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Report on Toy Fair – What Parents Need to Know

Posted Aug 25 2008 6:42pm

Each year around this time, sales and marketing folks from toy manufacturers around the country and around the world gather for Toy Fair, the industry’s US trade show. For many years I attended this event, held helpfully in cold and windy, New York City right around Valentine’s Day.

Yesterday, the first day of the Fair wasn’t too busy. The major buzz was around the annual TOTY awards given for the best toys of the year. Last year , I wrote about The Smart Cycle. Actually, I bashed the Smart Cycle . This year, it won honors as “Physical Learning for Most Innovative Toy of the Year”…sigh.

Encouragingly Lego City also won an award, “Activity Toy of The Year”. My approach to integrating Lego into our collection of toys is to allow by 5-year-old to select any set that is rated for his age group. Lego does a nice job of rating the more violent themed sets for older age groups. The large selection of Lego City sets (trucks, airport, fire station, port) are all rated for 5-year-olds, hence that is what we buy.

In other news, The Toy Industry Association endorsed the general direction of a proposal for a new toy testing and safety verification system for toys sold in the U.S. market. Duh.

As expected, a variety of licensed toys are set to debut at Toy Fair this year. These toys will be based on entertainment properties, often PG and R rated and targeted to toddlers, preschoolers and others in the “under 13 crowd”.

Toys based on Warner Bros.' "Speed Racer" and "The Dark Knight," Lucasfilm's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"(PG-13) and Marvel's "Hulk" are expected to be the biggest licensed entertainment hits at this year's Toy Fair.

Other film properties expected to make a solid showing at Toy Fair, opening Sunday in Manhattan, are Dream?Works' "Kung Fu Panda," Marvel's "Iron Man," Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"(PG-13) and Disney/ Pixar's "Wall-E."

And, if that is not enough to worry about.

The biggest trend industry wide at Toy Fair -- where toy manufacturers display their 2008 lines to the media, Wall Street investors and retailers -- is the increasing number of toys being sold that connect to Internet play and, with the inputting of special codes found on the toys, unlock virtual worlds.

Apparently, children cannot play without a movie or TV back story or an interactive website on which to further their adventures.

This trend of basing toys on entertainment properties is nothing new. In the highly competitive toy industry the failure rate of new products is extremely high, as is the cost of advertising new products to kids. Basing a toy on an entertainment property which will already be supported by advertising makes sense. The risk is lower and the return higher.

It does not however, make sense for our children. Licensed toys provide the opportunity for much less imaginative play and send children running to the TV set to catch the latest episode. Web based virtual worlds complete the circle, sending kids running from watching the TV show to playing on the website with nary a stop in between to play with the toy.

That in it self may be the downfall of the licensing strategy. Who needs to buy the toy when you can just play with it on the web?

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