the games block. From a Friends-themed version of Monopoly to Love Island: The Game to Weird Things Humans Search For (which has turned the strangest Google searches into offline entertainment), all interests are covered.
While we don’t know either when or how we will emerge from lockdown Britain, this vastly restricted, home-based life will come to an end eventually. But with change comes opportunity, and so it will be for those brands that have enjoyed an upsurge in lockdown.
For the brands and businesses that have faired so well in this period, their concern – once the immediate fulfillment of these boosted orders is met – will be how to maintain shoppers’ interest.
One possibility is that restrictions will be lifted by age, in which case we will see activities that older people can do at home remain of interest for longer. Some brands could benefit from marketing to and embracing older consumers in a way that’s rarely seen in our youth-obsessed times.
If only small gatherings are initially allowed, with pubs and restaurants or bigger events still closed, increased sales of board games could continue as the focus of activity for these smaller groups. The behaviours we’ve adopted in our households may well extend to the first, tentative, social gatherings.
As world views change throughout this extended period of isolation, and an appreciation of local businesses and amenities evolves, brands looking to keep up interest levels in these basic pleasures should look to tie-in with the local. Might we see an upsurge in local membership activities such as golf clubs, sports clubs, scouts and the Women’s Institute?
Brands would benefit from people’s increased interest in their immediate communities and locality by supporting local community activity groups instead of – or in addition to – international sponsorships. Think grassroots football over the UEFA Europa League, local cricket clubs as well as T20. Remember that Coca-Cola once sponsored school football cups and NatWest has supported local cricket clubs alongside national teams with its England Cricket Board sponsorship.
If there’s the potential for an experiential component to a company’s product, this could be the gateway to maintaining interest when we’re leading less-confined existences. Jigsaw and puzzle companies could extend into outdoor hunts and problem-solving games. Or maybe we’ll see a return to free gifts in cereal packets but with the onus on little games to play, or cards to add to an already-purchased game.
We don’t know exactly how people’s behaviour will change when we return to some form of normality but there is huge potential for those brands that have proved popular in lockdown to build on this base.
Families and households have once more turned to design classics – solid tangible products – in times of trouble. These will remain in people’s homes for years with new-found customer loyalty that has all the potential to grow in our post-Covid lives.
John Clark is strategy director of Coley Porter Bell