Loom Bands: the perfect blend of real and virtual play?

Last Sunday, I went to a family lunch with children of different ages and I had the best time with two 10 year-old girls, who taught me how to make bracelets with their Loom Bands. I just left the adults to get on with things and I learnt to make bracelets! A simple ‘weaving’ tool that lets children create accessories with rubber bands, Rainbow Loom has taken off in a big way. Wherever I go now, I see that many people are wearing Loom Bands and in fact I’d say that I got to it rather late: everyone is ‘looming’ at the minute!

Kids these days do spend lots of time in front of a screen – sometimes even multiple screens. What’s great about Loom Bands is the element of craft and creativity; they’re easy to start with, but for those who are really good at it, they can get complicated and intricate. As well as this, the colours are bright and vibrant and they are really very trendy. The company, Rainbow Loom, has combined real-world skill with online teaching instructions and social communities, creating amazing possibilities. The company is on fire right now and sales are soaring, so what does Rainbow Loom do next?

The first thing to say about Loom Bands is that they are inexpensive – the girls gave me one of their packets of bands and tools and told me that it costs £1.50. They had change from their weekly pocket money allowance! This is fantastic for kids. Apart from this, though, it is incredible how well Rainbow Loom has forged online communities, without big marketing budgets or deliberate ‘campaigns’. One Facebook page for the brand has more than 205,000 likes, and individual tutorial videos on YouTube have over 20 million views. It has taken off in a big way, largely due to its target demographic being the same age as those who use social networks the most. The fact that more and more famous faces (including the Duchess of Cambridge and Henry Holland) have been spotted wearing Loom Bands in recent months doesn’t hurt the brand’s image either!

I see parallels between Rainbow Loom and the resurgence in Lego, another business that has embraced the internet to complement the physical ownership of characters and building things. Although it has been around for decades, Lego and Rainbow Loom are similar in many respects, with their mixture of creativity and consumable qualities.

Another thing I have been reminded of this month, what with the World Cup, is football stickers, a feature of so many childhoods. As always, they have made another resurgence this summer, and it’s good to see kids trading and talking! The ability to have fun with exciting products that are interactive, creative and inexpensive definitely provides a break from too much computer-based activity.

Come to think of it, maybe classic toys are set to come back. For instance, it was reported earlier this month that The Cabbage Patch Kids are getting a 21st-century makeover! However, I think that Rainbow Loom is special because the mix of social networking and hands-on craft makes the product better – what with online tutorial videos, discussion pages and image sharing, children can become more skilled and enjoy Loom Bands with like-minded friends around the world. As one Forbes piece stated last year, “learning to use digital tools in ways that apply to the material world” is going to be one of the most important aspects of the web in the next few years, and Rainbow Loom is perfectly placed to take advantage of this.

Working out the products that are going to capture children’s imaginations is a fascinating job for manufacturers and retailers alike. Rainbow Loom is very much in vogue at the minute, but are there any other products that are dominating 2014 in a similar way? Let me know at moira@thembsgroup.co.uk, and have a brilliant weekend.