As the Toy Industry Association’s global trend-spotter, one of my main goals in attending was to scout and compare the trends emerging in Europe with those seen earlier this year at the American International Toy Fair in New York.
It was quickly clear that an ocean puts no distance between advancements in the toy and game market as North America and Europe move forward with activities that mirror one another.
I was also invited to speak during the educational program that ran concurrently with exhibitor displays. My keynote presentation, Innovations in Toys and Trends from the U.S. and Europe, identified the top four global toy trends as the 4 E’s: Economy, Exercise, Engagement and Entertainment:
• Economics refers to the multi-tiered pricing strategies and pricing options to fit all budgets, but mainly under $25 at retail. Companies are taking care to build in greater play value at a more affordable price point.
• Exercise is increasingly important to today’s parents who want their kids engaged in more healthy, physical activity to address ongoing concern about childhood obesity, and to promote long-term active lifestyles.
• Entertainment brings together toys with excitement on the big screen. More than two-dozen family-oriented films will launch in the United States during 2009, and over half of them are associated with a strong licensed property or entertainment celebrity figure that will provide great opportunities for toymakers.
• Engagement recognises that kids today are digital natives; their parents are also technically astute, and together, they are embracing the use of new media and technology in their everyday tools as well as toys. Parents are attracted to digital media tools that help them connect to their kid’s interests, encourage family interaction, and have long-term play value and skill-building applications.
Throughout the week, by attending both events, speaking with attendees and exhibitors, and keeping an ear open for the buzz, and eyes open for the insights, the following top-line trends were tracked: how to garner the power of super-heroes, transform the supernatural into sales, rejuvenate anniversary properties, engage with new digital media, and inject new technology into both children’s books and toys. More details are revealed below, by trend.
3D technology and new virtual worlds
Total Immersion, a French technology-based company which created the latest Topps 3D sports trading card sensation in the US, was exhibiting at the show looking for new partners in toys and games. Upper Deck’s newest brand, Huntik, was launching a new book series as well as in trading cards, website and later this autumn, an interactive multimedia game.
The Amanda Project, an alliance between 4th Media and Harper Collins, is an interactive, collaborative fictional mystery for girls aged 12-14 told across a variety of different media including an eight-book series, a website that features games, writing, art and social networking, a related series of blogs and satellite sites, music and merchandise. These new interactive technologies are expected to bolster toy and game sales in 2009 by pairing online and offline products that work together to unlock a heightened brand experience for today’s kids.
The new Gallop children’s book series by Rufus Butler Seder features scanimation, a patented process with multiple layers of illustration to create the illusion that the pictures are actually moving. Scholastic has introduced a similar technology in its animated photographic books Watch Me Hop and Watch Me Go. With book stores, kiosks and airport retailers promoting these licensed pre-school targeted book properties, they will likely be combined with plush products to provide an add-on toy sale to consumers and a boost to plush manufacturers.
Popular books, such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, have been transformed into hot licensed properties yielding impressive licensed product sales in back-to-school, novelty, toy and apparel product segments in the US. Originally a UK-based property, Twilight book sales reached 20 million in the U.S., augmented by $187 million in U.S. box office ticket sales. European licensing for this hot property rolls out in 2009.
Scholastic’s 39 Clues (US-based), with recent movie rights optioned by Steven Spielberg, is creating new excitement, and the same author, Richard Riordan, has also introduced a new teen book series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. It will hit movie theatres in the USA on February 10th 2010 and is based on Greek Mythology and the adventures of a 12 year-old boy. These literary sensations are following a path similar to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: capturing younger readers, creating a strong, loyal fan base and then yielding enormous licensed property sales with multiple toy, game, puzzle and back-to-school products.
Popular titles boosted by licensing
As a result of added exposure from a television series of the same name, book sales of the popular Little Miss and Mr. Men collections rose 60 per cent in 2008, according to Bettina Koekler, VP Licensing, at Chorion. Related toys will be launched globally in 2009 by Fisher-Price as master licensor.
Similar success stories were represented by Eric Carle’s 40th anniversary series The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which ignited plush and game sales, and Lego’s multiple book series, which heightened sales of construction bricks. New kids magazines based on hot toys and trading cards such as Bakugan for boys and Bella Sara for girls build additional brand loyalty and enhance other lifestyle marketing efforts. These offerings are being published by Italy’s Grani & Partners new publishing division of Preziosi Collection, along with toys, trading cards and mini figures for Gormiti, Ben 10, Hello Kitty, plus others.
Graphic novels, manga, anime
One of the fastest growing book categories around the globe, graphic novels and magna continue to lead to a broad range of child-sized role-play products, trading cards, and collectibles. According to iCv2.com research, in the US alone these segments encompass more than 11,000 current titles and account for $605 million USD in annual sales.
Superheroes will remain top of mind with new blockbuster movies featuring Wolverine, DragonBall, Terminator, Star Trek, Astro Boy and Avatar. Interest in the forthcoming Watchmen movie, hype related to Marvel’s 70th anniversary, and renewed excitement about the Justice League will sustain this momentum.
US youth market representation
TIA members exhibiting in Bologna included Giddy Up, Innovative Kids, Nickelodeon, Ravensburger, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, Upper Deck and Warner Bros. Additionally, Hasbro focused its exhibition around mainstays Transformers and GI Joe which are both celebrating major anniversaries – 25 and 45 respectively – with new live action motion pictures in 2009.
The Transformers brand – which already has more than 200 licensed partners in territories around the globe – is a perfect example of how new licensing insights and opportunities keep the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Kids Licensing Forum on the list of must-attend events for youth entertainment trends.
The US annual toy retail buying schedule picks up again in October at TIA’s Fall Toy Preview, followed by the February 2010 American International Toy Fair. More information is available on http://events.toyassociation.org.