It started with a white swan event in 2015: singer Taylor Swift frolicking in a giant inflatable swan with her then boyfriend DJ Calvin Harris.
A picture to capture the moment, posted on Instagram for the perusal of Swift’s mere 102 million followers, was the harbinger of one of this summer’s key sales trends as Britons traded in their standard issue mattress-shaped lilos for kitsch inflatables to elicit envy on social media.
Retailers across the UK are reporting soaring demand for outlandish pool accessories, ranging from swans and unicorns to a veritable floating buffet of food stuffs including giant pizza slices, avocado-lookalike rubber rings and, of course, pink-iced doughnuts, as the summer holidays get under way.
On Thursday Primark said the inflatables trend had helped it to deliver bumper sales over the past three months as its legion of teen shoppers bought props ranging from £10 unicorns to £1 doughnut-shaped floating cup holders to use as social media props.
The retailer said its range of floaties had generated an “incredible response”, with a handful of products gathering almost 300,000 likes on Instagram.
Online retailer Amazon said its sales of giant pool inflatables were up more than 200% year-on-year, with a 1.8m tall inflatable palm tree drinks cooler and inflatable limbo sticks among the bestsellers as Britons jet off on holiday or look to recreate scenes from ITV’s popular Love Island series at back garden paddling pool parties.
Linzi Walker, Argos’s chief toy buyer, said Britons were looking to “prop their lives” on social media with a 6ft inflatable dinosaur and ride-on flamingo among the catalogue store’s bestsellers: “The Instagram culture, where users look to create bright and aspirational photographs to impress their peers, is driving customers to buy quirky or kitsch accessories to style the ultimate shot.”
Primark has successfully cashed in on what is best described as “#inflatables” via its own social media site Primania where along with “4 ways to slay swimwear” its style editor Louise Twyman advises her hundreds of thousands of followers to pack a blow-up unicorn in their suitcase.
“Pop it in your pool, pose with your pal and hit ‘post’ – you’ll be racking up the likes in seconds!” says Twyman.
Sarah Owen, an analyst at the trend forecaster WGSN, said floaties had struck a chord with millennials and generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2000) consumers who are interested in experiences – rather than owning stuff – and religiously document their lives on social media.
“Inflatables combine the two because you can have an experience with them,” she says. “The picture provides the social currency as without having to say anything you are showing ‘this is my lifestyle, I’m culturally in tune and having fun with my friends’.”
Although Swift’s relationship with Harris was shortlived, its legacy is thousands of images of celebrities and models spreadeagled on giant flamingos. While Justin Bieber was pictured on a 5ft inflatable doughnut and Nicki Minaj rode an inflatable unicorn in her recent video, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is Kim Kardashian who has gone the furthest – by creating a $98 butt float, representing her famous derriere, for her Kimoji range.
Social media platforms such as Instagram have become a hunting ground for retailers who scour posts for product ideas. Last summer Rihanna boosted sales of “premium” inflatables after she was pictured posing on an 80” screen-printed swan that cost £100. This has percolated down to the high street and while Primark is cleaning up at the no-frills end, the likes of John Lewis and House of Fraser are offering “luxe” versions for £60 which boast extras such as puncture repair kits.
“The irony is that people post images on Instagram of things they have already seen [on Instagram] which encourages more people to post, so it becomes a circular inspiration board,” explains Owen. “Yes it is a trend but it is one based on user generated content so, whether it’s pictures of avocado toast, unicorn lattes or inflatable flamingos, the subject matter is changing and evolving.”
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