When I first told my mom that I thought I wanted to pursue a career in toy design, she was ecstatic that I had finally pinpointed a career path to pursue. Within minutes, however, she turned to me, her eyebrows knitted together, and asked: “Okay, but how do you get into such a profession?” Looking back at her, I opened and then closed my mouth, because honestly, I had no idea.
As I would soon discover, no one else seemed to know very much in regards as to how to enter such an industry either. Only a handful of obscure art schools offer a degree in “Toy Design,” my guidance counselor’s confused expression when asked about such a degree was no help, and every time I contacted one of the large toy companies to inquire about the education required for employment I only received a generic scripted e-mail from customer service expressing that my satisfaction was very important to them. After a few weeks of fruitless efforts, I was stuck and more than a little frustrated. I knew what I wanted, I just had no idea how in the world to get there.
That’s when I found the answer in the most unconventional of places: Instagram. After an aggravating hour spent on the phone with an automated recording that was supposed to be a representative for Mattel’s Career department, I hung up the phone and pulled up the app in an attempt to try and clear my head. As I thumbed through the colorful pictures of the Explore page, one particular post caught my eye. Opening it up, I saw the picture was in fact what I thought it was: a cluster of what looked like prototype sketches for some Barbie dolls. Intrigued by what I saw, I tapped on the user who had shared the picture. As the page opened I was greeted with a bio that caught me off guard: “Senior designer for Barbie Signature at Mattel.” Turns out the page I had stumbled upon belonged to one of the head designers at Mattel, the largest toy producer in the world. Fascinated by what I had just found, I started to poke through the rest of his page, tapping through shots of his office at the company’s headquarters and early sketches of dolls he had designed. As I reached the end of his page, I sat back in disbelief. I had spent hours trying unsuccessfully to secure information on how to gain a career in the toy industry, and yet here was the answer, only a few taps away in my Instagram app. It was perfect: here was someone who had achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve, and they were only one direct message away. I was thrilled.
As it turns out, Carl Lenuera, the designer whose page I had found, was more than happy to help me. He told me all about the different routes he and his colleagues had taken to get to the positions they are now, including education, apprenticeships, and a whole host of other things. In addition to that, he also gave me the contact information of other top industry professionals he knew who would be willing to talk to me.
More than two years later, and I am now heading off to college and embarking on a path that was constructed and revised based upon the advice of those professionals I was able to connect with using Instagram.
Social media’s influence within my life doesn’t end here, however. While Instagram helped me connect with those in the toy industry and formulate my future career plan, social media will also play a large role in my life once I have secured a position as a toy designer.
When I was little, television advertisements were the primary way used to sell toys to American children. That was a decade ago, however, and times have changed. Today toy companies have moved away from sandwiching their products in between afternoon cartoons and have instead diverted their attention to another platform: social media (Feldman). The recent years have seen a staggering uptick in the popularity of review and unboxing videos shared on sites such as Youtube and Tumblr, a phenomenon many toy companies have decided to utilize in order to market their product (Feldman). MGA, the world’s largest privately held toy company, did just that when it launched the L.O.L. Surprise Dolls line this past year, opting to forgo traditional advertising to instead capitalize upon the popularity of toy-review YouTube channels such as DCTC Toy Channel and CookieSwirlC, who together boast over 11.6 million subscribers (Feldman). By sending their new products to such channels for review, MGA secured over 44 million views on videos discussing the new product venture (Feldman). This paid off big, helping the line’s sales to increase 500% each week in December 2016, causing the NPD Group to rank L.O.L. Surprise Dolls as the number one doll product as of March 2017(Feldman). Promoting a product is all about reaching as much of one’s target audience as possible, and as evident from MGA’s success, social media is shaping up to be one of, if not the most important, tool in the promotion of toys, and will, therefore, play a large role in my future career as a toy designer. In such a career it will be crucial that I can design toys that kids not only like, but that can also be marketed within the social media platforms that kids these days are so enraptured by. In the world of unboxing videos and reviews, toys that are heavily interactive receive more attention and coverage, as they provide more content for the maker of the video to work with. As a toy designer, I will have to consider such intricacies about what makes social media promotion successful, as my designs will have to be compatible with social media marketing.
As one can tell, social media has not only played an important role in my life thus far but will continue to do so as I move forward and enter the workforce. From helping me secure the information I needed in order to construct my educational path, to be a crucial aspect of my future occupation, social media will continue to act as an important aspect of my life for many years to come.