Kirsten Irving

PRO

9 December 2015

Playing with words: copywriting for toys

Toy owlYou know the myth about Inuit people having 100 words for snow (as if there’s only one language in the frozen North)?

I’m nudging close to that with words for softness. I write about toys for a living, and for one of my favourite clients, softness is king.

Squishy, velvety, cloudy, cuddly after a few hours’ work, you enter a slightly hallucinogenic state, imagining snuggling up and going to sleep in a pile of teddies.

A strong coffee later, and it seems finding new, creative ways to express softness isn’t the only challenge in writing about these toys. There’s a sort of doublethink required for the online marketing copy, in that while the gift itself is intended primarily for a child sometimes a baby the person browsing is most likely to be an adult.

So targeted, so good. But even if the visitor is a hard-nosed banker by day, they’re shopping for a tot, so pitching a cuddly pony as you would a powerful car isn’t going to cut the mustard.

I can see it now:

Feel the power of the new Patchwork Pinto Pony. Soar to new heights as you imagine going clippity-clop down the vast open highway. Break free of the norm and hold on tight to that snuggly tasselled mane. Pinto. A force of nature.

On the other hand, nothing is a bigger turn-off to adults than patronising, babbling writing. So the biggest obstacle here is finding a middle ground. We need to remind adults of the joys of play, prompt nostalgia and help them to find the gift that feels right, for them, as well as for the child receiving it.

Toy musical dinosaurSilliness is a great tool in this task (see above example). There’s a reason Monty Python endures in the world’s heart, and it’s that surreal, daft, cheeky humour that allows us to experience being a kid again.

Familiar jokes, puns and wordplay appeal to all ages, and adding subtle rhyme and poetic rhythm can make even the writing process itself feel like a game.

One problem I hadn’t considered when I began writing about toys was innuendo. I’m not even sure now how much it matters, but I do doubt my own good taste at times. Is my mind in the gutter or is it better to spot a double-entendre before it pops up in Private Eye?

Certainly little ones won’t notice naughty puns, but the last thing a children’s brand wants is to invoke “Oo-er” in an adult at the point of purchase. Needless to say, bedtime as a concept has to be played very carefully.

Finally, in a time of change for the gender-segregated world of toys (the most recent victory for campaign group Let Toys Be Toys being the removal of separate boys’ and girls’ sections on the Toys R Us website), I also have the luxury of writing in a mostly gender-neutral way. This helps in avoiding gendered cliches and stereotypes, keeps a toy brand fresh and forward-thinking, and allows pure copy enthusiasm to reign. When you believe in something, you can write about it till the cow jumps over the moon.


Kirsten Irving is a freelance copywriter specialising in toys and games. She has written for children’s and adult brands, from SMEs to multinational companies. When not extolling the virtues of snuggles, she writes poetry and co-runs collaborative press Sidekick Books. @KoftheTriffids

  • Toy musical dinosaur

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Tam

December 21, 2015 at 4:14pm

Loved this insight. And totally relate to the rather comical lexical struggles copywriters often find themselves in. One of the perks of the job 🙂

PRO

Kirsten Irving

December 21, 2015 at 9:57pm

Thanks Tam – glad you enjoyed! There are definitely some moments where you only just catch something before it goes to the client and after that, absolutely everything looks naughty in some way. It’s like wearing innuendo goggles.

Willow Lloyd

September 16, 2016 at 10:10am

I’m really interested in copywriting for toys and board games! How did you get into this area? Any tips?

PRO

Kirsten Irving

September 16, 2016 at 10:35am

Believe it or not, my best client came from a cold call. I knew I was keen to work on toys, and a big kid at heart, so I browsed toy sites, looking to see if any of them had copy that could be sharpened. I rang this client just as they were about to work on a new website, and we’ve worked together ever since. I also subscribe to Toy News updates and follow a lot of toy industry people on Twitter. Hope that helps!