Books awaken collecting gene from early age

Research seen exclusively by Marketing Week reveals the concept of collecting starts developing at an early age, and that brands can help nurture children’s creative spirit.


We were all young once, but it’s easy to forget what motivates children to start collecting. And new research seen exclusively by Marketing Week shows children’s attitudes to collectables hold even more secrets than we might realise.

The study, conducted by The Marketing Store across the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and Ireland, has discovered the most popular items collected by children are books. They are collected by 44% of respondents, beating video games, trading cards, stickers and soft toys in the top five.

The finding goes hand-in-hand with the insight that reading is the most popular activity for primary school children when spending time alone. Among the sample of 1,200 six to 11-year-olds, books are the most popular item collected at each age, and lead overall in four of the six countries including the UK.

Amassing a series of books, such as Harry Potter, Disney or Eye Witness guides, is particularly appealing, according to Andrew Macintyre, associate publisher at Dorling Kindersley’s children’s division (see The Frontline, below).

In the UK, 51% of children say they collect books. This is especially remarkable given the finding that 72% of children in the UK have their own handheld games console, 51% own a television and 51% own a mobile phone.

In the UK, 51% of children say they collect books

Wendy Lanchin, director of planning and strategy at The Marketing Store, comments: “Books remain a very important part of children’s learning. Although they do a lot of learning on screen at school, they obviously do a lot of book learning as well and it reinforces the fact that owning a narrative is still more personal and user-friendly than trying to read a story on screen.”

There is, however, a notable drop-off in the popularity of books as children get older. At age 11, only 37% of children across the six countries say they collect books, compared with 49% of six-year-olds and 43% of 10-year-olds. This coincides with a dramatic increase in their online independence, with 41% of 11-year-olds saying they use the internet alone – up 10 percentage points from age 10. This compares with an overall average of 29% among British children between the ages of six and 11 (see chart, below).


According to Lanchin, turning 11 represents a significant landmark in the level of freedom that children enjoy, as they leave primary school and are influenced less by their parents and more by peers and their own decision-making. It is also a time when other distractions appear to wrest children’s attention away from ink on paper.

Lanchin says: “Children are allowed access to more grown-up things in general. That includes more technological stuff in their room and more access to the internet. It is a crossover age and is very allied to going to secondary school.”
At this point children exercise more choice in what they buy, whereas books are more commonly given to them by adults, she adds.

Response rates for many of the items in the study also drop off at 11, including video games, which suggests that the idea of collecting starts to lose its appeal. For example, toys given away by fast-food outlets and in cereal boxes are collected by 40% of six-year-olds but only 18% of 11-year-olds.


Although trading cards and stickers retain their appeal relatively well by comparison, traditional types of collections suffer, particularly stamps, keyrings and old or foreign money. Many items also hold a gender-specific appeal – such as vehicle toys and action figures for boys, and jewellery and dolls for girls – while items like miniature figures do not rate particularly highly for either sex.
Lanchin suggests this is a result in the development of toys and entertainment, rather than a lack of imagination among children of today. “The types of toys or the things that children play with have obviously developed over the past 50 years,” she says.

The qualitative part of the study examines the types of collections children accumulate. A common characteristic of these is that they reinforce play and represent developing personalities, says Lanchin. A collection of My Little Pony figures is not merely a hobby themed on horses, for example, but also shows that person is interested in riding, grooming and the aspirations they represent.

She comments: “Quite a lot of the collections are about being able to find a place in your social world. If you look at trading cards, for example, all of the children that we interviewed were introduced to the cards by friends because that is such a central part of playground play.”

Brands that succeed in resonating with this age group have obviously demonstrated this social currency. Some are also able to carry the loyalty earned through to adulthood, where parents pass on fond memories of collecting to their own children.

To enjoy this level of acceptance and advocacy, Lanchin says that successful brands will create an environment that allows children to exert their individuality through their collections.

The Frontline: we ask marketers on the frontline whether our ’trends’ research matches their experience on the ground


Fiona Hortopp
Marketing manager
Winning Moves UK
(maker of Top Trumps)

The Top Trumps purchase story is probably that mum or dad buy a traditional pack for their child from a nostalgia perspective. Once the children get into them, they then start looking for the licensed packs and the ones that are of interest to them. It is still very much a pocket money purchase and is also probably quite an impulse purchase.

Children know what they want and they cannot be persuaded to take something they do not desire. It is about not changing the product too much – it has existed for more than 30 years and parents are very nostalgic about it. If it does not remain true to the brand and what Top Trumps is all about, it is not going to last.

It is a sign of our times that video games are high in this survey. I think it is equally interesting that books and trading cards remain high even in this digital age. It proves that they transcend time.


Barry Hughes
Marketing director
(maker of miniature models)

Girls are very brand-loyal. Boys are a lot more fickle on the whole and what they collect is likely to be more of a craze and short-term opportunity, although football stickers and trading cards remain perennially popular.

Video games and consoles such as the Nintendo Wii have bitten into the traditional toys and games market. Sales of traditional toys, however, have continued to hold up despite the recent economic climate and this is probably because parents are more likely to endorse the purchase of collectables ahead of the likes of video games. Everyone, it seems, has collected something over their life. It seems like it is almost part of the human psyche.

Recent legislation means you can no longer have a call to action to collect in TV advertising, so parental endorsement is key. It is important to put ourselves in the position of the parents and be very conscious of the age group we are targeting.


Andrew Macintyre
Associate publisher
Dorling Kindersley
children’s division

We spend a lot of time thinking about the book as a physical artefact as well as the content. We always bear in mind in children’s publishing that children do not necessarily come with the same motivation as adults do.

Series are very important for us. The collectable side of it is slightly less obvious than you would think in the sense that retailers often display books in different parts of the shop. They rarely have all the series together, but when they do it is a very powerful sales tool.

There is possibly a difference between collecting books and how much time is spent actually reading them. I am quite surprised at the high percentage of [book] collecting but I think everyone in publishing suspects that the demise of books has been slightly exaggerated, or certainly the speed of the demise.

Kenny Wilson


President Europe
Claire’s Stores

The consumer drives the demand, and that usually starts through playground crazes spreading like wildfire once a product takes hold. We often find that crazes start in America, then come over to the UK and then spread across Europe.

Our fashion trends in hair and jewellery often filter down from catwalk or celebrity-endorsed products. Our consumer is feminine, fashionable and media-savvy. She likes to collect fashion accessories so that she can dip into her collection and put together fashion statements that speak to her personality.


Rod Pearson
Marketing director
of sports products
Topps Europe
(sticker and trading card maker)

We published our first Merlin Premier League sticker collection for the 1993/94 football season, and we have published it every year since. The fundamental driver of what engages children about it remains the same.

We do a lot of sampling campaigns with targeted magazine titles like Match of the Day to build awareness of Match Attax trading cards among our core users. Then we will use a much more scattergun approach and we will do a lot of activity with the Sun newspaper, for example.

Our business is marketing to children and making sure that the product is fun. If it is something that becomes too difficult or too complicated, they may well buy it once but they are not going to continue collecting it year after year.



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