In 2020, Santa got jabbed to save Christmas. This year, he might need to shop on eBay.
Flying around the world won’t be a problem. But with supply chains in a tangle, Saint Nick needs to be imaginative with second-hand gifting – or face inflated prices for in-demand toys from opportunistic eBay sellers.
Santa does have a third option: diversify. Sure, every American kid wants a PS5 this year. But what else is big in 2021?
TheToyZone analyzed Google search data to identify the most uniquely popular toys in each country across a number of categories.
Read on to see which toys anxious parents – uh, elves – are hunting for throughout the world this Christmas.
North America: PlayStation 4 is Most-Searched Toy
The PlayStation 4 is the most popular toy in the highest number of countries, both worldwide and within North America. Although the PS5 has just celebrated its one-year birthday, it lags in popularity next to its predecessor. Nine countries in North America search for the PS4 more than any toy, and just three search mostly for the PS5 (Bahamas, US, Virgin Islands).
Why is the PS4 outsearching the PS5? Availability. Every good elf knows the newer model is sold out online and IRL, partly due to supply (semiconductors are hard to come by these days) and partly due to demand (everybody’s a gamer in lockdown). Even when stock does pop up, it is unlikely to be marked down in price because – why would they? Meanwhile, the older console still packs a punch and is more affordable, which makes a difference in some of the PS4 territories above.
South America: Barbie and PS4 Neck-and-Neck
The PS5 doesn’t even feature among the most-searched toy across South American countries. But the PS4 secures top place in four countries, tying with a more old-skool rival: Barbie. The definitive doll brand has a long tradition of representing Latin American culture, and Chilean athlete Francisca Mardones became the first Paralympic to get her own Barbie this year.
“I never imagined that one day I would tell you that I have become the first Chilean barbie,” tweeted Mardones. “Many thanks to @Barbie for the emotional tribute! I am overwhelmed with emotion to see a Paralympic shotput barbie.” However, the Nintendo Switch remains Chile’s favorite toy.
Europe: Lego and PlayStation 5 Among Europe’s Favorite Toys
Lockdown didn’t only boost gaming: it boosted sales of Danish-branded toy building bricks. But Lego’s killer move was pairing up with Nintendo for a best-selling Super Mario starter set. (Opening 91 Lego stores in China didn’t hurt, either.) Lego is the most popular toy in 11 European countries, edging out the PS5 (ten countries) and PS4 (nine).
Another plastic classic proved more popular in Europe than elsewhere. Playmobil is the most-searched toy in six European countries, but nowhere outside of Europe. The German ‘creative toy system’ remains popular on its home continent despite an Anya Taylor-Joy-starring movie widely considered “dull, dumb, and forgettable” that “does not even work as a commercial, never showing us why these toys could be especially fun to play with.”
Middle East & Central Asia: PlayStation Dominates, Barbie and Lego Follow
The PS4 and PS5 dominate much of the Middle East. Barbie, Lego, and the Xbox are most popular in just six of the 20 countries in this region. The LEGO Foundation is engaged in the region, providing ‘learning through play’ for marginalized children in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
Barbie is biggest in Azerbaijan and Turkey. Along with Tajikistan (Lego), these are the only countries in the region that favor ‘real’ toys over consoles. Turkish writer and comedian Gulse Birsel got the Barbie treatment for the original doll’s 60th birthday. There was also an unofficial Ottoman Empire Ken available for $800 – his modders transitioned him from an original Speed Racer Ken.
Rest of Asia & Oceania: Ludo and Slime Among Niche Favorites
The PS4 owns this region and is the most popular toy in nine countries. The PS5 adds another four territories to Sony’s haul on this side of the planet. Demand for the rare PlayStation 5 is so intense that a riot broke out in a Tokyo store when rumors of a restock broke. Kind of brings to mind Frank Costanza, doesn’t it? “As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way!”
With the cross-cultural thirst for semiconductor-driven gaming toys, it’s refreshing to find two countries in this region with classic analogue tastes. Ludo is a strategy board game based on an ancient Indian game, repackaged by the Brits in 1896. And for some reason, Ludo always has a Snakes N’ Ladders game on the other side of the board – including in Pakistan, where it is the most popular toy. The other nation with a tactile toy for its favorite is Bangladesh, where they favor Slime.
Africa: Barbie Is The Most Popular Toy Across 15 African Countries
Barbie is the most popular toy in Africa, if PlayStations 4 and 5 are considered separate toys. The doll is most popular in 15 countries, followed by PS4 (13) and PS5 (6). Although an African-American character (Christie) and African-American Barbie were first released in 1968 and 1980, the first African-African Barbie doll didn’t appear until 2019, in the form of South African singer Lerato “Lira” Molapo.
Finally, Monopoly makes its only map appearance in Nigeria. The 86-year-old board game exists in two authorized Nigerian-themed versions: the Lagos city edition (“For attempting to bribe a law enforcement agent, pay a fine”) and an edition celebrating the centenary of the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria under a central colonial administration. The latter includes more wholesome Opportunity cards containing “strong social messages.”
The World’s Favorite Toys… by Category
Next up, we mapped the most-searched toy in each category. Scroll down to see the favorite consoles, dolls, construction toys, classics, board games, ‘90s toys, TV merch, and superhero figures in every country.
The ‘90s is the decade that won’t let go. Children of the 1990s are the parents of children today, and – like a Boomer touting his record collection – they know that the Furby (9 countries), the Game Boy (27), and Polly Pocket (21) will never be bettered. Thankfully, ‘90s kids are also running the toy industry, so perennial favorites like the Tamagotchi (22) are getting reinvented all the time.
Sony’s PlayStation dominates the world map as the most-searched console brand in 112 countries. The PS4 is number one in 71 countries, and even the ol’ PS3 remains popular, mostly in African and Asian markets. Xboxes of various flavors are top in 40 countries while Nintendo is most-searched in 18.
Take that, Peppa Pig! The ubiquitous oinker is fave in just four countries, while Paw Patrol runs off with 25, including the US and UK. The show is targeted at that sweet spot of 2-6-year-olds: just old enough to watch TV (remember parents: no screen time for <2yos) and compose a Christmas list, but just young enough that the swag is affordable.
What makes a classic a classic? A name that gives you goosebumps and/or a host of cheap imitators is a good start. Barbie dominates this category but branded and unbranded toys of varying nature also make an impact: slime (21 countries), Nerf (20), Rubik’s Cube (18), and Hot Wheels (16).
An honorable mention goes to simple, wholesome classics like the yoyo (10), Mr. Potato Head (3), and Hula Hoop (still number one in Austria and Germany!). The humble hoop was once banned in Russia for representing “the emptiness of American culture.”
Before gaming, there was board gaming. And board gaming will live on a long time: some of the best are social, exemplify great design, and flick a certain switch in the brains of a dedicated army of super-fans. Just look at the top ones around the world, whose names remain better known than any hundred-million-grossing video game. Most common favorites are Monopoly (50 countries), Ludo (33), Scrabble (23).
Barbie is the best-travelled doll, with 68 countries ranking her as their favorite. A bigger surprise is the international success of American Girl Doll, which is most-searched in 11 countries across four continents. Maybe folk who can’t remember the name of Barbie just search “American girl doll” hoping for a reminder?
Building & Construction Toys
We live in a Lego world, with the classic brick dominating 82 countries. Lego’s Scandi neighbor, Brio, offers a wooden alternative of Swedish toy transport network toys. Brio is most-searched in eight, mostly African, countries. Both brands continue to prosper despite Lego’s patent expiring and Brio’s compatibility with rival brands.
Superheroes: encouraging kids to swing recklessly from toilet chains since 1936! Thankfully, deep beneath the veneer of corporate hegemony, superhero characters are designed with heart, imagination, and color. Batman and Spiderman are each top of the list in 23 countries, with Harley Quinn taking four (Argentina, France, Italy, and Turkey) and Wonder Woman wowing Japan. At least the plastic figures won’t break your toilet chain.
Wherever you are in the world, balancing the must-have popularity of certain toys against their cost, development benefits and – these days – availability is a game in itself. Whatever your budget, the best weapon you can bring to the challenge is your imagination.
Curious what the most popular toys in each category are in your country? Check out our full data in the interactive table below!
Methodology & Sources
We created a list of popular toys from categories outlined by the Toy Association and Wikipedia, and cross-referenced them with popular toy round-ups from authoritative publishers. To determine the most popular toys in each country, we used Google search volume data to uncover the specific toys that ranked highest above the global search average. The data was gathered in October 2021.
Ahrefs. (2021). Keywords Explorer. ahrefs.com
Bainbridge, C. (2021). The 9 Best Construction and Building Blocks for Gifted Kids of 2021. verywellfamily.com
Barbie. (2021). Our History. barbie.mattel.com
Bedford, E. (2020). Gross sales of Mattel’s Barbie brand worldwide from 2012 to 2020. statista.com
Bedford, E. (2020). Total revenue of the global toy market from 2007 to 2020. statista.com
LEGO. (2021). The LEGO Group History. lego.com
Sony Group Corporation. (2021). FY2020 Consolidated Financial Results. sony.com
Toy Association Inc. (2021). Toy Industry Product Categories. Toyassociation.org
Vailshery, L. (2021). Global unit sales of Sony PlayStation 4 consoles 2014-2021. statista.com
Wikipedia. (2021). List of toys. en.wikipedia.org
Fair Use Statement
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