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A COVID-19 Advertising Success Story: Toys And Hobbies.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to shuttered schools and left millions of children in need of at-home activities. Desperate parents seeking solutions appear to be turning to low-tech crafts, toys and hobbies to fill the void.

According to eMarketer, citing March polling data from the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), 28% of U.S. internet users said they were planning to buy books in the next month due to the pandemic, and another 26% said they’d buy toys or arts & crafts supplies.

That’s not as substantial as things like food (84%), household supplies (72%) and beauty & personal items (52%), but it nonetheless demonstrates an increasingly central role that hobbies are now playing in Americans’ daily lives.

A report released last month by The NPD Group found U.S. toy industry sales grew 7.6% in the first quarter vs. a year earlier to $3.6 billion. That’s an increase of $256 million.

That’s not to say, however, that shoppers were in the market for Barbie dolls and action figures. They were, in fact, buying up family-friendly games, outdoor toys and art kits.

That trend proved to be bad news for Mattel, which counts Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels among its iconic brands. Its sales were down 14% in the latest quarter. At competitor Hasbro, meanwhile, sales of Monopoly board games and Play-Doh soared in March, despite what was still a challenging quarter overall.

A survey by GlobalWebIndex, also conducted in March, found that 32% of U.S. internet users 16-64 said they planned to spend more time with hobbies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An equal share, according to eMarketer, had planned to spend more time with social media. A slightly larger share planned to play more video games.

According to Pacvue, a software and services provider in the e-commerce space, search terms that appeared in the top 200 on Amazon during the month of April lends some insights into what consumers were pursuing: puzzles (and variants), board games, paint-by-number kits, Lego toys, balloons, sidewalk chalk and diamond painting.

“That translated into advertising opportunities for sellers of products in those categories and dramatic increases in ad spending compared with the same period last year,” eMarketer says. “Pacvue clients in the toys and games category saw average daily ad spending on Amazon skyrocket in late March.”

Others also saw surging sales in March. According to PubMatic, a supply-side ad-tracking platform, advertisers in the hobbies & interests category spent 31% more from March 15-18 than they had two weeks earlier. And from March 25-31, hobby and interest-related ad spending was still up 30% vs. the first week of the month.

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