How to market kids in the mobile age: Toca Boca

Toca Boca, the Swedish app developer behind such popular digital toys such as 'Toca Kitchen Monsters' and 'Toca Hair Salon 2', is looking to build on its 85 million downloads by expanding into online video.

Acknowledging that streaming services like YouTube have redefined how children watch video now; Toca Boca is embracing it as "a medium (that) separates itself from TV with new formats, fewer constraints and different consumer expectations" said Björn Jeffery, CEO of Toca Boca, in a statement.

On April 15, Toca Boca announced J Milligan, former creative director at children's television group Sesame Workshop, as its executive producer to help with online video at their new studio in New York City in the hopes of propelling their business in both video and in U.S. markets.

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Toca Kitchen 2
Credit: Toca Boca AB. (Art by Jonas Löfgren)
Toca Kitchen 2

Björn Jeffery, co-founder and CEO of Toca Boca, told CNBC that the group's successes – it has teamed up with tech companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon – is down to expanding itself stateside with its San Francisco office, and listening to what the companies want and what's important to them on their platforms.

Having a presence in the U.S. is significant for future growth, as the "relationship to the American consumer market is very difficult to have, if you have no presence there," Jeffery said.

"Stockholm has a very strong ecosystem and a lot of interesting companies are coming from there, but I think there's also a balance of maybe having product design in your European base, and then marketing sales, business development in America."

"This balance – and not relocating your entire company – but maybe setting up a small subsidiary instead. I think that's the balance that European startups are going to go through over the coming few years," he added.

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Toca Town
Credit: Toca Boca AB. (Art by Mathilda Engman)
Toca Town

Leaving gender at the door

Describing itself as a company that focuses on motivating children's imaginations, Jeffery told CNBC that Toca Boca is all about making "digital toys as opposed to games," focusing on the open-endedness of play, rather than teaching kids to compete or win.

In addition to steering clear of gaming conventions, Toca Boca encourages gender neutrality, with 27 apps that range from cookery and hair dressing, to chemistry and robot construction, allowing kids to choose what they prefer.

"The tech industry has been very skewed to one way, and I think the toy industry has been very skewed in male directions as well. It's very blue for boys and very pink for girls."

"I'd rather make products that kids can choose from themselves" Jeffery added.

Already having its apps downloaded in 215 countries; will Toca Boca follow in the footsteps of EA and Zynga, and go public? Doubtful. Jeffery told CNBC Thursday, that it's unlikely, but never completely off the table.

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