Vol. 30, No. 2
To Innovation & Beyond
t the American International Toy Fair in February last year, the R/C aisle was full of toys that could be controlled by a smart device. However, the R/C category— and the industry as a whole—has realized that the appcessories trend, in the approach it took last year, was just a fleeting fad. It came and went, leaving consumers relatively unimpressed. These days, it takes more than just the addition of an app to make the toy innovative and unique enough for a consumer to pick it up off the shelf.
Taking Plush to the Next Level page 28
A Future in 3-D
The growing popularity of 3-D printing is revolutionizing the toy industry.
page 39 Fuel Your Store’s Innovation with Benchmarking
page S3 Four Considerations for Efficient Toy Packaging
Clockwise from top left: Shimmering Fox Sassy Pet Sak, from Douglas; Girls on the Move Ballerina Brunette, from North American Bear Co.; Skin plush, from I Heart Guts; Twinkling Firefly Frog, from Cloud b; Twinkle Fairies, from DEMDACO; Colorfun Guitar, from Gund
in this issue
A Future in 3-D
Industry Update Stat Shot
3-D printing will change the toy industry forever.
To Innovation & Beyond Multi-function R/C toys give kids an expanded play experience.
The Big Toy Book & Blogger Bash ’14
Raising the Bar
The top name in children’s TV adds new toy partners.
Consumers seek plush products with enhanced technological features and functionality.
Outside the Box
Specialty Toys & Gifts ASTRA’S INSIGHTS S3 WHAT’S NEW S8
MEDIA CENTER S11
Why Children Play the Way They Do Part 3
Taking Plush to the Next Level
Talking Social Media
Four Core Toy Industry Trends for 2014
Toys and TV
Barbie: Queen of Fashion Dolls and American Treasure
NEWS S2 PLUSH SHOWCASE S4
Published by Adventure Publishing Group, Inc.®
Volume 30, Number 2 www.toybook.com P UBLISHER Jonathan Samet email@example.com E DITOR IN C HIEF Jackie Breyer firstname.lastname@example.org S ENIOR E DITOR Marissa DiBartolo email@example.com A SSOCIATE E DITORS Christine Duhaime firstname.lastname@example.org Phil Guie email@example.com Ali Mierzejewski firstname.lastname@example.org E DITORIAL A SSISTANT Deanna Atkins email@example.com E DITORIAL I NTERN Magdalene Michalik firstname.lastname@example.org P RODUCTION D IRECTOR Anthony K. Guardiola email@example.com C ONTROLLER /O FFICE M ANAGER Lori Rubin firstname.lastname@example.org U.S. Corporate Headquarters Laurie Schacht, President email@example.com
Adventure Publishing Group, Inc.® 307 Seventh Ave., #1601 New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 575-4510 Fax: (212) 575-4521
FOUR CONSIDERATIONS FOR EFFICIENT TOY PACKAGING S10 Member, International Toy Magazine Association
Taking Steps to I NNOVATE and Integrate NEW TECHNOLOGY
f you glanced at the cover of this issue you may have noticed that we are taking 3-D printing seriously. We are always talking about how the toy industry is a fashion industry. The trends change from year to year, or sometimes even season to season, but this is different. As you’ll read in Associate Editor Ali Mierzejewski’s indepth feature (beginning on page 13), 3-D printing isn’t new. However, with prices falling into the affordable range, the technology is much more easily accessible to the average manufacturer, and even to the average consumer. For manufacturers, it’s a great solution to the need for more rapid turnaround in creating prototype samples. For consumers, the applications will be endless. We are not (even remotely) suggesting that consumers will stop visiting toy stores and start printing all their own toys. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What we are suggesting is that this technology is something to pay attention to, and possibly even invest in. For retailers, having a 3-D printer in store would drive traffic and excitement, as consumers would be able to design a small toy, or perhaps a customized part for a toy they’ve already purchased, and print it at the store. This technology also allows inventors and entrepreneurs to take their pie-in-the-sky ideas and make them a reality. Accordingly, we expect to see innovation and customization leap ahead at a faster rate in the near future. This is not a threat to the industry, but rather a boon that has the power to reignite excitement in ways we haven’t even considered. Also in this issue, we take a look at the R/C and plush categories. R/C is taking a turn in a different direction this year, after receiving a lackluster consumer response to the app-controller trend. This trend petered out and manufacturers are finding new ways to innovate that will excite both retailers and consumers. Technology and innovation are
6 • THE TOY BOOK
Jackie Breyer editor in chief
being expressed in new ways, with some companies already out of the gate with R/Cs that are sure to garner attention this holiday season. Our coverage begins on page 18. In the plush category, which was up 10 percent last year according to The NPD Group, the classics are always well-received, but innovation and technology can be found there as well. Check out our plush coverage, beginning on page 28, and don’t miss our specialty plush section, which starts on page S4 in the Specialty Toys & Gifts section. ■
S TAT S HOT Easter Toy Sales Compared to Annual Toy Sales Dollar Shares of Toy Sales
Sports, Activities, and Games
Other Miscellaneous Toys
Collectible Trading Toys/Accessories
Annual 2013** 7.7
21 percent 39 percent 69 percent
Gender of Recipient 5% female
Age of Recipient 95% male
Source: The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service
8 â&#x20AC;˘ THE TOY BOOK
Source: The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service
Gender of Recipient
TRADITIONAL PLUSH 35%
*Two weeks from March 17 to March 30, 2013 **52 weeks from January 6, 2012 to January 4, 2013
Age of Recipient
Licenses as % of Total Sales
Source: The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service
european market UPDATE Youth Electronics Drive Growth
outh Electronics was definitely the star segment in the toy market last year. In two of the territories covered by The NPD Group, the U.S. market and Europe 5 (U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), the category was the strongest contributor in terms of dollar growth versus full year 2012. Kids’ Android tablets were in part responsible for this strong performance, as highlighted by the Fuhu Nabi tablet in the U.S., which ranked No. 1 best-selling toy for the year. In Europe, local players such as KD, Clementoni, and Samsung were also extremely successful, even though tablet penetration is not yet as high as it is in the U.S. This year, NPD analysts will be keen to observe developing trends and see if the kids/tween market is being cannibalized by hand-me-down iPads or parents’ old equipment or, on the contrary, if parents confirm their choice for a kid-safe option that features strong parental controls. New technology will be embedded in this year’s tablet lineup and we expect motion-sensor technology as well as tie-ins with major licenses to drive further growth for the segment. However, NPD also expects that non-value-added products will see a drop in retail price. In addition to Android tablets, robotic toys were strong performers for the last quarter of 2013. Spin Master’s Zoomer ended up being the 13th best-selling line in the U.S., but was in too short supply to make a dent in Europe. The U.K. market saw a return of Tekno/Teksta and most of Europe fell for the Robo Fish. But overall, Furby Hot & Cool and Furby Boom (U.K.), from Hasbro, worked out to be the best-selling toy for the year in Europe 5. With a strong awareness inherited from its success in the early naughties, the iconic robotic toy became an overwhelming success in less than a year. ■ —Frédérique Tutt, global industry analyst, NPD Eurotoys
TOP THREE SUPER CATEGORIES
Arts & Crafts
*U.S. 52 weeks to January 4, 2014
Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service
Europe 5 $89
Infant/ Preschool *U.S. 52 weeks to January 4, 2014
Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service
THE TOY BOOK • 9
Toy Industry Association
CEO, AMERICAN PLASTIC TOYS CHAIRMAN, TOY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION (TIA)
The Toy Book spoke with John Gessert about the current state of the industry, his goals for the future as the new chairman of the Toy Industry Association (TIA), and his expectations for the upcoming holiday season. What are your primary objectives as chair of the TIA? One of the great things about TIA is that it’s an organization made up of companies of all sizes that work together in the interest of guiding the toy industry’s growth and bringing the magic of play to children worldwide. As an everyday Midwesterner who just happens to be CEO of a mid-sized toy company, I am honored to be the new TIA chair and recognize the challenges that lie ahead of me. I have outlined four key objectives that I plan to address during my two-year chairmanship: Membership: Having recently attained a record high of more than 700 members, TIA will continuously find new ways to enhance membership value and cultivate the development of young, incoming toy executives who breathe new life and innovation into the toy industry. Advocacy: For the past several years, TIA has worked relentlessly to build a powerful and meaningful presence on
Capitol Hill. Our advocacy team will continue to work proactively with policymakers whose decisions impact the everyday operations of toy businesses and raise awareness about the toy industry’s caring approach to keeping kids safe at play. Events: While the American International Toy Fair continues to grow and expand year after year, Fall Toy Preview is a somewhat polarizing event. Some exhibitors consider it to be a very important and effective way to show product early in the process, while other companies feel Fall Toy Preview has become less effective for them. The time has come for TIA’s Trade Show Committee to review the fall show and initiate the necessary changes to ensure that it is effective and productive for the toy producers and retailers we serve. Philanthropy: The Toy Industry Foundation (TIF), the philanthropic arm of TIA, brought 3 million toys to needy children last year alone. While TIF has grown wonderfully during the past decade, I look forward to watching this growth continue through the formation of new programs and increased consumer and industry awareness.
What are the biggest challenges facing the industry today? The traditional retail avenues for getting product from manufacturer to consumer are definitely blurred and evolving at a very rapid rate. To a certain extent, it’s analogous to the
10 • THE TOY BOOK
music industry—over the past decade, consumers have gone from buying albums instore, to ordering CDs on Amazon, to purchasing them digitally via iTunes. A similar change currently creates disruption in the toy business, because the potential outlets for buying toys are more varied today than they have ever been. Another challenge for the toy industry is innovation. I believe that large- and mediumsized toy companies have lost some of their edginess in design. It seems to be harder for toy companies of all sizes to be nimble and creative because they either have to answer Alicia Keys at the ribbon cutting ceremony for to Wall Street or be concerned with testing the American International Toy Fair in February and retailer commitments. Smaller, unknown companies and products, such as Choon’s Design ing seasons. Manufacturers will be more reliant on the upand its Rainbow Loom, come to the forefront and win all of coming fall to save the year because spring has certainly not the industry awards, getting the most recognition from “sprung” in many parts of the country, and it is already media and consumers, and leveraging the Internet and other April. I also think that ongoing competition from online outnon-traditional outlets to maximize their sales. A present lets will continue to challenge brick-and-mortar-only retailchallenge for large and medium companies in particular is to ers. It will also be interesting to see how retailers that focus find unique and innovative ways to connect with consumers. on smaller or more defined outlets in their growth strategies may impact the fourth quarter. How can toymakers capture the attention of today’s kids, I do think that the success of American International who are so preoccupied with tech devices? Toy Fair is a good predictor for the holiday shopping season, My own company receives a lot of correspondence from and this February’s show welcomed an increase in buyers consumers thanking us for our basic, physical products that and an interesting mix of products that have the potential to allow their kids to engage in tactile and imaginative play. make a splash and improve the holiday season as compared ■ Parents are very much behind 3-D toys, from kitchen sets to to last year. dollhouses, because these playthings give their kids a break from their iPhones, iPads, and video games. The physical aspect of play will always be critically important to the development of children. I do think there’s a place for both tech toys and physical May 7 to 9 products in the toy aisle. Successfully merging physical and Network with peers tech components into a single toy is an ongoing struggle for and industry icons our industry. Sometimes the collaboration can be a bit and discuss cuttingforced, like trying to jam a square peg through a round hole. edge research and As an industry, we need to find ways of combining both play ideas at PlayCon, the patterns that are truly beneficial to children.
What are your expectations for the upcoming holiday season? This holiday shopping season is going to be especially critical after two consecutive difficult spring/summer sell-
toy industry’s premier gathering for play professionals.Visit toyassociation.org for more information.
THE TOY BOOK • 11
by Laurie Schacht, Toy Insider Mom, founder, Blogger Bash
or the past four years, The Big Toy Book’s Sweet Suite event has been the go-to event for bloggers looking to connect with the top toy companies. During Sweet Suite, each toy company gets a designated play area where they can share their latest products with the top bloggers nationwide. The bloggers get to interact with company representa-
tives face-to-face, while also getting hands-on experience with amazing new products in advance of the holiday season. With hundreds of bloggers attending the event and a growing wait list year after year, we will expand this year’s Sweet Suite into a two-day conference called Blogger Bash. Parent bloggers have become some of the most influential voices when it comes to promoting toy brands and new products. Over the last five to seven years, we’ve seen influential leaders emerge in this space, garnering thousands of followers and creating complete online communities. These women (and often men) are far beyond the basics of blogging, and Blogger Bash will provide them with the next tier of their professional development. With events, parties, round table forums, speed dating sessions with brand representatives, and, of course, lots of swag to enjoy and review, Blogger Bash will give bloggers everything they need to establish new connections with leading manufacturers. Held in New York City on July 17 and 18, this event will draw hundreds of bloggers nationwide. The conference will kickoff on Thursday evening with Sweet Suite, where bloggers will play with new toys, indulge in sweet treats, and leave with tons of swag. From a brand standpoint, why is Blogger Bash for you? Because social media matters, and these bloggers have a lot of influence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. The power lies with the consumers—and that’s exactly what these bloggers are. Sweet Suite generates millions of impressions annually, and bloggers talk about all of the great things they saw well into the holiday season—prime time for manufacturers. If you’re interested in learning more about Sweet Suite ’14 and the upcoming Blogger Bash, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 575-4510 and be sure to visit www.bloggerbash.com.
12 • THE TOY BOOK
a FUTURE in
The growing popularity of 3-D printing as a prototyping and manufacturing tool proves this new technology has the power to change the landscape of the toy industry forever. by Ali Mierzejewski
ike something straight out of The Jetsons or Star Trek, the popularity and advances of 3-D printing are causing a huge shift in the future of consumer product design and manufacturing. This new wave of creation and production opens new opportunities and business models for consumers and manufacturers across all industries worldwide. The toy industry is no exception. While some members of the industry have used 3-D printing as a prototyping and research and development tool for decades, recent advancements in both the technology of the printers themselves and the methods in which they manufacture toys could change the landscape of the industry permanently. Three-dimensional printing is such a rapidly evolving and growing concept that it’s time to familiarize ourselves with it, and be prepared for its eventual role as a commonplace form of manufacturing products in our society. Customization is a huge trend in the toy industry—kids love to make things their own. The weaving of 3-D printable files into toy lines only makes the possibilities of customization seem unlimited. This new technology also levels the playing field for inventors themselves, making prototyping easier, more accessible, and less expensive. By looking at how the industry is increasing its use of 3-D printing, companies can prepare themselves for the future—and perhaps stay ahead of this rapidly evolving trend.
size, a professional desktop size, and a consumer mini size to bring the technology and opportunity of 3-D printing to all levels of innovation and usage. At $6,499, the price of Makerbot’s newest industrial-sized printer, launching this spring, is a fraction of the cost of other printers like it, allowing Makerbot to provide affordable and accessible hardware to companies of all sizes. Makerbot’s printers use Makerbot PLA, a bioplastic derived from corn, in order to print products. “We’re starting to see manufacturing being done in [the toy] industry as well, but most of the time 3-D printing is used on that side for prototyping,” says Jenifer Howard, director of public relations for Makerbot. “You can do prototypes and iterations really quickly and really affordably by having a Makerbot Replicator 3-D printer on your desk.” The use of 3-D printing in the prototyping process is not a new idea, either. James Knight, vice president of global construction at Spin Master, says that the company has been prototyping with a 3-D printer for decades—and that this process is very commonplace in the toy industry. “It’s as common as a pencil and a computer screen as a Makerbot’s Replicator 2 is a 3-D printer that can fit on a desktop.
The Printer, Itself, Is Not New No matter how futuristic it seems, 3-D printing is by no means a new type of technology. Companies such as Makerbot have been producing 3-D printers for nearly 25 years. What’s new about them is that now they’re small enough to fit on top of your desk, making it accessible to anyone’s business or even his or her home. Makerbot makes three models of 3-D printers: an industrial
THE TOY BOOK •
What It Means for Inventors
development process and that’s true in nearly any industrialized design manufacturing company, be it for toys or otherwise,” he says. EZ-Robot, a robotics company that uses 3-D printing for its prototyping process, releases its design files for consumers to be able to print as well. DJ Sures, EZ-Robot’s CEO, isn’t worried that releasing these files to the public will cause a problem for the company’s business model. Due to the quality in which 3-D printers are currently able to print, the process is better suited for prototyping than for actual production. “We do release our 3-D printed design files for people that have 3-D printers to be able to print their own, but the quality isn’t there yet,” says Sures. “The creative side is there, meaning you can design something from scratch and hold it in your hand. And that’s a super, super powerful statement to be able to make; years ago, it was a big deal to be able to type something on a computer and push print.” Even though having the ability to imagine a product in your mind and then hold it in your hand a few hours later seems like a futuristic fever dream, it is now a very real part of prototyping and design. Three-dimensional printed objects fit perfectly into EZ-Robot’s pre-production phases, providing a sort of physical history of the product’s iterations. Sures draws the changes he wants to see on each robotic prototype directly onto the prototype itself. He can physically draw what he would like the designer to change and the designer also has a new model right in front of him to make corrections. They continue this process five, 10, sometimes even up to 20 times or more. “What’s amazing about all this is you can go back in time and pick up a revision off a shelf or out of a box and look to see how it got to where it is today. You have this physical history, this physical log of changes,” explains Sures.
14 • THE TOY BOOK
With 3-D printers, such as Makerbot’s Replicator desktop printer and Replicator Mini printer—the company’s 3-D printer made for consumer use—3-D printing also broadens the landscape of who can actually conceptualize, design, and prototype toys. It allows anyone with the means to own a 3-D printer to design a toy without having to pitch his or her idea to a bigger toy company. The Aryaball, created by dad-turned-toy-inventor Babak Forutanpour, is an all-in-one ball for the park—a baseball that fits inside a football that fits inside a soccer ball. The inspiration came from playing in the park with his son and not being able to change games without lugging around all kinds of equipment. For the small companies, such as Aryaball, 3-D printing is a vital part of survival in the industry. “The 3-D printer was crucial for me being able to actually do prototype after prototype after prototype and get it to a point when I could get it to parks and show it to people and kick it, throw it, touch it, and feel it,” says Forutanpour. “Had I had that inspiration [for Aryaball] years ago without 3-D printers, I would’ve just said, ‘Oh, someone needs to make this,’” says Forutanpour. “But knowing that 3-D printers today exist—and they’re affordable and they’re fast, and they’re reliable—that someone could be me.” The ability to bring 3-D printing hardware into a home setting allows inventors, such as Forutanpour, not only to work independently, but also to prototype—or even manufacture— rapidly. If an inventor invests in 3-D printing, the prototyping process becomes much easier and faster. This allows them to make their products a reality and put them directly in front of consumers more quickly than in the past. “[Progressing] from idea to 3-D printer prototyping to a professional prototype to the NBC Today Show as one of the hot new toys for 2014 was all done from January of one year to February of the next, and it’s been amazing,” says Forutanpour. As the hardware becomes more affordable, the technology to 3-D print becomes more accessible to more people. As this happens, new creative minds, inventors, creators, and thinkers will step up to the plate and be able to create new toys and adapt old ones in unique and individual ways. They too now have the option to compete for space on the shelves. “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur because with 3-D printers and Kickstarter, you can go from conception to prototype to getting preorders and you can launch your
business,” says Forutanpour. “When new people come to the space, that’s when really interesting inventions happen. As the price keeps dropping, you’re just going to get a lot of people buying it, tinkering with it, playing with it—and you’re going to find some really interesting new uses.”
Shaking Up the Current Model So what does this mean for the current business model of the toy industry if bigger companies not only have to focus on large competitors who have the same manufacturing equipment, but also on smaller toy start-ups? First things first, they have to figure out exactly how to use this technology. “For every big company in the toy industry [the question is:] What is your brand; what is the right type of technology, the right type of distribution model?” says Spin Master’s Knight. “Most importantly, what do consumers want that 3-D printing can give them that traditional manufacturing can’t?” Spin Master uses 3-D printing mostly in its prototyping phase of development, but it has also begun making 3-D printable files available for replacement parts and customizable helicages for its Air Hogs R/C line. Knight says that one of the benefits of 3-D printing in the toy industry now is the ability to do on-demand manufacturing, an option that would be otherwise limited for toy companies. “For customers, when a part breaks, it’s hard enough to just try to explain to somebody in the toy company what broke,” he says. “In this case, you go online, click on the product, find the part that broke, click on that, and then you print it.” Spin Master also considers that there is a place for software development in this industry—sort of like an iTunes model—and that what software you develop for consumers and the accessibility of that software is an important focus. “With 3-D printing, it’s relatively quick and cost-effective for the toy company to design files for the product to be printed, without having to invest in all the tooling and industry management to make the toy available to the consumer,” says Knight. Another opportunity this provides for toy companies is a whole world of product designers working with their already established product lines to improve upon them. For example, EZ-Robot has programs within schools for kids to design different toy parts, thereby creating an entirely new generation of designers. According to Sures, this leads to kids—or other designers
in general—directly contributing to a company’s SKU count. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t approach that particular school or that group and say, ‘We like your product. We would actually like to manufacture it and license it from you or give you some royalties off each sale.’ You’ve crowd-sourced the world of people creating concepts for you,” he says. Companies, such as EZ-Robot, understand that although the quality of 3-D printed products is not up to massmanufacturing standards, the 3-D printer manufacturers, such as Makerbot, will continue to develop the technology to get to a place where 3-D printed projects match the quality of those that are mass-manufactured. EZ-Robot, for one, is making sure that it is an integral part of that journey. “What we’re trying to do, strategically, is work with these 3-D printing companies to allow them to design their parts around our parts,” says Sures. “Our parts are being used in the design phase for these 3-D printing companies. Not only are we helping them, we’re also becoming somewhat important to their business. They want to sell more parts, we want to sell more parts, so let’s work together. We call it ‘giving 3-D printers life.’”
Shifting the Shelves With the rise of such a powerful technology also comes a shift in the way traditional retailers adapt to it. Already, kiosktype locations are popping up at schools, libraries, and UPS stores, as well as Makerbot Innovation Centers, so that anyone who has a 3-D printable file can walk in and get their product printed, as easily as if he or she were trying to make a
A modified version of EZRobot’s Roli 3-D printed protoype
THE TOY BOOK •
A 3-D printed monster creation, from Monstermatic
photocopy at Staples. Spin Master’s Knight believes that all toy retailers, even the big ones, such as Toys “R” Us, will eventually have to cater to this concept, since a lot of things will be available as 3D printable files. “Theoretically, our toy shops could become more like a Kinkos, where it’s a local manufacturer and it’s a shop in the traditional sense,” says Knight. “I think you’re going to see it be a blend of both.” The rise of 3-D printing has also birthed a new way of shopping online. Websites such as Shapeways, an online marketplace where designers can post 3D printed designs and sell the products to other people, allow a whole new slew of designers to become entrepreneurs. “The great thing is, if you sell [a product], you don’t have to do anything because Shapeways does everything from the financial transaction to the manufacturing, distribution, and customer service, and all you do is design,” says Duann Scott, Shapeways Designer Evangelist. This marketplace, which has a sort of Amazon-like structure to it, provides support for other small businesses to open up in this new realm of 3-D printed merchandise. “We become the sort of spine of the ecosystem,” he says. “They do the design, they create the IP, they do all the marketing—and we do all the heavy lifting. It’s a place for us to enable many entrepreneurs to run their own business with no risk on their part—no investment upfront.” Scott says that the most exciting part about a community like Shapeways is seeing the creativity that comes from the designers. The designers are not only coming up with original products, but also augmenting existing ideas and products— think new accessories for popular action figure lines, etc. This allows for new parts to be created, but also for broken existing toys to be repaired.
Customers Love Customization Kids love to be able to put a unique twist on toys and really make them their own. A 3-D printer’s ability to print quickly, and in small numbers, allows for even more customization, so even consumers without their own 3-D printer can design their own products and then purchase their
16 • THE TOY BOOK
own individual creations. Monstermatic is a highly interactive monster-creation platform that fully integrates 3-D printing inside a mobile game. This character-creation platform allows users to swap the parts of 10 monsters in order to customize their own creature. The interface allows users to interact with the monster directly in the app, and then simply hit a button to order a 3-D printed figure of their customized monster to bring him to life in the physical world. Clayton Mitchell, founder of Mico Studio, the company behind Monstermatic, knows that gamers tend to spend hours and a lot of thought and energy building a digital avatar in the digital space. He says that until now, the hero could never leave the digital realm in which it was created. “This whole 3-D printing thing is really about accessibility and customization,” he says. “Being able to send something straight from your smartphone to the actual 3-D printing is pretty amazing. “[Customization] offers an incredible freedom to the users to be able to actually change their color, add whatever they want on the character, and I think it really deepens the connection with the user and his avatar, whatever it is, if it’s in the digital or physical world,” says Mitchell. Spin Master’s Knight agrees, pointing out that “mass customization,” as opposed to mass production, is something that bigger toy companies should really focus on. “All these choices before, the toy companies have always had to filter them down to the ones that they think will be the most popular or they have tested to be the most popular. That kind of mass customization, whether you print them at home or you go into a store, is one of the very exciting things for toy companies right now to look into,” he says. Overall, the overwhelming consensus is that 3-D printing is not a fleeting fad that will quickly fade, but a wave of the future that is here to stay. It will only continue to get stronger— a Moore’s Law of sorts—as the years go by. Although the new technology or processes may seem intimidating, 3-D printing can provide powerful innovation to all aspects of toy designing, manufacturing, and retail, perhaps changing the way we think about the toy industry as a whole, forever. ■
To Innovation & BEYOND Multi-function R/Cs give kids a play experience that expands beyond simply turning left and right as the category begins to innovate in new, unique ways. by Ali Mierzejewski
t the American International Toy Fair in February last year, the R/C aisle was full of toys that could be controlled by a smart device. However, the R/C category—and the industry as a whole—has realized that the appcessories trend, in the approach it took last year, was just a fleeting fad. It came and went, leaving consumers relatively unimpressed. These days, it takes more than just the addition of an app to make the toy innovative and unique enough for a consumer to pick it up off the shelf. “Classic R/Cs will always be more successful; it’s a matter of unique items capturing enough of the market to warrant shelf space and further development,” says Rick Berman, director of international licensing, Noomie, from marketing, and design for Maisto. WowWee “A lot of smart device technology might be in its infancy. We are just figuring out how to make the cars operate via the technology. Next is how to utilize the technology to enhance the play pattern.” Now retailers see the R/C category looking for new ways to add more play value to its products. The latest innovations focus less on app technology, and more on how a child plays with the physical product, and multi-function R/C grabs retailers’ attention. “Overall, this year we’ve seen a trend of toys incorporating several modes of play within a single item, allowing kids the ability to choose how they’d like to play,” says Melody Young, vice president and general merchandising manager, core toy and specialty retail, Toys “R” Us, U.S. “While appcessory R/C vehicles were a trend a few years ago, technology allows for continued innovation in this
18 • THE TOY BOOK
category and increased digital integrations that simply allow kids more options when it comes to their play experiences.”
You’ve Got Personality In a category that focuses heavily on the boys demographic, WowWee’s Noomie is the company’s attempt to make the category appealing to girls. Noomie, in the same vein as all of WowWee’s products, focuses on personality, so the R/C becomes more than just a remote-control toy—it becomes a friend. “We always start with personality—that’s our biggest thing,” says Sydney Wiseman, brand manager for Noomie. “We know we’ll be able to add in all the features of what a standard R/C would do.” A big trend across all categories of the toy industry is customization; therefore, it is no surprise to see it pop up in a fun way from WowWee. Noomie comes with a variety of different accessories, including puckered lips, a hair bow, and more. Different combinations of these accessories give Noomie a different personality, and thus, different behaviors kids can control with the remote. “It just adds elements to enhance her personality, and that’s really what everything is based off of,” says Wiseman. “You can have a personalized experience with your toys based on how you play with them—and [kids] react to that.” This innovative technology allows Noomie to take on multiple personalities, and gives kids a unique play experience each time. The physical play becomes a major part of the play pattern, but is also interwoven with creativity and imagina-
tion, as well as classic R/C play. This innovative play pattern is in the physical realm, as opposed to Noomie strictly coming to life on a smart device’s screen.
More Than Just a Car Another important consideration for companies when adding new innovations is the price point. How does a company add cool technology and additional play value without deterring consumers with a skyrocketing price? Maisto puts a lot of effort into making sure that end users get a good value, as well as a multi-tiered play experience. “It is really not a matter of straying from classic play patterns as much as it is a matter of straying from classic price points,” says Berman. “The technology needs to be easily understood by consumers, but be unique and thought to enhance the products.” In other words, the technology can’t just be there for show. Consumers are smarter than that. Innovative technology really brings something new to the product—makes it different. Maisto’s 1:16-scale Tech ReCon Rover uses app technology in a new way. The ReCon Rover features a spring mount that accommodates a smartphone or other camera device to capture all of the action. The camera records video as the vehicle moves, so kids can send the rover on an adventure—as Recon Rover, from Maisto far as it can reach with the controller—and then play it back later. The R/C category is beginning to experiment with new themes to go along with the addition of cameras, including adventure, spy gear, and more. This is more than just an app that drives; it’s an app technology that takes play value from the physical world to the digital one.
Making It Accessible Spin Master’s Air Hogs line aims to be innovative and affordable, and its top offerings this year—Rollercopter and Zero
20 • THE TOY BOOK
Gravity Laser—are no exception. The Rollercopter is an updated helicage that Air Hogs used a few years ago. The cage rolls up walls and across ceilings—think almost to the effect of a hamster wheel—which is a technology built off of a trend the Air Hogs Rollercopter, company sees at a hobby-grade from Spin Master level. The cage allows the vehicle to become accessible to a younger group of R/C enthusiasts. “It’s like training wheels that aren’t overtly ‘here are training wheels because you’re not very good,’” says James Martin, vice president of marketing at Spin Master. “Nobody wants to feel that they have to have the basic version of something. But it allows you to have a new feature [that] makes it more accessible.” Air Hogs’ Zero Gravity Laser allows kids to drive cars on the wall, controlling it with infrared light. Innovations such as this one allow toys to use technology to really add to the experience, which is what today’s tech-savvy kids are looking for. “I think people are really understanding that, at least for the mass market, kids don’t want tech for tech’s sake,” says Martin. “There has to be a real reason to do it. At the end of the day, it really goes back to that simple question: ‘Is it fun?”‘ Multi-function R/Cs provide more play value at a lower cost. These products can pack a variety of different play experiences into a single toy, giving kids a reason to want to keep playing and parents a reason to pick them up off the toy store shelves. By going beyond the simple idea of adding an app, the R/C category continues to strike a balance between new innovations consumers expect with the classic play pattern they already know and love. “There needs to be a lot of innovation in the toy world because if not, it will cease to exist,” says WowWee’s Wiseman. “Different is cool.” Although the classic R/C category is a staple in the toy industry, it is clearly heading toward an age of evolution and change. R/C manufacturers strive to find the perfect balance of technology and innovation in R/C toys, and it’s simply a race to see who can find that marriage first. ■
The Realtree R/C ATV Quad, from NKOK, is a fully functioning radio control vehicle. With an officially licensed Realtree camo pattern, the vehicle also features a rider, off-road tires, and working spotlights. The WWE R/C Rumble Vans are fully functioning radio control vehicles that feature the official WWE license. These detailed vans and drivers feature the top WWE wrestling stars, so kids can choose their favorite or collect them all.
The X-Quad Sky Viper Stunt Quadcopter, from Skyrocket Toys, is a new sleeker, smaller version of the airborne four-blade R/C copter. Like its predecessor, the X-Quad features technologically impressive hobby-level steering and control, with a lightweight, sturdy body for both indoor and outdoor play. The X-Quad Sky Viper Stunt Quadcopter is designed for kids ages 12 and up, and will be available this fall.
Realtree R/C ATV Quad with Hunter
22 â&#x20AC;˘ THE TOY BOOK
The Mario Kart 7 Donkey Kong and Mario Kart 7 Bowser R/C models, from Carrera, are the perfect representation of the Nintendo characters. Kids can drive each character with a 2.4 GHz controller and the characterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s body will lean into corners as they steer the cart. Soft and grippy rubber tires hold the road and the control system gives kids excellent control of the cart over long distances. The batteries and charger needed to race are included in the package.
Heli Beast, from Silverlit, is a multi-directional walking and flying R/C. The Heli Beast moves forward and backward and left and right. With a push of a button from the controller, kids can jump the Heli Beast over obstacles. By pushing the throttle forward and launching him into the air, the Heli Beast’s crawling action continues while he flies. The controller is a two-channel, super wide, infrared remote control with a pre-selected dual band system. It is easy to recharge through the transmitter.
Interactive Toy Concepts Interactive Toy Concepts’ Atom MAV (Micro Aviation Vehicle) is the smallest indoor flyer in the BladeRunner Series, which is designed specifically for aggressive indoor flying. With its four-channel infrared control with gyro stabilization, the Atom MAV is micro flight designed for kids ages 14 and up. It will be available this fall.
XQ Toys The R/C Jackknife Stunt Rig, from XQ Toys, lets kids get into the driver’s seat of an awesome, radiocontrolled 4x4 big rig. The full-function truck performs stunts with the push of a button. When the trailer is removed, the truck really takes off, spinning, flipping, and rolling over.
Blip Toys Cinderella’s pet, Pumpkin, comes to life with Magic Dance Pumpkin, an adorable, interactive, remote-controlled puppy from Blip Toys. Magic Dance Pumpkin can speak more than a dozen phrases and sounds, follow movement commands from the light-up magic wand controller, and perform two pre-programmed dance sequences. With soft fabric ears, removable fur cuffs, a stylish satin tutu and a bow, an oversized plush tail, and a glittering tiara, this royal pooch is great for little princesses ages 4 and up. Magic Dance Pumpkin will be available this fall.
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Hasbro The Nerf battle mobilizes when combined with the remote-controlled Combat Creatures Attacknid R/C robots, from Hasbro. Using the handheld remote, fans can activate its all-terrain, six-legged mobility; shoot Nerf darts up to 45 feet; and use the aiming elevator and 360-degree rotation to hit their targets. Players can battle friends and activate rapid-fire blasting to shoot up to 12 Nerf darts in a row, changing the direction of each shot to keep advancing robots at bay. Nerf Combat Creatures Attacknid robots will be available this fall.
Odyssey Toys The Roller Drone, from Odyssey Toys, features durable material with a super lightweight chassis to provide stability. The LED light in the canopy allows for night flight. The Roller Drone rolls on the ground, climbs walls, walks on ceilings, and flies through the air. The modular frame allows for easy replacement of spare parts. The Roller Drone is perfect for both beginner and advanced pilots, featuring a speed switch mode and a six-axis digital gyro for stable flight and multiple stunts. The wheels are detachable, converting the Roller Drone into a quad drone and back again. Available this fall, the Roller Drone also features a digital LCD remote control with video streaming capabilities.
World Tech Toys
Stay Puft Ghostbuster R/C Helicopter
Battle Slimer and Stay Puft with the Ghostbuster R/C Helicopters, from World Tech Toys. These helicopters feature an Infrared (IR) Laser Combat System that is controlled from the transmitter for mid-air Ghostbuster combat. There are IR sensors and emitters on each character that shoot an IR beam. Each character gets three lives in the air, which are displayed by the LED indicator light. Also from World Tech Toys is the Maverick Joy Stick Controlled Helicopter. Kids can fly like a real helicopter pilot with this R/C helicopter, featuring a 2.4 GHz joystick controller with realistic helicopter sounds and vibrations. Both products are available in the fall.
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Why Children PL AY the Way They Do PART 3 Core Play Patterns in Kids Ages 3 to 7 by Nancy Zwiers, CEO, Funosophy Inc.
art 1* of this series discussed our biologically based inner play drive that transcends time, geography, and culture. The Funosophy Play Theory introduces the concept that play is nature’s way of ensuring our brains get wired in a systematic, predictable way, as children progress through three age-based stages of play. In Part 2**, we delved more deeply into the first stage and examined core play patterns of children ages 0 to 2. Part 3 examines kids in the primary toy-buying age—ages 3 to 7. (Note that the age breaks discussed are not discrete, but rather represent a bell curve— some kids are earlier and some are later in transitioning to the next stage).
Children Ages 3 to 7 The bulk of the toy industry’s toys are purchased for children ages 3 to 7, the “magical thinking years” when emotionally charged imaginative play reigns supreme. Children will continue to engage in exploration, discovery, and mastery play, but at about age 2.5 or 3, a marked shift happens. Children become obsessed with inner fantasies of empowerment that deliver deep-seated emotional rewards. Two important things are happening in the brain during this time: • The fantasy-based storytelling that children engage in during imaginative play is designed to help them jumpstart their brains’ simulation ability—the ability to form images in the mind (to imagine)—which is one of our most powerful and uniquely human survival skills. In this anything-goes context, children escape the confines of their real lives and soar. • At the same time, each child is developing his or her core sense of self, the brain’s construction of the central protagonist in one’s mental life story. The most concrete and stable part of a child’s identity is his or her gender—as such, gender is a foundational aspect of identity that gets developed first, before less concrete aspects emerge (e.g. personality, interests, etc.).
Boys’ Imaginative Play • Physical empowerment: While both genders seek real-world physical empowerment, a boy’s imaginative play is
26 • THE TOY BOOK
centered on it. Physical empowerment hyper-feminine characters. For the younger includes size, strength, speed, and skill. girls, that means fantasy characters that Action figure play taps into these fantasies, embody quintessential glamour such as featuring characters that embody physical princesses, fairies, and mermaids. Girls also power. Vehicle play lets boys vicariously respond to nurturing characters such as experience physical power. Sports play is Doc McStuffins. Slightly older girls, ages especially alluring as a means to feel 6 and up, like to pretend to be real-world physically powerful. Even construction play aspirational characters such as pop stars and game play combine mastery with themes and teenagers. involving physical empowerment to turbo-charge appeal (Lego grew dramatically by adding a A Word to the Adults story-based dimension). Many adults bristle when I talk about • Boys’ imitation play: At this age, gender-specific play patterns. The children’s role play no longer focuses on supposition is that culture is driving imitating parental behavior. Instead, these artificial distinctions in how children imitate idealized fantasy children play and that we should shape characters that embody their dreams of our children through proper playthings. Action figures, such as Bandai’s Power empowerment. Boys gravitate to Rangers Super Megaforce Deluxe Megazord, That usually translates to encouraging girls promote physical empowerment for boys. characters that are hyper-masculine, such to play more like boys and, for an as superheroes and warriors. enlightened few, encouraging boys to play more like girls. Neuroscience studies show that cognitively, males and females are very similar, with only a few minor differences. However, Girls’ Imaginative Play • Nurturing/social empowerment play: At this age, girls’ the emotional brain circuits in boys and girls are quite imaginative play encompasses two fantasies: nurturing/social different—this is true from early infancy and for the rest of our and beauty. The first to emerge, often at around age 2, is lives. The emotional underpinnings of children’s natural play nurturing. This involves feeling powerful by taking care of patterns reflect these gender differences. In the next installment, we’ll look at gender differences in someone who is vulnerable. Baby dolls, plush, and pet play are ■ prime examples. Fashion and small dolls offer nurturing play further detail and dive into kids ages 8 to 12 and up. as well (think Babysitter Barbie). As girls grow older, they expand their fantasies of emotional connection to spotlight Nancy Zwiers is CEO and chief funosopher of Funosophy friendships and having fun together—BFFs are very important! • Beauty empowerment play: Most little girls are enamored Inc., a brand-building consulting firm in the play industry. with beauty. When they feel beautiful, or make someone or Founded in 2000, Funosophy conducts extensive research in the something else beautiful, they feel empowered. Feeling area of kids and play and has advised more than 150 clients beautiful is fed by traditional fantasy role play with little girls ranging from start-ups to established companies. Prior to and by reality-based fashion and beauty play with the older founding Funosophy, Zwiers held top executive positions at girls of this age segment. Fashion and beauty drive the majority Mattel, including senior vice president of worldwide marketing of girl toy sales, whether girls are beautifying themselves, each for Barbie. For more information on company research or services, call (562) 243-2909 or email other, their dolls, their bedrooms, or their family’s refrigerator consulting door with crafts. From Barbie and Disney Princesses to arts email@example.com. *To read Part 1 of this article, see page 50 in the and craft kits and beyond, little girls can never have too much December/January 2014 issue of The Toy Book. sparkle and shine. **To read Part 2, see page 242 in the February 2014 issue • Girls’ imitation play: Like little boys, little girls are inspired by hyper-gendered cues. Girls’ preferences at this age are for of The Toy Book.
THE TOY BOOK •
Taking Plush to the Next Level
As technology improves, consumers seek plush products that push the envelope and provide functionality. by Christine Duhaime
one are the days when plush was simply a category of stagnant stuffed toys. Kids today can enjoy plush items that sing, dance, play music, light up, talk, and more. With technology moving ever forward, the plush category sees new ways to integrate interactive elements into soft products. While mechanized toys aren’t a brand new concept, many companies plan to produce new items that utilize today’s technologies in ways never seen before. Jeff Johnson, CTO and design director at Cloud b, says that innovation in the plush category is derived partly from dropping costs. “More affordable chipsets allow us to add sophisticated features that would not have been seen in plush just a few years ago, such as motion sensors, voice recognition, and bluetooth connectivity,” he says. “The addition of bluetooth technology and the development of smartphone apps allow users to customize their experience.” Cloud b’s Twilight Turtle Tunes employs this feature, offering parents the opportunity to create their own sound mix using the Cloud b app, and then stream it via bluetooth through the plush turtle. “As costs drop, features can be expanded, which opens the possibility of more functionality and a more natural interaction between the toy and the child,” says Johnson. While many interactive toys offer visual and audio elements, plush distinguishes itself because of the tactile experience it offers kids and parents. The look and feel of the product is vitally important to the appeal of the consumer. Gund has taken musical instruments—usually something thought of as hard, solid, and made for older kids— and transformed them into soft
28 • THE TOY BOOK
Colorfun Guitar, from Gund
plush versions for kids ages 18 months and up. The Colorfun line, from the babyGUND collection, offers a drum, a xylophone, and a guitar for kids to bang away on safely and comfortably. Parents can turn the battery pack on to let kids “play” the instrument as it plays a melody and lights up, and can turn it off for a little peace and quiet or to transform the item from a musical toy into a cuddly comfort object. WikiBear, from Commonwealth Not all interactive plush is designed for infants and toddlers. Commonwealth Toy & Novelty Co.’s WikiBear, available this fall, connects to the Internet via a Bluetooth connection and responds to kids’ questions, tells jokes, and carries on a conversation. Using voice activation technology, WikiBear finds the answer online and speaks the answer, much like Apple’s Siri; remembers names, likes, and dislikes; and more. The more kids interact with WikiBear, the better WikiBear gets to know the child. WikiBear also has parental controls and a bank of thousands of blocked words, so content is always safe for kids. Demand for interactive plush is steadily increasing as technology enables plush to engage kids in play, or soothe them during sleep. As consumers see what’s possible in electronics, they have come to expect more from plush. “We believe the market for interactive plush will continue to grow,” says Johnson. “However, even the best toy cannot serve as a substitute for a loving relationship between parent and child ... we will always keep our focus on creating products that help children sleep safely and improve the health, happiness, and well-being of the family.” ■
Plush SnuggleTime Blooms babies, from Adora, blend sweetness and love for kids of all ages. Their removable flower hoodies are made of soft microfiber plush and are available in three colors. Kids can cuddle the squeezable bodies, which are weighted with beans. Each doll’s face is crafted in vinyl, and the dolls are machine-washable. Adora’s SnuggleTime Dots dolls feature ultra-soft bodies that are weighted with beans and made of microfiber plush. Available in three bright polka dot patterns, SnuggleTime Dots come with a removable hoodie and yarn pigtails. SafariTime Pals come with their own animal-themed removable hoodie that’s made of microfiber plush, and are available in six different animal costumes.
With the Good Dog Crossover Bag, from Douglas, girls ages 3 and up can carry their stuff in style. Designer fabrics, original dog artwork, a long adjustable strap, and sparkles create a trendy icon. Styles include a butterfly, a horseshoe, a lollipop, and a flower. There are eight styles in the collection, and each bag measures 6 inches by 9 inches. The Shimmering Fox Sassy Pet Sak offers girls ages 2 and up sparkle, bling, and a removable hot pink fox. The Sweet Pup Sak with Chocolate Lab features trendy pop art and a removable chocolate lab plush dog. Both Saks measure 7 inches wide. The Princess Tutu Bag measures 7 inches by 6 inches and comes in four styles. Girls ages 3 and up can choose from four styles of sparkles, pink chiffon, and shiny graphics. Shimmering Fox Sassy Pet Sak
Fiesta introduces the New Round collection. These square animals are available in two sizes so kids can collect and stack them up. New Rounds are offered in shark, orca, goat, cow, pig, elephant, giraffe, monkey, and penguin styles. Kids ages 3 and up can snuggle up to Comfies, soft, floppy friends available in 16 types of land and sea animals including a polar bear, a dog, an orca, and a lion. Comfies are also available in a version that is safe for all ages. Pocket Pillow Pals are two-in-one pillow and plush pals. Kids can unzip the plush animal’s back and turn it inside-out to become a pillow, and vice-versa. Pocket Pillow Pals are designed for kids ages 3 and up.
New Round Goat
Groovy Girls, from Manhattan Toy, encourage girls to develop a sense of identity and individuality. New this year, Princess Ella has golden blonde hair and a jeweled tiara. She wears a purple dress with tulle trim and shiny gold shoes. She stands 13 inches tall and is suitable for girls ages 3 and up.
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The Mystical Panda, from Pillow Pets, provides kids with the comfort of an 18inch plush toy by day and a pillow by night. The sparkly patterned fabric on the bottom adds extra pizzazz. Made from ultra-soft chenille, kids can collect Pillow Pets in six styles: Mystical Unicorn, Turtle, Seal, Koala, Raccoon, and Mystical Panda.
Madame Alexander introduces Baby Peekaboos, playful plush baby dolls with animal-themed outfits. Each Peekaboo features a sculpted face and a soft, huggable body, with a hood that goes up and down over the dollâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face for a game of peek-a-boo. Baby Peekaboos will be available in August, and kids can choose a dog, a kitty, a bear, or a bluebird. My Sweet Lovies are soft cloth dolls with felt hair and an all-cloth body. Dressed in taffeta tulle ballet skirts and matching ballet flats, My Sweet Lovies are available in pink, purple, and blue, and are machine-washable. My Sweet Lovies will be available in My Sweet Lovie June, and are designed for kids of all ages.
Plush Noble Heroes, from Ganz, are plush superhero pets that celebrate positive actions and attitudes. Each pet represents responsibility, bravery, or achievement. Noble Heroes are a way for parents, grandparents, teachers, or coaches to encourage and praise kids. With Nutty Mutts, kids can press each pup three times and Nutty Mutts change the bark. Nutty Mutts feature a graphic mix of bright colors and stripes. Woofles, Bow Wow, and Arf come in 8-, 11-, and 14-inch sizes, and each mutt has a matching soft pillow available.
Gund’s Sleepy Seas Sound & Light Whale lights up while playing soft, soothing sounds. The sounds and lights automatically shut off after five minutes, so little ones of all ages can relax and fall asleep. This 7-inch whale is made of soft and cuddly material and includes three AAA batteries. Gund introduces the newest addition to its Curious George collection, Curious George Teach Me. George is dressed in traditional red overalls with a button, a snap, a buckle, a tie, and a touch-andclose fastener. At 16 inches tall and made with ultra-soft fabric, this Curious George is a huggable learning tool that helps toddlers master handeye coordination. Sleepy Seas Sound & Light Whale
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The Standing Lop Rabbit, from Folkmanis, features distinctive long ears and ultra-soft fur in a creamy white and patchy brown pattern. The bunny can reach his moveable paws up to his maneuverable mouth. The Standing Lop Rabbit is 12 inches tall and suitable for kids ages 3 and up. Kids ages 3 and up can entertain their friends with the 14-inch Grunting Pig puppet. The silky, soft plush is pale pink with grey patches and features a curly tail and workable snout, mouth, and front feet. When kids squeeze his pot belly, the pig makes a grunting sound. The new Airedale Terrier puppet is a realistic-looking dog with soft, wiry fur, a black saddle, and a tan head, ears, and legs. His nose and eyes are dark. Kids can work his mouth and wiggle his tail. This 20-inch puppet is designed for kids ages 3 and up. The Perched Eagle puppet is realistically rendered with piercing eyes and dark brown feathers. His head and tail are white and he features a strong, hooked beak and gold, leatherette talons.
Imports Dragon introduces Caillou 12-inch plush based on the kids’ TV show. Caillou is geared up like the original character, and sports a blue and yellow baseball cap, bright red shoes, and a bright yellow T-shirt. Made of soft, colorful material, Caillou is machine-washable. Based on the Franklin series, the Franklin plush wears his signature red baseball cap, a dotted neckerchief, and a screen-printed shell. Franklin is 11 inches tall and is suitable for kids of all ages. Max and Ruby are brother and sister bunnies that teach lessons in kindness, working together, and listening to others. Ruby plush wears a removable pink flowered dress, while Max sports blue overalls and a striped T-shirt. Max and Ruby are 13 inches tall, and feature pellets on their feet that allow them to stand up for display. Both dolls are machine-washable.
The FOUR CORE Toy Industry Trends for 2014 by Reyne Rice, trend hunter, media influencer, consultant, and keynote speaker
s a trend hunter, I search for the newest lifestyle and overarching industry trends that are defining toys, games, and children’s technology every year. Here are four standout trends that will define the landscape from now through the holiday season. I worked together with the trend committee for the 2014 Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair in Nuremberg to identify these core trends, which resonate across North America as well as international markets.
Fit4Life Fit4Life describes the trend of children learning new hobbies and life skills with the aid of toys and toy products. These skills will equip them for everyday life. The roots of this trend lie in the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement, which initially captured the imagination of adults. Suddenly, TV schedules and bookshelves were crammed full of cooking, gardening, and craft programs and guides. The success of the movement is based on an emphasis on individuality, self-realization, and sustainability. Children have always wanted to emulate their parents. At a young age, many are interested in learning to cook, garden, construct, knit, sew, and explore the world around them using tools that mirror those of their parents and caregivers. What is new, however, is the intensive fostering of these manual skills through products specifically designed for use by kids. Safe and ergonomi-
cally designed for smaller hands, these products have simple instructions, provide esteem-building opportuni-
Fit4Life Key Players: •The Magic Path of Yoga (Upside Down Games, pictured) •Sew Cool Sewing Studio and Sew Cool Fabric Refills (Spin Master) •Slackers Slackline Kits (Brand 44) •Family Food Stars Silicone Cupcake Mold Safari (Haba USA) •The Big Creativity Can (Faber-Castell/Creativity for Kids) •Vex IQ Robotics (Innovation First)
THE TOY BOOK • 33
ties, and pave the way for providing kids with the best possible opportunities later in life. The influence of STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) products have crossover application to this trend, since many of the skills learned through these products are life lessons, designed to be discovered and explored through hands-on experiences.
Retromania Retro is defined as the connection of childhood memories to favorite, classic, and nostalgic brands. The retromania phenomenon is often represented by a product that was previously a best-seller, which may have faded from retail shelves, and is reintroduced with a successful new design or improved features. Familiar looks from the past merge with the relevancy and possibilities that today’s kids embrace. Retro trailblazers can be rejuvenated as revamped products through product design details, the use of classic materials, and even the reintroduction of original packaging. Many classic characters celebrate key milestone anniversaries this year: Power Rangers celebrates 20 years, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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Retromania Key Players: •Hello Kitty Cupcake Café (Cartwheel Kids, pictured) •Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures (Playmates) •Tamagotchi, Tamagotchi Friends, and Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. (Bandai) •Retro, Retro, Retro (White Mountain Puzzles) •Power Rangers Super Megaforce Deluxe Legendary Megazord (Bandai)
Mini Is King Key Players: •Nano Falcon mini-helicopter (Silverlit, pictured) •Crystal Panda (Blue Box Toy Factory) •Lego Minifigures from The Lego Movie (Lego) •Mini Lalaloopsy (MGA Entertainment) •Crashlings (Wicked Cool Toys)
round their 30th anniversaries, Hello Kitty marks its 40th year, and even Godzilla stomps into his 60th year of monster madness. Retro is hotter than ever since, as adults, we like to reminisce, remembering back to the familiar and proven products that we would like to pass on to our children. Retromania also embraces the warmth of wood and those products that remind us of a simpler lifestyle. As such, eco-friendly, wooden, and environmentally safe products that have the back-to-basics promise are included in this trend.
Mini Is King Mini Is King is devoted to the miniaturization trend, which mostly applies to the technical field, where it refers to the downsizing of technical components, but retention of their functionality. Certain terms, like micromechanics or nanotechnology, refer to this concept. Urbanization and the resulting shortage of space increase the interest in miniaturization in fields other than technology. Urban homes become smaller, but people still want to enjoy the usual comforts or familiar products. Numerous creative ideas and solutions that offer smaller packages or products with the right amount of
“Technology and related devices are
already so well integrated into our everyday lives that we can hardly imagine a world without them anymore.”
functionality exist—for example, those capsule or “pod” hotels in Japan. Increased mobility also drives the Mini Is King trend. When they are on the move, people want portable products that don’t take up a lot of space. The miniaturization trend is also prominent in the toy industry, as people want to ensure their children get the most enjoyment out of their toys, despite a lack of space or living a mobile lifestyle. The bottom line: It makes sense to adapt through miniaturization. Collectibles and minifigure collections are also part of this trend, in which kids and older consumers build collections of their favorites for play and display. The Lego Movie, about a minifigure uprising, garnered nearly $400 million in global revenues since its U.S. launch in early February, further cementing the worldwide love fest for minifigures.
TechToys The rapid advancement of technology in our society paves the way for a new type of play. Thanks to devices such as smartphones, tablets, and video consoles, traditional toys and games can now be linked with the virtual world. Technology and related devices are already so wellintegrated into our lives that we can hardly imagine a world without them anymore. The younger generation, in particular, has never known any other life, and technology is a natural extension of their lives and worldview. The TechToys trend showcases exciting product combinations in which technology influences toy design. When at its best, technology enhances and does not overwhelm natural play. By integrating technology and hands-on play
TechToys Key Players: •XO Tablet (Sakar/Vivitar, pictured) •Kidizoom Smartwatch (VTech) •Go! Go! Smart Animals (VTech) •ATC Chameleon Dual-Lens Action Video Camera (Oregon Scientific) •MiP Robot (Wowwee) with physical objects, the result can be the added value of an app, augmented reality, or a website world that unlocks additional play opportunities. Meanwhile, other products engage children with robotics or building components that encourage critical thinking, problem solving, or provide cause-and-effect interactions. Finally, some selections offer adult-sized technology in kid-sized play products, such as R/C vehicles, digital cameras, and even kid-sized tablets. These are just a few core trends that are poised to contribute to toy and game sales this year. More are sure to emerge as the year progresses. ■ With more than 15 years as a trend expert, trend hunter, and trend analyst, Reyne Rice has advised on family and youth trends for toys, games, technology, licensing, and entertainment. A seasoned industry professional with 30 years of experience in marketing, researching, and analyzing the toy industry and youth market, she currently advises trade associations, entertainment studios, consumers, manufacturers, and media on the hottest trends. Reyne has owned her consultancy, Toy Trends, since 2003. She can be contacted at reynerice.com.
THE TOY BOOK • 35
The Top Name in Children’s TV Adds New Toy Partners By Phil Guie
esame Street is not only a trusted name identify as popular Sesame Street characters. in educational TV programming, but, Prestige’s version of the musical pull-toy, after 45 years, has also evolved into a a familiar favorite that hangs on a crib and, globally recognized brand for toys and children’s when the baby pulls down on it, plays soothing products. Recently, Sesame Workshop, the notmusic, comes in three different Sesame Street for-profit educational organization behind characters, each with a prized item: Elmo Sesame Street, welcomed two new licensees to and his goldfish Dorothy, Ernie and his its family: Prestige Toy Corp. and TCG. rubber duckie, and Cookie Monster with, of Both companies will introduce a new course, a cookie. line of Sesame Street toys, each for a difThe Prestige infant line will arrive on ferent part of the North American children’s mass-market shelves by mid-summer market. Prestige has signed on for a line of soft and all products meet or exceed industry infant toys, while TCG will deliver wooden play- Cookie Monster and Elmo Ring Rattles, safety standards. Surveying the licensed field, things for the toddler and preschool age groups. Gershin notes that most other Sesame Street by Prestige Toy Corp. For the Sesame Street brand, the new partproducts have primarily been aimed at prenerships mark a new direction toward these two specific cate- school-age children and, as such, the baby market is potengories. “In the past, we’ve delved into these categories with tially underserved. “A lot of our products are for newborns up other preschool partners who simply added these categories to to 12 months,” he says. “We’re focused much younger, and we their preschool mix,” says Ann Kearns, vice president of li- just felt there was a tremendous opportunity in the baby part censing, global consumer products for Sesame Workshop. “Our of the business.” strategy now is to look for partners For Kearns, the timing for a push into the infant market that can focus on a particular cateseems right, given the enduring appeal of the TV show. She gory and maximize it both for us points to three generations of families that have and themselves.” grown up with Sesame Street, includPrestige, which Kearns notes has a ing today’s new parents and their successful history in the infant children. “Whether it be new moms toy category, will have Sesame or first-time grandparents, we feel that there is an interest for Street-branded rag dolls, Sesame Street infant toys musical light-up dolls, ring among parents and grandparents rattles, and activity teethers who want to introduce their inin its upcoming infant line. Robert fants to the characters they or Gershin, president of Prestige Toy, their children enjoyed while growsays the new line consists of core Sesame Street Pull-Alongs, ing up,” says Kearns. baby items that parents can easily by TCG
36 • THE TOY BOOK
“Our strategy now is to look for partners that can focus on a particular
category and maximize it for us and themselves.”
—Ann Kearns, vice president of licensing, global consumer products for Sesame Workshop
Gershin calls Sesame Street a great fit for his company’s li- market the new line, supporting it censed business, as well as one of the top children’s brands with digital efforts, including blog today. “Let’s face it, it’s the classic—The classic, with a capital outreach. According to Albert, parT—property in our industry,” he says. ents are the main target of these Meanwhile, the partnership with TCG represents Sesame efforts, and they have already Street’s return to the wooden toy category after a hiatus of a embraced wooden toys as few years. Kearns explains that Sesame Workshop chose TCG suitable playthings for their because it demonstrated both a successful presence in the cat- children due to their high quality egory, as well as an appreciation for the Sesame Street license. and eco-friendliness. In addition, TCG has an established presence in both the “With all of the testing pressures mass-market and specialty retail channels. “Going with a part- that have come for various reasons ner like TCG, which has the broadest distribution rights, also over the years, wooden toys are perenables them to get the broadest distribution for our products,” ceived by moms to be safe and to last,” says Kearns. he says. “The durability of these prodSesame Street Baby Doll, Due on shelves this fall, TCG’s line will include alphabet ucts, as compared to traditional plastic by Prestige Toy Corp. blocks, character stackers, shape sorters, pull-along toys, and toys, is tremendous.” other classic wooden items. As far as Sesame Street characAlbert calls Sesame Street “a triple-A preschool property,” ters, Elmo anchors all the assortments, although the toys will and lauds the fit between the brand and TCG, which also also feature favorites such as Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster, counts Fisher-Price and Peppa Pig among its licenses. “Sesame and Oscar the Grouch. Street is the perfect partner for natural wood toys,” says AlPresident of TCG Michael Albert says his company’s pro- bert. “Imagination, creativity, and exploration drive the thinkgram will include some uniquely designed pieces, each with a ing behind both this license and these products.” learning element. The new Elmo Character Blocks Train comOf course, neither agreement would be possible without the bines shape sorting, interchangeable train pieces, and stack- longevity of the brand itself, which has accumulated more than able blocks for a different play experience each time. 150 domestic licensees for toys and children’s products to date. Another upcoming item is the Sesame Street When asked about the enduring appeal of Sesame Wooden Train, a traditional Street, Kearns credited it to wooden train set featuring Sesame Workshop keeping the TV show in-step with the Sesame Street characters. viewing audience. “[We] are “It’s a tried-and-true play constantly evolving our show, pattern, and it’s been exand our curriculum, to stay ecuted beautifully,” Alcurrent with what today’s bert says. children need to reach Along with manutheir highest potential,” facturing and distribSesame Street Wooden Train, by TCG ■ says Kearns. uting, TCG will also
THE TOY BOOK • 37
The Voice Reaching Both Trade and Consumers
CONTACT: JONATHAN SAMET OR LAURIE SCHACHT ADVENTURE PUBLISHING GROUP 307 7TH AVENUE, SUITE 1601 NEW YORK, NY 10001 TEL: 212-575-4510 FAX: 212-575-4521 WWW.ADVENTUREPUB.COM
T HE D EFINITIVE I NFORMATION S OURCE
G IFT M ERCHANT
NEWS SPIELWARENMESSE 2014 HAD GREATER INTERNATIONAL PRESENCE, LED BY CHINA AND HONG KONG
CAPTAIN ACTION RETURNS, COURTESY OF ZICA TOYS
According to Spielwarenmesse eG, the number of international exhibitors at Spielwarenmesse 2014 increased to 1,951 from 1,940 in the prior year, and the top countries as far as number of international exhibitors were led by China with 243, Hong Kong with 174, and Great Britain with 164. An estimated 90.8 percent of exhibitors plan to exhibit again in 2015. Among visitors, 40.7 percent were from the retail and toy trade sector—the largest sector by far. The top countries as far as number of international visitors were led by Italy, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Spain.
Zica Toys and Action Enterprises have teamed up to produce a series of retro, 3.75-inch Captain Action figures, vehicles, and play sets. The first wave of new toys will include Captain Action, Action Boy, Dr. Evil, and the Silver Streak vehicle. They will be on sale internationally later this year.
On April 2, a group of inventors organized by Entrepreneurs for Growth, Alliance of U.S. Startups and Inventors for Jobs, and Edison Nation took a day off from inventing in response to patent reform legislation moving on Capitol Hill. The protest was against the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013, which already passed in the House of Representatives and is currently being considered in the Senate. The inventor groups argue that this legislation would lessen the ability to protect intellectual property, and are calling for a slower, more thoughtful approach to the issue. As part of the one-day protest, inventors held a briefing on the topic of defending the innovation economy during an event in Washington, D.C.
ON THE COVER: FROM ROLLY-POLLY KITTY RIDE-ON TO A SARDINE ACTIVITY “TIN” WITH THREE FISHES, MOULIN ROTY’S LES PACHATS CAT-THEMED SPECIALTY LINE HAS RETAILERS COVERED WITH ALL THINGS FELINE. THE LINE IS IMPORTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY MAGICFOREST IN THE U.S. FOR MORE FROM MAGICFOREST, SEE PAGE S4.
INVENTORS STOP INVENTING
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
FUELING YOUR STORE’S INNOVATION WITH
by Kathleen McHugh, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) ear-over-year sales, average ticket per transaction, gross margin, sales per square foot, profit—your store’s financial reports can tell you how you are doing in comparison to your own last quarter or last year and help you monitor your progress toward your goals. But how do you measure your store’s performance against other retailers, especially the best in the business? How do you look externally to find what is working for other independent retailers and use that information to take your own store to the next level? That’s where the Performance Survey, conducted every two years by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), comes in. This is a free benchmarking service we offer to ASTRA retail members. It compares your store’s financial performance to both the average ASTRA retailer and high-performing ASTRA stores. Participating retailers also receive a free report with industry averages for independent stores as a whole across different industries. ASTRA’s commitment to this member service is built on the premise that benchmarking is a valuable tool for managing your business. Benchmarking can fuel your efforts to: • Identify your store’s strengths and opportunities for growth. • Set aggressive but realistic goals. • Focus on establishing market-driven goals. • Identify areas to cut costs. • Reassess what is possible and move away from “the way it’s always been done.” • Learn from other retailers, which is one of the premises on which ASTRA was founded. • Better prioritize and allocate resources. • Identify specific ideas for improving your operations, marketing, and profit. • Recharge your enthusiasm and energy for innovation. Benchmarking is most effective when it is done on a consistent
schedule, when it captures consistent data points so trending can be monitored, and when it includes performance results from a large number of participants. ASTRA’s long-term commitment to its Performance Survey reflects the value ASTRA volunteer leaders place on this business tool. Here’s how it works: ASTRA retailers provide data points in several categories plus the store’s year-end balance sheet and income statement. The metrics we collect include footage of selling space, number of employees by function, estimated average sale per transaction, number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) carried, number of suppliers, amount of sales in each product category, and average inventory. Your store’s numbers, which are strictly confidential, are combined with those of all reporting stores to build averages. Participants receive a free 25-page report that offers suggestions for improving profitability. A key tool is the Performance Scorecard, which gives you an at-a-glance look at whether your store’s results in key areas are strong, good, fair, or needing attention. You can instantly pick out the weak spots, and start planning how to fix those problem areas by using an online tool that will help plan and cost out critical improvements. The creator and analyst of ASTRA’s annual Performance Survey—Dr. Al Bates of the Profit Planning Group—will present a session on improving the bottom line for specialty toy stores at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy (June 8 to 11 in Phoenix). l Does ASTRA’s Performance Survey make a difference to its members? “The first year I received the Performance Survey, I debated filling it out and sending it in because it does take a bit of time,” says Phil Wrzensinski, owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Mich. “The results were a big surprise for me. I found, in essence, lost money. And when I focused on correcting the area where I was out of alignment with other stores, the result was the biggest profit our store has seen in decades.”
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
GEARED FOR IMAGINATION introduces Les Mistinguettes. These fashionistas are designed in France, and each features her own unique style. Each doll is packaged in a deluxe gift box and features removeable, detailed clothes. There are five styles to choose from: Colette, Francette, Lucette, Odette, and Jeanette. Rabbit Reece is a soft, cuddly bunny that features a unique hybrid corduroy/velour fabric. Rabbit Reece is available in 12 inches and 16 inches, and comes in pink and blue. Also new from Geared for Imagination is the Magic Circus line. Designed in France, the line is safe for kids of all ages and features a rich palette and whimsical designs. Ernesto Musical Hat has Ernesto the rabbit hidden in his top hat, but when baby pulls the hat down, Ernesto comes out and music plays. Once the melody is over, Ernesto disappears back into the hat. The hook-and-loop strap makes it easy to hang anywhere for on-the-go fun.
Fireflies twinkle in the belly of the Twinkling Firefly Frog, from CLOUD B. The fireflies create a magical glow to soothe kids to sleep. The Twinkling Firefly Frog offers sound options including rain, crickets, or a lullaby melody, and features a 45minute timer. Twinkling Firefly Frog Frankie the Fox is a snuggly plush fox that plays tranquil sounds to help calm and comfort kids at bedtime. Frankie plays the sounds of sunny days, a forest walk, a brook, and daydreams. Frankie has a Velcro tab for easy attachment to a babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s crib and offers 23-minute and 45-minute timer options. Cloud b introduces Twilight Buddies, snuggly plush animals that project accurate star constellations onto the ceiling and wall. Twilight Buddies glow in blue, green, or amber, and can automatically cycle through all three colors. Kids can choose from an alligator, a fox, a giraffe, a hippo, or a sheep. Twilight Buddies feature a 45-minute timer. MAGICFOREST introduces Les Popipop, a new theme of Moulin Roty plush from France. The collection includes a soft lion, an owl, a panther, an elephant, and a monkey. Each doll is completely sewn and safe for newbornsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;no plastic eyes or rough pieces. Les Popipop plush are machine-washable when placed in a pillowcase.
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
Odette, from Les Mistinguettes collection
The HORNDRIBBLES are fun-loving monsters who live on Horndribble Island. Plush Zapp, Hux, Mosby, and Meeks are created in the likeness of the Horndribbles book series, including Zapp and the Oogah-Oogah Nut and Meeks and the Great Invention. The world of the Horndribbles comes to life with these plush characters and their vibrant colors, big eyes, and zany forms.
CATE AND LEVI expands its collection of plush made from repurposed sweaters. The Horse stuffed toy is made with reclaimed wool and is stuffed with new and recycled poly stuffing. This 20inch horse is machine-washable. The Owl Pillow Pal is made of reclaimed, cleaned wool on the outside and stuffed with new and recycled poly stuffing. The Owl Pillow Pal is 12 inches tall and is machine-washable. The Tooth Fairy Pillow, also made from reclaimed wool and poly filling, lets kids tuck their lost teeth inside for the Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy Pillow is machine-washable.
Plush HABA introduces Juliette and Nicolas Wolf Musical Cuddles for babies ages 6 months and up. Juliette is a lady caterpillar who plays a friendly lullaby when kids pull the soft apple core, and her cheeks light up while the music plays. Nicolas is a friendly wolf that wears a little circus-themed jacket. When kids pull his top hat, a white bunny appears. While the music plays, the bunny gradually disappears under the soft top hat. Both musical toys are soft enough to cuddle or they can be tied to a baby’s crib. Kids ages 3 and up can open up an adventure with Doll Shona. She’s been all around the world, and her suitcase proves it with stamps from different places, including Paris. Her home is tucked inside a handheld suitcase with illustrated furniture. She wears a poofy skirt and comes with another dress so kids can change her outfit.
Tooth Fairy Pillow
Nicolas Wolf Musical Cuddles
I HEART GUTS offers kids a cuddly way to learn about the human body. The Super Big Heart measures 30 by 24 by 11 inches, and features a happy face and arteries. Other body parts include Lymph Node plush and Skin plush. Skin plush depicts a cross-section of the skin, complete with a hair follicle. Each I Heart Guts plush piece includes a fun pun, such as “rock your antibody” and “in the flesh.” I Heart Guts plush is appropriate for kids of all ages. Skin plush
NORTH AMERICAN BEAR CO.’s Tutu Cute Goody Bag features soft velour and sparkly tulle. Satin ribbon accents this 6-inch tote, which features a fully lined central compartment with a velcro closure. The bag is for girls ages 6 and up. The Cutie Tattootie Shark Tattoo Set offers kids ages 3 and up activity play with a personalized twist. The shark is made from woven cotton and comes with 12 Tattly temporary tattoos. Exclusively packaged tattoo sets complementing each doll in the Cutie Tattootie line include six pairs of trendy tattoos for kids to wear or apply to the shark. These one-time use, non-toxic, vegetable-based ink tattoos are removable from kids’ skin. The machine-washable doll lets kids tattoo it up with new designs over and over again. Girls on the Move are innovative tricot dolls with hidden finger slots in the legs, so kids ages 3 and up can make them dance, run, or do gymnastics. These 7-inch dolls are available in blonde and brunette, as a gymnast and a ballerina. Girls on the Move Ballerina Brunette
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
Twinkle Fairies, from DEMDACO, feature magical light-up wings and make enchanting magic wand sounds. They have several friends for girls to collect. Knitzies are high-end plush designed by artist Lori Siebert. They are whimsical animals with hand-crafted, unique looks that use a mix of patterns, prints and textures. Googleez are squeezable, silly monsters that are full of expression, thanks to their googly, moving eyes; fun hair; and bright colors. DEMDACO’s Peek-a-Boo Zoo lets kids play peek-a-boo by covering the plush animal’s eyes to activate the light sensor. The character plays a special song and its cheeks light up when kids press its paw pad. With Sing-Along Puppets, from Nat & Jules by DEMDACO, kids and parents can sing along with a full-body plush frog or puppy that ribbits or barks three melodies while the puppeteer moves its mouth. DEMDACO and children’s apparel brand Zutano have created a line of plush toys using Zutano’s vibrant and modern designs. The line includes a pink owl, a brown bear, and a dinosaur made of dinosaur-print fabric.
WHAT’S NEW Yo-yo companies YOMEGA CORP. and YOYOJAM INC. have teamed up to create an innovative new line of high-performance plastic yo-yos. The YoYoJam from Yomega collection includes three yoyos specifically designed by skill level from beginner to professional. The line includes an updated version of YoYoJam’s Journey yo-yo, which is a great model for learning and practicing basic string tricks. Firestorm is a new model that stands out with its bold look and solid feel, while Odyssey is a new take on the veteran yo-yo Surge, made for advanced yo-yoers. YoYoJam from Yomega will be available at traditional and online toy and hobby retailers. YoYoJam Inc. works directly with champion yo-yoers worldwide to create products designed “by the player for the player.” The line is produced in the U.S. by YoYoJam and distributed by Yomega. The Sea-Quarium, from DUNECRAFT, provides kids with everything they need to start a living and breathing underwater environment. Once the lilypad sprouts and the fairy shrimp hatch, kids can place the Sea-Quarium in the sun or use the LED lights to grow the algae for the shrimp to feed on. Kids can grow several generations of fairy shrimp with a life span of six to eight weeks with the starter edition. The deluxe edition includes an LED light that changes colors from red to blue and a hydro-pump to aerate the water. The tank features a bowed front panel with magnifying portals so kids can watch the aquatic ecosystem grow. The Sea-Quarium was designed in collaboration with a professor who spent his career studying these organisms. CJ PRODUCTS INC. introduces Tricksters Helmets, a line of Pillow Pets-inspired plush helmets available in five character styles, including Rainbow Bear, Flower Power Cat, Lulu Leopard, Comfy Panda, and Snuggly Puppy. Tricksters helmets are safety-certified for bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, and scooters, and feature an adjustable dial on the back to ensure a perfect fit and a secure strap that attaches underneath the chin. There are two availble sizes: small, for kids ages 3 to 5, and medium, for kids ages 5 to 7. Tricksters helmets make bicycle safety fun for kids, encourage them to exercise, and allow them to bring their favorite Pillow Pets along for the ride. The plush on the helmet can be cleaned with soap, gentle washing, and towel-drying. GIRLZNDOLLZ introduces Lil’Totz for kids ages 3 and up and Just2Girlz for kids ages 5 and up. These collections feature soft rag dolls that include outfits and accessories and are packaged in a reusable dollhouse. Leila, Victoria, Emme, Cameron, and the rest of both collections allow girls to connect to their dolls through their individual bios and mantra, “I am me.” Each doll is based on a real life character and has a unique fashion style, hobby, and favorite color. The dolls represent a range of ethnicities, encouraging girls to learn acceptance for each other and themselves.
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
for Efficient Toy Packaging by Ian Lifshitz, sustainability director, Asia Pulp & Paper
hen a child browses through a toy store, equally important 2. TRANSPORTATION PROTECTION Corrugates, a durable to the toy itself is how that toy is packaged, transported, and yet relatively inexpensive form of paperboard packaging, are ideal for presented. Corrugated packaging ensures that toys are trans- the transportation of toys. Known as secondary packaging, its main funcported in bulk and arrive undamaged. Once the toy begins its shelf life at tion is to safely transport products, making aesthetic presentation immaa retailer, the toy’s packaging must communicate a value proposition to terial. As such, secondary packaging is comprised mostly of recycled catch the child’s (or parent’s) eyes and inspire excitement—the essence material. The durability of paper-based packaging like corrugates enables of the role of packaging in today’s toy industry. them to be recycled up to seven times. Despite its essential role, toy packaging is often viewed as unnecessary, wasteful, and ultimately unsustainable. Once a child tears open their 3. PRODUCT DISPLAY Paper-based toy packaging is also more new prize, effectively ravaging a toy’s packaging, the packaging is im- pliable than plastic, enabling more creative design that can enhance a mediately rendered useless, thus raising concern among waste-conscious toy’s display. Other secondary materials can be paired with paper packconsumers and businesses on how to effectively and sustainably dispose aging, such as a plastic or bioplastic window on a cardboard box. Smart of the packaging. design can also facilitate separation of materials for easier recycling. AdSuch concern precipitated the rise of susditionally, some creative companies have intainable packaging. Yet, according to Pricenovated ways to actually make the packaging waterhouseCoopers’ 2012 report, Sustainable the toy itself. Greek raisin brand Stafidenios Packaging—Myth or Reality?, the term “susdesigned their packages to convert into a paper tainable packaging” now means so many toy, without the use of tools or glue. things that the phrase is “too broad a term to be useful at a practical level.” Does it mean 4. RECYCLABILITY The material used that the toy packaging is produced from reto create toy packaging plays an important role newable resources, biodegradable material, in packaging’s end-life. Unfortunately, after 100-percent post-consumer recycled content, packaging material has been recycled up to or perhaps a combination? seven times, its durability withers, rendering it APP commonly uses Ningbo board structure in its packaging products. Driven by a desire to reduce costs unsuitable for recyclability. However, unlike through efficiency and consumer and business demand, the toy industry plastics, paper-based packaging materials are biodegradable. By focusing on efficient packaging and taking into account the four is moving toward a more holistic approach to toy packaging, evolving from sustainable packaging to efficient packaging. As such, there are four key considerations outlined here, the toy industry can make strides to dispel the perception that toy packaging is a waste and better communicate key elements to efficient toy packaging that must be considered: its value to customers. ● 1. SOURCING After a decades-long trend toward increasing plastic packaging, paper and board materials for toy packaging are again gainIan Lifshitz is Asia Pulp & Paper (APP)’s sustainability director for ing prominence. Paper and boards are easier to use and they have a higher recyclability. Additionally, recycled paper materials are often layered be- the Americas. APP is one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the tween first-use packaging paper to give it a cleaner, more aesthetically world, with annual combined pulp, paper, packaging, and converting capleasing look to capture a consumer’s eye while reducing the need for pacity of more than 15 million tons globally. APP markets in 65 countries across six continents. virgin paper.
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
The Bari Koral Family Rock Band is at it again with the fourth pop-friendly album, Apple Tree & the Honey Bee, distributed by Loopylou Tunes. This catchy collection of tunes features songs that will have kids dancing along to funky beats enhanced by musical talents Dred Scott on the bass guitar, Dan Cohen playing twangy guitars, and Molly Felder as the backing vocalist. To bring a real country feel to the album, the band headed to Nashville and Koral teamed up with producer Brad Jones. The CD opens with “Dancing Bear,” a track that brings tons of energy, while other highlights include silly, two-beat songs like “Back to the Farm.” The album ends with “Give a Hug,” a sweet and endearing good-bye song.
ENTERTAINMENT ONE has created the first movie based on the world of Bella Sara trading cards, Bella Sara: Emma’s Wings. This feature-length animated DVD takes viewers into a mythical world filled with horses, magic, friendship, and unfortunately one very evil character. In a journey to North of North, earthlings Emma (voiced by MacKenzie Porter) and her friend Sara (voiced by Emily Hurson) find they must save the land and all creatures that inhabit it from the wicked Ivenna. The duo must overcome all odds to restore order in North of North and keep Ivenna from destroying the herds and stealing all of their magic. Ultimately, the characters learn that this adventure was their destiny all along. The 75-minute film includes a free Bella Sara trading card pack.
Pop culture icon Hello Kitty stars in PERFECT SQUARE’S newest full-color graphic novel, Hello Kitty: Surprise! With each flip of the page, readers will see Hello Kitty and all of her adorable friends come to life through art and storytelling. With a theme of “unexpected discoveries,” the book brings together seven stories and three shorts, all centered around exciting adventures, mysterious secrets, and appearances by unexpected characters. Hello Kitty: Surprise! is rated “A” for all ages and will be available in print, as well as digitally for most e-readers. The creative team includes artists Jacob Chabot, Jorge Monlongo, and Ian McGinty whose work has appeared in publications including Nickelodeon Magazine and Rolling Stone.
Laurie Berkner, known for her work as a recording artist and preschool TV favorite, has released a new album of lullabies, Laurie Berkner Lullabies, distributed by Two Tomatoes Records and Razor & Tie. The CD features a compilation of traditional lullabies, including “Hush, Little Baby,” and remakes of Berkner’s original songs, such as “Under a Shady Tree.” Each track is carefully designed to make children feel safe and loved before they fall asleep. Berkner even wrote a few lullabies of her own, including “Fireflies” and “All the Planets,” capturing her own experiences of singing her child to sleep. Bandmates include Susie Lampert (keyboards), Brady Rymer (bass), and Bob Golden (drums, percussion).
SPECIALTY TOYS & GIFTS
Predictions for Top Social Media Trends in the Retail Industry by Kumar Mehta, Ph.D, CEO of Blueocean Market Intelligence
ast year, retailers largely surpassed sales goals, despite a relatively short shopping season, poor weather conditions, and weak consumer confidence. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), total online holiday sales grew by 9.3 percent—amounting to $95.7 billion—due to proactive social media campaigns, deeply discounted deals, free shipping, and last-minute customer rushes. Blueocean Market Intelligence analyzed the online data of the nation’s top 100 retailers (as defined by the NRF) from September through December 2013 as part of its “Social Media Effectiveness Index for Retailers” (SEI Retail), an ongoing global study assessing the business impact of top retailers’ social media efforts. Based on the analysis, Blueocean Market Intelligence predicts the following top social media trends for the retail industry in 2014:
The traditional shopping experience is evolving as more consumers move online. While the holiday season still provides many opportunities for shiny marketing promotions and campaigns, digital advances have changed the game. Retailers have more flexibility on how and when they approach customers. Last year’s Black Friday was not just limited to Friday; retailers offered deep discounts days before to gain more customers. Increased competition and customers’ lack of patience with crowds and long lines will continue to push them online, away from brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Pinterest will emerge as a strong alternative to Facebook and Twitter. During last year’s holiday
50 • THE TOY BOOK
season, Twitter referrals experienced the most growth with a 24 percent increase year-over-year, followed by Pinterest (17 percent) and Facebook (12 percent). While Facebook led the battle among social influencers in the online space, Pinterest emerged as the top social channel for “top of the funnel” advertising with its fast-growing referral traffic and higher conversion rates.
Successful retailers will integrate omnichannel communications. Cementing an omnichannel strategy will continue to be crucial, and online-plus-mobile will equal strong sales. According to the Adobe Digital Index 2013, consumers shopped 40 percent more from their smartphones this past holiday season than in 2012. Retailers that identify opportunities to create a more seamless experience with consistent communications across all platforms, as well as improved inventory and transparent pricing, will create a more fulfilling experience for customers. Content marketing will increasingly rely on social media to drive engagement. Brands will move away from a one-way content marketing push, instead leveraging social media to drive engagement, timely conversations, and personalized customer interactions. However, 2014 will also bring a shift from text to more visually oriented elements, such as video and pictures, affecting data storage requirements and even broader types of content. Organizations that want to harness data from social intelligence will need to acknowledge unstructured data and determine how it can be converted and made relevant for today’s business strategies.
Social shopping will become a reality. Social media engagement has traditionally focused on customers in the consideration phase of the purchase cycle. However, we can now expect companies to launch greater social shopping initiatives by leveraging virtual currencies such as Bitcoins. Social shopping will not just occur on independent platforms, but will be integrated into social platforms. With a quick click, share, or tweet, customers will be able to purchase a product or service, impacting how organizations track their logistics, customer verifications, and inventory management. “In 2014, we can expect to see increased adoption of next-generation, interactive social technologies that will help retailers gain deeper customer insights and identify new market opportunities,” says Anees Merchant, senior vice president, Blueocean Market Intelligence. “Digital marketing strategies will be more holistic in nature to enhance cus-
tomer engagement and increase sales, not only during the holidays, but throughout the entire year,” ■
To learn more about Blueocean Market Intelligence’s social intelligence services and to download the latest SEI Retail Report, including special Thanksgiving and Christmas editions, visit www.blueoceansei100.com. Blueocean Market Intelligence is a next-generation services organization with a deep focus on data analytics, digital intelligence, and market intelligence. Blueocean Market Intelligence is part of the Cross-Tab group of companies (CrossTab Marketing Services, Informate Mobile Intelligence, and Borderless Access Panels), which includes more than 700 professionals specializing in data analytics, social intelligence, market intelligence, mobile, and emerging markets. To learn more, visit www.blueoceanmi.com.
THE TOY BOOK • 51
Trolling DOLLAR$ for
by Howard N. Aronson
atent “trolls” have fished for money in many industries—including the toy industry—most recently by asserting infringement of business infrastructure instead of end products. One troll, for example, has asserted infringement by hundreds of businesses in all industries, for a one-step copy/scan-to-email folder. Lacking any real basis for targeting specific businesses, the U.S. government is now seeking to legislate protection for businesses, attempting to make such practices difficult, if not illegal. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed, and the Senate is considering, legislation that would cripple socalled patent trolls—or at least make it more difficult for them to obtain unreasonable settlements in advance of protracted costly litigation.
Are Trolls Bad?
Whether you subscribe to the dictionary definition of a “troll” (a demon or lout) or J.R.R. Tolkien’s image (strong and vicious but not very bright), to be called a “troll” is not a compliment. The name “patent troll” derives not from ancient legend, but from the fact that the entities trawl or troll for money in the expansive waters of commerce. Toy companies have proven to be an easy mark. Patent trolls have been defined by the White House as those who “use patents primarily to obtain license fees rather than to support the development or transfer of technology.” The president has described patent trolls as those who “don’t actually produce anything themselves. They’re just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.” Less objective definitions are
52 • THE TOY BOOK
clearly derogatory, describing patent trolls as companies that misuse patents as a business strategy, suing companies indiscriminately to obtain settlements, not injunctions, without actually proving their claims, or simply holding patents without planning to actually make products, just to keep other companies at a standstill. Patent trolls often obtain settlements based on the mere threat of lawsuits, with companies that are the targets of the lawsuits paying large settlements to avoid the cost of defending themselves.
“By any name, these non-commercial patent entities have provoked the White House, Congress, and others to action.”
Critics of the proposed legislative reforms point out that there are problems with the White House definition, because it could include companies such as Kodak. Kodak obtained billions of dollars in licensing fees through lawsuits and, in the course of bankruptcy, sold many of its patents to companies such as Apple and Google, which may never actually use those patents. Another company, VirnetX, owned by former government employees whose compensation included ownership of their patents, won $368 million from Apple in a patent infringement lawsuit decided by a jury and upheld by a U.S. district court. Universities
also hold patents based on their research—patents that they will never use, as do so-called garage inventors, who lack the financial and other resources to use their patents for manufacturing. These kinds of patent holders often sue to protect their patent rights—and fall within the patent troll definition—but are not the villains at which the reform bills are aimed. Opponents of the legislation argue that the reforms will actually stifle invention by hindering the efforts of these companies, universities, and individuals to obtain compensation for their inventions.
Well, Excuse Me—It’s a “Patent Assertion Entity”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uses a more neutral term for a patent troll: a “patent assertion entity” (PAE). The FTC, among others, points out that PAEs don’t behave like normal businesses. For example, in the course of the usual patent infringement lawsuit, the targeted company may be able to counter-sue the patent holder for infringement of another patent. Thus, lawsuits between traditional companies often end up with the plaintiff licensing its patents to the defendant company and, in turn, taking a license for that company’s technology. By contrast, patent trolls or PAEs don’t manufacture anything. Thus, because they aren’t using any patented technology themselves, patent trolls are not vulnerable to infringement counter-suits. In addition, trolls make a practice of concealing the real parties of interest through shell entities, so that a defendant does not know whom to counter-sue. Finally, trolls have no industry reputations to maintain, so they have less incentive to engage in crosslicensing or to avoid lawsuits. The cost? One study reported that trolls cost the U.S. economy $29 billion in 2011. Toy manufacturers accounted for a portion of that obscene damage.
The White House and Congress Will Act
By any name, these non-commercial patent entities have provoked the White House, Congress, and others to
action. The House passed the Innovation Act, H.R. 3309, on December 5 of last year, and the Senate is considering the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, S. 1720. The White House has urged Congressional action and has issued executive orders, including reforms in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office itself and in enforcement by the International Trade Commission, as well as an education program to help arm businesses against patent trolls. Several states, including New York, have taken action, either through their attorney general or by legislation. To complicate matters, Congress is considering this legislation in advance of a Supreme Court decision on one of the key provisions of the reform bills: fee-shifting in patent cases, in which the traditional American rule that each side pays its own legal fees no longer applies. Instead, fee shifting requires that the loser pay the reasonable legal fees for both sides, as in European courts. Fee-shifting in patent cases is now discretionary, and, in cases before the Supreme Court, the appeals court declined to shift fees to the losing party.
Patent reform is a ticklish subject to toy with, because patent rights are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. As the Patent and Copyright Clause provides, “The Congress shall have Power To … promote the Progress of Science and use-
THE TOY BOOK • 53
ful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries….” The idea behind the lawful—and time-limited—patent monopoly is that the public will ultimately benefit because the grant of patents to inventors will encourage helpful innovation. So the fear, as Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut has said, is that reform legislation may tip the balance too far, and stifle innovation in the process.
The Proposed Legislation
The Senate bill, the Patent Transparency and Improvement Act, is viewed as targeting the most flagrant abuses by patent trolls, while omitting some of the more aggressive provisions of the House’s Innovation Act. Both Congressional bills provide that the patent infringement plaintiff would have to identify any entity with a financial interest in the patent that is the basis of the lawsuit. This disclosure would also include “any other kind of interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.” Further, the plaintiff would be required to state whether or not the patent is a “standard-essential patent,” that is, one that must be licensed under terms that are “fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory.” In addition, the Senate bill adds the requirement that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) be notified within three months if there is “[a]n assignment of all substantial rights” in a patent that results in a change in the “ultimate parent entity.” This provision of the Senate bill is more stringent than the House’s—the Senate bill requires that the PTO be notified in all cases—even when patents have never been the subject of patent litigation. The bills would also stop patent owners from simultaneously suing both the manufacturers and retailers or the end users of products—toys—with respect to a single patent for the same kind of infringement. The bills’ advocates state that if a patent owner prevails against a manufacturer, the licensing agreement would include its customers, making a separate lawsuit unnecessary. The House bill, but not the Senate bill, addresses fee-splitting
54 • THE TOY BOOK
“The new law, whatever its final form, will trim the wily hair of the trolls ... and blunt some of their weapons.”
by providing that the loser in the lawsuit would pay reasonable attorney fees for both parties. Senator Blumenthal characterized feeshifting as possible “overkill” and likely to create “unintended consequences.” The Senate bill addresses bad faith demand letters—a provision that is not in the House version—even before the lawsuit is filed, by granting the FTC authority to target, as an “unfair or deceptive act or practice,” bad faith demand letters. The FTC could pursue patent owners who send such bad faith demand letters—for example, letters (or other communications) sent to alleged infringers which falsely threaten a lawsuit or other action unless compensation is paid. The test for whether or not the letter is in bad faith would be whether or not the letter made assertions that “lack a reasonable basis in fact or law” so that it would be likely that the letter would “materially mislead” the recipient of the letter. This course of action has been criticized as relating more to deceptive practices against consumers than to patents, and the First Amendment rights of free speech of the letters’ authors would arguably be implicated, possibly invalidating this aspect of any legislation. The new law, whatever its final form, will trim the wily hair of the trolls, or whatever politically correct term is used, and blunt some of their weapons—hopefully without ■ weakening the patent system in the process.
Howard N. Aronson has provided legal counsel to toy industry companies for the past 35 years. He is the managing partner of Lackenbach Siegel LLP, an intellectual property law firm recognized for its nine decades of handling toy company issues. Contact Aronson at haronson@LSLLP.com or (914) 723-4300.
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Creative Disruption Leads to Innovative Brand Packaging by Ted Mininni, president, Design Force Inc.
t’s no secret that a soft economy and kids’ fascination with all things digital have put a dent in toy sales in recent years. Given this, packaging has to do more to seize kids’ attention and imagination. Packaging makes brands tangible, so it should be a principal marketing tool to help build brand awareness. In today’s toy marketplace, packaging has to be rethought to reach its audience in ways that excite curiosity, create buzz, and make the sale. Yes, toy packaging is colorful. Some of it is quite fanciful and wonderful. But, stand at a distance and look at retail shelves laden with toys. What stands out? Not much. There’s a literal cacophony of color and imagery that runs together. It’s time to disrupt the toy business with innovative packaging. Brand managers might be unsure, but remember: “He who hesitates is lost.” Consumers, and the consumer economy, are changing too rapidly not to move forward. Disruptive packaging has the power to create new leaders among toy brands. To accomplish this, we need new concepts; more original package structures and fresh ways to leverage brand-centric visual and verbal communication should be considered. Besides leveraging the brand’s assets, research to find points of connection with targeted age demographics is important, along with consideration about retail environments where so many brands lose.
Disruption Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
Both established brands and new brands are pointing the
56 • THE TOY BOOK
way to the future with solid package innovation. We’re seeing glimpses of disruptive packaging that should serve as inspiration for all toy brands. This doesn’t have to be scary; in fact, it should be quite the opposite. This should be seen as an opportunity to call attention to branded toys in an effective, memorable manner. A few retro brands afford some of the best examples of disruptive packaging. The Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment brand is one. Die-cast 1:64-scale model vehicles have been driven right out of vintage TV series and movies and replicated to the last detail. As expected, Mattel has done a great job with these toys, and the packaging is just as strong. A distinctive package structure with a rounded “bump out” blister on paperboard card allows each vehicle to be viewed from every angle. Each vehicle sits on a platform that has rounded corners to mimic the blister and a graphic track on the sides of the platform. Stark black backgrounds are used on almost all of the retro vehicle packaging, along with imagery specific to each TV series or movie. In a couple of other cases, a signature brand color is leveraged instead. The Hot Wheels brand identity appears in the upper left-hand corner of each package. Prominent brand identities of each property emblazoned across the entire package immediately convey the message to the consumer. The only other brand communication is the name of the car or vehicle. For example, “Knight Rider” appears across the imagery of the hood of the famous car above the actual scale model; the well-known K.I.T.T. des-
ignation is on the platform that holds the car in place. For the famous Ghostbusters vehicle, iconic splotches of green slime and the green ghost on the packaging convey the message. Even if consumers didn’t see the Ghostbusters brand identity, they would instantly recognize the property featured within the packaging. The stark simplicity, dark background, package structure, and selective brand communication make the Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment series a knockout at retail. Similarly, the packaging for the Collector’s Edition of Slinky Dog, from Poof-Slinky, proves that what’s old can be fresh and new again. A classic toy in classic packaging? It makes perfect sense and really stands out amid a sea of contemporary packaging. The style of the imagery and brand communication is pure 1940s, the era from which the toy originates. The overall neutral color palette runs counter-culture in today’s toy business. The limited use of blue and red in the brand identity and the red cartouche on the lower left-hand corner of the package quickly catch the eye. Artwork depicting the toy and a young girl pulling her Slinky Dog reinforces its heritage. Adults are instantaneously drawn to this packaging, recalling childhood memories. Kids are likely to be fascinated by it too. It’s an unusual toy in an unusual package.
Current Innovations in Packaging
One of the most interesting toy brands is Innovation First’s Hexbug. The packaging for each toy is well thoughtout and designed in a distinctive manner. Yet, there is cohesiveness to the packaging for every toy category; the hexagon shape is central to all Hexbug packaging. The handled, hexagonal package structure for the Aquabot is a perfect example. This is “the robotic fish that really swims,” according to one simple line of brand communication. A large cutout depicts the swimming toy against an oceanic backdrop. A
smaller version of the toy is blister-packed on a paperboard card; the blister itself is hexagonal in shape. For each package, the fish appears to be suspended and actually swimming. The whimsical “bubbles” on the packaging are mini hexagons. Likewise, the Hexbug brand identity appears within a hexagon as well. Every visual device on its packaging reinforces the Hexbug brand itself. There isn’t any other toy packaging like this, making it a clear standout at retail. As is the case with simple packaging in many consumer product categories, a few toy brands are opting for white packaging so that the colorful images of the toys really pop. Laser Pegs, from Laser Pegs Ventures LLC, is a good example. Billed as “the first unique toy construction set in the world in which each piece feeds the next piece with low voltage current,” the clean package design focuses on cool, lit structures that kids can build thanks to LED technology. Besides the high-tech brand identity, and the tagline—The Ultimate Toy for Kids—no other brand communication appears on the front panel of the packaging, except for a warning for parents of young children that the small plastic parts may be a choking hazard. While this approach doesn’t work for every brand, it clearly does for Laser Pegs. Each of these package designs are distinctive and disruptive. They are standouts for their brands, but they go further. They call attention to themselves, finding ways to connect with their audiences through package structure, imagery, visuals, and verbal brand communication to convince consumers to stop and pick them up. When the package is in hand, the consumer is seconds away from making the purchase decision. Marketers might argue that the toy examples cited are quite exceptional and suggest that their package design systems should be as well. Let’s counter that argument: Every toy brand should be approached from this point of view. Otherwise, it’s going to look like everything else on the shelf ■ and go unnoticed—and unsold. Ted Mininni is president of Design Force Inc., the leading package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. Mininni blogs about package and licensing program design at www.designforceinc.com. He can be reached at (856) 810-2277.
THE TOY BOOK • 57
Barbie: by Stuart Fischer
ne does not have to be a toy expert or a pop culture historian to know who Barbie is. For more than 50 years, this fashion doll has broken sales records, reached levels of awareness rarely seen, and amassed the love and continued support of generations. There is probably not a family in the world that would be offended to have her sit on a child’s bookshelf or at his or her bedside. But Barbie’s origin is just as fascinating as her many different doll incarnations. To truly understand Barbie and where she came from, one has to go back to the 1950s, when someone first got the idea for a comprehensive fashion doll that would consist of a character all her own, create her own circle of friends, evolve into a cottage industry, and help to create fashion and entertainment trends. Ruth Handler, former president of Mattel Toys and wife of Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler, is credited as the creator of the Barbie doll. The inspiration came as she watched her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls, using them to depict make-believe college students, cheerleaders, and even adults with careers. Ruth immediately recognized that experimenting with the future—albeit in a safe, distanced way—was an important part of growing up. She also noticed the existence of a product void for 3-D fashion dolls. It took a number of years—and designs—but on March 9, 1959, Mattel introduced Teenage Fashion Model Barbie at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. The world would never be the same. Over the years, Barbie lived up to Handler’s expecta-
58 • THE TOY BOOK
Toys and TV: The Best Marriage Ever Queen of Fashion Dolls and American Treasure
Above: Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie, and Elliot Handler. At left: 1959 Teenage Fashion Model Barbie. At opposite: Barbie Entrepreneur, due out in June.
tions of a doll that would allow young girls to fantasize about their futures, to imagine that they could be anything they wanted to be, and to believe women have choices. Barbie currently has more than 150 careers on her résumé, including veterinarian, police officer, and astronaut. She was actually an astronaut in four separate decades, and this year’s Barbie Career of the Year doll will celebrate female business owners with the Barbie Entrepreneur doll, due this June. Meanwhile, her working life has periodically reflected the changing roles of women in society. For example, during the 1980s, there was “Day to Night” CEO Barbie, which coincided with the first real-life female executives. During
the 1990s, the doll launched her first presidential campaign the same year in which 24 women were elected to Congress. Barbie also helped foster the image of a young woman’s social circle as being diverse. For every Skipper Roberts, who joined the line in 1964 and was essentially a younger Barbie, or Ken, Barbie’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, who was a fashion doll in his own right, there was a Christie O’Neil, Barbie’s first African-American friend. Christie had a great impact on the line when she was first introduced in 1968, which was a very tumultuous year in the U.S.— both politically and socially. If Mattel’s intended message was, “Through Barbie, little girls can be anything they want,” it made sense that during the 1990s the company began changing face molds to develop Barbies of varying ethnic heritages, including Asian, Hispanic, and Italian. This was around the same time that the U.S. was becoming increasingly multi-cultural, and after the new dolls were launched, girls really could see themselves as anything—even Barbie.
Barbie as Commercial Model
If there is one thing that the Barbie line cannot be accused of, it is staying within the status quo. Her universe constantly expands, with good planning on Mattel’s part. During the 1960s, Mattel showed ambition and creative insight by adding celebrity figures to the Barbie line. The company would obtain the rights to the likeness of a certain personality or property, such as Scarlett O’Hara or Rhett Butler—or someone in the mainstream, such as MC Hammer—and manufacture a doll of them to be part of the Barbie universe. This expanded the line’s range to all kinds of people and characters, both real and fictional. Barbie has also long been the star of an extensive TV marketing campaign, and was one of the first toys to enjoy a strategy based largely on TV spots. These commercials have always been well-produced, and the ones from Barbie’s first 10 years look almost like documentaries. When the line was first introduced and throughout the early 1960s, most of the commercials were in black-and-white and portrayed her as a young lady. But by the late 1960s, as the times grew more progressive and American culture less conservative, Barbie also changed to become more modern and liberal. Her
clothes took on a more expressive form and her hairstyle would be modified to reflect the changes happening in America, especially within the country’s youth. By the 1970s and 1980s, her commercials were in color and she continued to reflect changing hair and clothing styles. Through the 1980s, she could be seen going back and forth between expressive and more bundled-up, depending on the mood of the fashion industry, the political climate, and what parents were looking to buy for their children. Since the 1990s, Barbie often promoted herself, her lifestyle, and her boyfriends and gal pals. But by this time, the property had begun to expand outside of commercials. Barbie’s first animated film was a half-hour syndicated TV special titled Barbie and The Rockers, which came out in the fall of 1987. Today, it is estimated that more than 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold in more than 150 countries. But Barbie is not just a colorful blonde fashion doll anymore; rather, like Mickey Mouse, Mr. Magoo, or Scooby-Doo, she is also an actor, playing roles that are part of our culture or designed by creators. She has been a supporting character in the animated Disney/Pixar movies Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, in addition to being the lead in animated films of her own, most of which were for the home video market. Recently, she starred in Barbie The Pearl Princess, her latest direct-to-video release, and also appeared in the Disney/Pixar short film Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation. Since Barbie began starring in animated films, her appearance has gradually become more lifelike, thanks to advantages in animation technology. Despite all the changes she has gone through, Barbie remains the fashion doll ■ everyone loves. She is an American treasure.
Stuart Fischer has worked at Universal Studios, where he helped develop shows to be sold to networks, as well as Hanna-Barbera Productions, where he developed shows to be sold to the networks and the first-run syndication market. Fischer has written books including Kids’ TV: The First 25 Years and The Hanna-Barbera Story: The Life and Times of TV’s Greatest Animation Studio, as well as magazine and trade journal articles. He has also created his own comic book, The Man-O-Saurs.
THE TOY BOOK • 59
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Adventure Publishing Group ...........................................................................................................................................................................................................38 ASTRA ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................S9 BERG Toys ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................S2 Carrera..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................21 DEMDACO 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THE TOY BOOK •
Flashback: April 1994 What’s Hot! 1.
TV Promoted Toys
1. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Figures (Bandai) 2. Polly Pocket (Mattel) 3. Batman Figures (Kenner) 4. Bedtime Barbie (Mattel) 5. Littlest Pet Shop (Kenner)
6. Biker Mice from Mars (Lewis Galoob) 7. X-Men Figures (Toy Biz) 8. Mighty Max (Mattel) 9. Star Trek Figures (Playmates) 10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures (Playmates)
1. Clarissa Explains It All, from Cardinal, is a board game for girls, based on the Nickelodeon show of the same name. Players achieve a series of goals throughout the game to win. 2. Stretch Armstrong gets a companion with additions to the Cap Toys Stretch Armstrong line. The line now includes Fetch Armstrong, Stretch’s canine companion. 3. Mattel introduces its lineup of The Lion King plush, including Mufasa and his son, Simba. Simba makes cub sounds when squeezed and Mufasa’s mouth has a fabric fastener to carry the cub like a real lion. Many executives feel that The Lion King will be the top license in plush for 1994. 4. TSR’s First Quest is the first interactive audio CD role-playing game. The CD guides up to six players through medieval adventures. 5. Toymax’s Creepy Crawlers come to life as a cartoon series, debuting in the fall, and a line of action figures.
62 • THE TOY BOOK