It all started with panty hose and seeds—and lots of them. Back in 1994, university friends Ronnen Harary, Anton Rabie, and Ben Varadi founded what would eventually become children’s entertainment company Spin Master with just $10,000 and a novelty product called Earth Buddy. That initial creation was simply a small wooden head covered with pantyhose that was then filled with grass seeds so users could water it and grow “hair.”
Since then, Spin Master has continued to develop, manufacture, and market consumer products for children, becoming a leader in the toy industry. The company has garnered sixty-three nominations in the last fifteen years for the Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year award, winning top honours sixteen times.
Tara Tucker, vice president of global marketing communications, is focused on expanding the Toronto-based organization on a global scale by connecting children with the toys and entertainment products the company creates.
Here, Tucker speaks to Advantage about Spin Master’s culture of collaboration and innovation, how it spreads joy to children all over the world, and why it’s important to ensure that women are represented in the toy industry.
What is Spin Master’s take on innovation? What product or initiatives exemplify its stance?
A recent example would be the acquisition of the classic brand Etch A Sketch. We took an iconic, 115-year-old brand and introduced robotic technology to it. We are hoping to infuse innovation and tech as we’ve done with other acquisitions like Meccano. With Etch A Sketch, we recently broke our third world record with the company’s first Etch A Sketch Day.
We also look for strategic acquisitions. We incubate ideas and work with inventors. Innovation is a pillar of who we are and it’s supported by partnerships.
Did you Know?
Initially known as Seiger Marketing, Spin Master was renamed after it sold 600,000 units of its Devil Sticks product, a set of batons that can be twirled to perform tricks.
What role do partnerships play in how Spin Master innovates?
They truly go hand in hand because a great idea can come from anywhere. We collaborate with internal or external partners and use those ideas to develop the most innovative toys or games or entertainment properties we can.
Partnerships are a cornerstone of the company. We also work and collaborate with our retailers from a media standpoint and our network partners. My belief is that it is really important for all these brands to also be content providers on some level. That can, for example, take shape as a series of videos that tell a brand’s story. Everything needs to be authentic and available to consumers on multiple platforms.
Why do you think the company has been able to continually find success?
We look for the “wow factor.” We’ve studied play patterns and are attuned to what works with children. When we evaluate different innovations, we select the ones that have, in some capacity, a magical element when a child engages with them. Those are the ones we continue to support.
A perfect example is our Zoomer brand. Initially, when our inventors brought it to us, it looked like a car. But when our internal development team looked at it, they saw the movements lent themselves really well to an animal. The inventors agreed and it evolved into our first robotic animal toy. Then we added voice recognition and technology where it could follow your hand, stand up and dance, and fall down and get back up. Zoomer technology has now evolved to include a sense of humour too. The Zoomer Chimp can laugh, respond, and engage with kids. Ultimately, it was about always asking: What is it that would excite the child within?
We also speak to the kids. If the kid doesn’t like it or enjoy it, they’re not going to use it. Our toys have to be an item a child wants, covets, and enjoys. When you look at our entertainment properties, that’s who we’re writing for, not for the adults.
What is the role of your global marketing team?
My team is a center of excellence that supports our global business units. We have a robotics global business unit, activities, remote control brand, traditional games, a gaming division, and more. We even have an entertainment unit that produces Spin Master content, such as PAW Patrol—a global phenomenon which airs in more than 160 countries and territories around the world.
We support global business units in media. We plan and buy all of the media activations—everything from traditional TV commercials to digital video and in-app advertising. On top of that, we conduct tests and learn what we can do better. We try to infuse the innovation you see in our products into our media. As soon as a line is being developed, we discuss the messaging to infuse the magic in our media.
Can you speak a little about The Toy Movement and its importance to the company?
The Toy Movement started with our founder, Ronnen Harary, and our global president, Ben Gadbois. We deliver toys all around the world to children who are displaced for various reasons. From refugee camps to orphanages, it’s a versatile movement that came about after our founder saw a doll on display in a very modest home. It was a tattered doll, but it was there in a place of honour. He was inspired by how important that simple toy was to the child, and how her eyes lit up when she played with it. There’s an intangible magic when children play and discover toys, and we want to ensure that all children—regardless of their situation or circumstance—have the opportunity to play and have fun.
2016 Activity Toy of the Year winner for Bunchems
2016 Innovative Toy of the Year for Meccanoid G15
2015 Toy of the Year and Boy Toy of the Year for Zoomer Dino
2014 Game of the Year winner for Boom Boom Balloon
2014 Innovative Toy of the Year winner for Zoomer
You were recently recognized as a Wonder Woman in Toys by Women in Toys—why is it important to recognize women in the toy industry?
The toy industry has been geared toward males. But that is changing—just as it is with a lot of industries. It’s a great way to really support women, and mentorship is something I truly believe in. Both Women in Toys and Spin Master are involved in several mentorship programs. At Spin Master we have a buddy program, and externally we mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
What do you think is unique about working at Spin Master and the toy industry?
Not many people think about the toy industry in terms of careers. It goes under the radar, but the industry received 7 percent growth last year in the United States. In times of recession, parents will sacrifice some discretionary funds for themselves in order to provide something special for their child.
The toy industry is a seasonal one. It’s fickle and trends spread like wildfire—such as Pokémon Go. It wasn’t an overnight success—the brand has been around for many years. But it’s a great example of infusing technology—something we’re similarly doing to legacy brands. Ultimately, it’s about not only looking at the competition but also always looking ahead.
Spin Master has grown from three friends with a single product to one of the top five toy companies in North America, but we have never lost our entrepreneurial spirit. It makes coming to work every day incredibly exciting in a way that few other companies could replicate.