By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
While most of us are just getting over Christmas gift giving, the merchandisers, buyers and toy industry professionals are deciding what will be the hot electronics, games, gizmos and gadgets for the 2007 holiday season. From Feb. 11-14, the American International Toy Fair is ensconced in New York’s Javits Center. It’s the largest toy trade show in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 1,500 manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from 30 countries showcasing their toy and entertainment products.
“The February show is a very big media event,” said Reyne Rice, toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association. “It’s the place where many toy manufacturers introduce and launch their new products for Christmas of this year. It’s a huge opportunity for many of the smaller manufacturers and the midsize manufacturers to get their products in front of the thousands of buyers that attend the show. For the buyers, it’s a chance to see a variety of new products and also identify some new manufacturers for their stores that they may not have seen before.”
For the entertainment industry, the Toy Fair represents a tremendous opportunity for marketing licensed merchandise and launching new products. Entertainment merchandise is a growing segment of the toy world.
“In terms of licensed product, whether it’s brands, television shows, celebrities, it’s generally about 30 percent of all toy dollars,” said Ms. Rice. “That’s a very big number and it’s grown in importance over the past few years. Kids respond to products that have their favorite characters on them because they feel that those are their friends.”
Today’s Toy Fair covers a wide variety of products. There’s everything from classic toys to interactive entertainment and more. Products include action figures and dolls, games and puzzles, bicycles, tricycles and ride-ons, radio-controlled vehicles, infant and preschool toys, cars, trucks and trains, puppets and plush, audio and video cassettes, computer software and video games, playground and sporting equipment, books, stationery and party supplies.
About one-third of the merchandise relates to television and entertainment companies. “The manufacturers generally work with the producers of the shows and the entertainment company,” Ms. Rice said. “To promote new shows, they’ll have statistics and data to demonstrate what target market the product will reach, the popularity to date, and possibly the popularity of similar shows that that company has done.”
More than simply putting a logo on a lunchbox, products for children are smarter than they used to be. “Products are much more integrated with the TV show, and there’s more of a collaboration with the studio’s goals for that property and those characters,” Ms. Rice said. “It’s definitely not label-slapping anymore. It’s an integrated process to market products that are really tied to the properties and enhance the value of the properties. For example, `Dora, the Explorer’ has wonderful electronic products that also have the bilingual element that’s such a big part of the show.”
“All the companies are competing on multiplatforms-TV, Web sites, toy products, big screens, Broadway shows. There are multiple layers of promotion where consumers are today,” Ms. Rice said.
While most toys are targeted at kids, initially it’s the parents who are making the choices and educational products have boomed over the years. “Educational toys have grown to double digits, and the same is true with the youth electronics category that includes many of the electronic and technology products,” said Ms. Rice. “But there’s also a lot of growth in the non-tech toys, because there are a number of parents who want that balance in the toy box. For the very young, the parents are the gatekeepers. But as children get older, even as young as 3 years old, they begin to voice their preferences for different characters. They may love Dora, but they don’t care for Tinkerbell. Or they love the Disney princesses, but they’re not as enamored with Dora. Those are the things a parent can touch base on.”
While children are the primary audience for most toys and games, there will be many products geared for adults, including collectibles, at Toy Fair. “Alexander Dolls is coming out with a set of `Desperate Housewives’ that are going to be priced from $120 to $150 each. They’ll be collectible dolls,” said Ms. Rice. “There will also be a `Desperate Housewives’ game coming out this year. There’s a whole category of adult games, and a game zone at Toy Fair where you can see and play the new games.”
The Toy Fair will be hawking many entertainment brand and licensed merchandise based on upcoming big releases, including the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” picture from Disney and Sony’s “Spider-Man 3.” And there are a plethora of familiar brands celebrating anniversaries. “Transformers are celebrating their 20th year,” said Ms. Rice. “So many brands have nostalgic value, too. Care Bears is celebrating 25 years, My Little Pony 25 years. All of these are going to be highlighted this year in the media because they are brands that parents today remember playing with when they were children. This year is also the anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube. It was just featured in the movie `The Pursuit of Happyness,’ and there are now new versions of the Rubik’s Cube coming out. Brain-challenging games are a big trend in the toy industry right now.”
Technology plays a big role in the Toy Fair products, whether it’s interactive games, electronics or digital equipment. “The basic premise remains the same: Kids emulate what they see their role models doing,” said Ms. Rice. “So if they see people-or TV characters-taking digital pictures and then going to a computer and downloading them, they see that as a bigger picture of the world. Little kids want to have their own digital cameras and last year companies came out with digital cameras for kids as young as 3. Kids take the picture and immediately turn it around to see what it looks like. We never had that. Kids emulate what they see.”
As much as kids love gadgets, there’s still nothing like make believe. “In terms of creative role play, there are a number of products out there that ask children to use their imagination-toys that have children pretend to be the characters they love,” Ms. Rice said. “That’s still a big category of sales, whether it’s dressing up like the Powerpuff Girls or interacting with Elmo.”