By Taimur Dar
Another Toy Fair New York has come and gone. Since this was my first year attending, I’ll admit to being a bit overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds though it did afford me the opportunity to finally put my skills from studying marketing in graduate school to some use.
-Licensed properties were a major component throughout Toy Fair. Not surprising since according to a statistic from the Toy Industry Association (TIA), licensed toys account for nearly 30% of toys and games.
-Remember back in 2014 after the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was released how toy manufacturers couldn’t release any Dancing Baby Groot related merchandise until Christmas due to spoiling that particular story element? Based on the sheer volume of Baby Groot toys and games on display at Toy Fair, they’re more than making up for it when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters this summer. Like the Olsen Twins in Full House, Baby Groot has quickly overtaken his co-stars to become the driving selling point of the franchise, though Rocket Raccoon is probably a close second.
-Speaking of GotG Vol. 2, images of the Hasbro action figure of Kurt Russell’s character Ego have been making the rounds on the internet. Not only that but a licensed board game based on John Carpenter’s The Thing, another film featuring Russell, was announced from Mondo and USAopoly. Between this and the recent Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York comic book crossover, Kurt Russell appears to be having a career resurgence akin to John Travolta post-Pulp Fiction. A new generation of moviegoers are discovering Russell’s iconic work and performances for the first time. Retailers and businesses would do well to get ahead of the curve on this “Russell-Mania” by stocking up on as much merchandise related to any property starring Kurt Russell by the time GotG Vol. 2 is released.
– Marvel faced criticism a few years ago when it was reported that an executive blocked Black Widow and Scarlet Witch merchandise for Avengers: Age of Ultron. The head honchos clearly realized their mistake as evidenced by the plethora of female character toys, like Hasbro’s upcoming A-Force figure series as well as an official Jessica Jones figure based on her Marvel Netflix series. Coupled with upcoming comic book female lead feature films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, I think we’ll see a continuing increase of action figures based on female characters.
-The last few years have seen an erosion of the distinction between what constitutes boy/girl toys. As a testament to this, last year TIA eliminated the gender categories for its Toy of the Year Awards. Certainly the My Little Pony “brony” fandom has helped contribute to this movement. Other toy companies are following suit such as Mattel’s “Dads Who Play Barbie” campaign. When you think about it, it’s not really a sound business practice to market toys to only half of consumers. In short, our perceptions of masculinity and femininity are changing and toys are simply reflecting that.
-I’m not an avid gamer, but I’m familiar enough with the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game property. It still astonishes me that a small point-and-click horror video game can grow to having its own merchandise with wide appeal. The seemingly cute appearance of Freddy Fazbear and his animal friends belie the creepy and twisted back story of the property. They’re practically kid friendly! As strange as it is to market products of a horror franchise to kids, we’ve seen the phenomenon before. Freddy Kruger went from being a murderous child molester to a mainstream merchandising machine with some downright adorable toys.
-Nostalgia is the bread and butter of the entertainment industry and toys are no exception. Probably the most notable classic toy showcased at Toy Fair was Teddy Ruxpin from Wicked Cool Toys. Returning in time for the 2017 holidays with a hi-tech makeover, the new Teddy Ruxpin is not only equipped with LCD lights and 40 facial expressions, but also Bluetooth technology and its own app. Definitely a step up from a cassette tape. Those who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s are old enough to have kids of their own the same age as when they got their own Teddy Ruxpin. It’s the perfect toy to bridge the new and old generations this Christmas.
-Speaking of the holiday season, I wasn’t aware until visiting Toy Fair that a Jumanji movie reboot movie would be coming out at the end of the year. Apparently Cardinal Industries, Inc., a company specializing in games and puzzles, is planning to manufacture a new Jumanji board game pending licensing approval. On display at the Cardinal booth was the 1995 Milton Bradley Jumanji game released as a tie-in with the original Robin Williams movie. Not much is known about the Jumanji reboot, but it seems it will likely feature a redesigned Jumanji board game and rules different from the original. Let’s just hope you don’t have to wait in the jungle until the dice read 5 or 8. Again, like Teddy Ruxpin, there’s a nostalgia factor at play. Whether or not the reboot is any good, the board game will likely pull in people with fond memories of the original.
-I lost count of how many times I saw someone walking around with a “My Own Pet Balloon” animal from the Glasshouse Balloon Company. By giving these away to select attendees, the balloons were basically miniature blimps and free advertisement for the product. It’s a stroke of brilliance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this strategy utilized at future comic conventions. Just imagine a balloon designed to resemble Superman or Iron Man trailing behind someone. Inexpensive and eye-catching, I foresee immense promotional potential for companies that partner with the Glasshouse Balloon Company.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
My Pet Balloon
Miscellaneous/Female Action Figures
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.