Toys to Fight Their Corner

The toy industry is all excitement this month with new products and technologies, new markets and speculation about this year's Christmas lists. Licensing can be vital to it, of course—as one toy licensee said to m

April 6, 2018

The toy industry is all excitement this month with new products and technologies, new markets and speculation about this year's Christmas lists. Licensing can be vital to it, of course—as one toy licensee said to me, "You're only as good as your license."

And with the lines blurring between what a toy is or isn't and what's for children and what's for adults who refuse to grow up, a license calling attention to a product on shelf can be handy.

The exhibitor list for the London Toy Fair is a reminder that toys increasingly cross over into other market segments and vice versa. And at the same time there's a feeling of going back to basics. We're going to hear as much from Mattel this year about the Barbie doll as about the Barbie brand, for example. And the biggest toy story of the moment is the success of LEGO, which is not only an enduring and simple toy, but a business that has regained success by going back to its roots.

At the same time, the impact of new media is quietly steamrolling over

any messages about "basics." For a long time, NPD has been discussing how toys should use interactivity and technology to keep children interested. But since the turn of the year, this already seems outdated. Things have moved a stage further.

With the boom of the iPhone and the imminent omnipresence of wireless Internet access, some commentators predict that kids will bypass the clunky, restrictive world of television and completely redefine interactivity. The communication device that is also an entertainment device and a window to the Internet is taking us further down the road toward fully integrated and personalized entertainment.

A comment posted to

www.guardian.co.uk

in response to an article on this subject said children were already rejecting TV, bored by its restrictive formats and cynical over its attempts to sell. The heady mix of social interaction, retail and entertainment offered by the Web has become much more attractive.

I asked one new media champion if he anticipated seeing much "new media" at the toy fairs and he replied, "I expect to see toys that blink and beep based on TV characters, but nothing as revolutionary as it probably needs to be."

How toys and licensing will grapple with the shifting sands of this new kids' world is still an open book. Toy executives must strike the right balance between emerging technology and traditional game play.

Toy sales played their part in the upturn at U.K. retail at the end of last year (consistently cited as strong by John Lewis, for example). It's hard to know exactly why things improved across nearly all retail segments. Perhaps it's a collective spending spree after months of holding back. There has been little conclusive analysis from the retailers themselves, other than a reliance on price promotions and a keen eye for what sells.

Whatever the reason, the British Retail Consortium reported that total sales jumped 6 percent. "These are stronger figures than we dared hope for," says Stephen Robertson, the BRC director general. In spite of this, he (and others) advise caution for 2010. Within toy retail, NPD Group predicts a cautious year, too. It says the growth in the U.K. market hasn't been enough to replace the losses due to the demise of Woolworths (although it's close).

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