You know we’re always looking for good potty dolls. In fact we have certain testing families that really seem focused on this issue. One of the dolls that we will be certain to pass on to them is Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Gotta Go Doll. This new doll comes with her own potty that has sound effects. Now here’s where you may feel the doll has gone too far— when you flush the toilet, there is simulated poop and pee in the potty. Unlike other dolls, this is all simulated–so you don’t have to worry about cleaning the doll. To her credit, she also comes with a sink–and part of the play is that the doll will wash her hands. Thankfully.
With the tremendous success of Webkins, there is now a full court press in toyland to follow this successful marketing approach. Barbie, Hot Wheels, Groovy Girls, Funkeys, Disney Fairies—everyone is looking for a way to gain a piece of this new play pattern where you buy a toy that then unlocks an on-line gaming experience. School aged kids have always loved to collect things–there’s nothing new about this pattern of play. Collection is often the key to being part of the group (in the olden days it was baseball cards). For my middle school years–it was really about getting the right David Cassidy trading card. The success of Webkins also pulls from Beanie babies in much the same way—there is also that “hard to locate” Webkin that drives many kids (and their parents) into a frenzy, much to the delight of on-line auction sites where the prices can get out of hand.Our initial testing feedback on U.B. Funkeys and Barbie.com has been positive. As one of our Barbie testers pointed out–”what’s not to like…it’s shopping and gaming, all in one”. As much as many of us find pleasure in on-line shopping, tetris, solitaire (how much time can that consume in a day?), or other on-line activities–the same holds true for kids. The experiences are almost instantaneously rewarding, the visuals are pleasing….and even though there are “educational” components to some sites, there isn’t alot of hard brain energy being expended–it’s just fun. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that as an activity — the problem arises when that’s all your child is doing, for hours on end. Know too that these sites are really ads for buying more products. While many of the sites do have free games, there are aspects that are only available if you buy more toys. For example, some accessories (and hair styles) for Barbie are only available if you have purchased products. The way we used to watch tv for hours, kids are now multi-tasking on line while the tv is also on. I recently sat down to watch tv with my teenage son and his friend–only to look up to see that we all had laptops going as well. Is this a good thing? That we weren’t glued to mindlessly watching a show? Or, are we all so attuned to having multiple layers of entertainment – that the thought of just watching something is now just too boring?
From the Javits center today I did two interviews that will air in the coming weeks. One with Businessweek TV (it will air this weekend) — the piece looks at trends in toy land– with a focus on the range of high tech toys offered this year. The other was with NOW (PBS) — looking at the issue of phthlates in toys (will air in March).
Dinosaurs are the “it” creature from toy fair. Everywhere! (Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, Gund, Playmobil–just to name a few!) But here’s our problem with so many of the new play sets….cavemen. We understand the need to have “action figures” – they’re fun to play with but they pose a problem. It goes without saying that they are factually incorrect–the same way that we often find playsets that combine polar bears with penguins (another pet peeve of ours). One of the reasons dinos are so adored by preschoolers and early school aged kids–they know that dinos were never EVER around when man was around. It’s fun to think about these huge creatures roaming the Earth — without the thought of what would have happened if they were around when there were men (and more specifically, little children). You may think this is silly — but the last time this trend came around, this was exactly the reaction we got from small dino-enthusiasts. The kids in the know were offended by the cavemen and they often put them away–preferring to have their dinos battle it out!
Step 2 is continuing their wonderful line of gender free kitchens. To their credit these kitchens also have some sound effects–but not overly intrusive bossy instructions (an unfortunate trend in this category). For the holidays, Step 2 will also have a new Retro Diner, complete with a cooking side and a two person “booth” side. Both boys and girls will love this pretend setting. The retro diner styling (complete with licks of red–our favorite) looks fresh and fun. On the upside, the company is also phthalates free. The company is also working to address the issue with the Infantino toy line– a company they recently purchased.We were also delighted to report that the company took our concern over their small plastic hot dogs and french fries to heart. The hot dog is now in a bun (much larger) and the french fries are being combined so that they are also larger. All good!
One of the brightest booths at toy fair today was our visit to Playmobil. The highlights:1. A new circus. Complete with lights, a ring, a tent, a separate tiger ring (with special tiger cages so that the tigers go straight from their trailer to the circus), acrobats on the high wire and a moving horse set. All very special–we look forward to testing these themed sets with our Playmobil testers.2. Pirates! A really spectacular, extra large pirate ship–with separate flags (depending on whether you are the good guys or the pirates!) Huge sails, lots of special compartments and best of all–this oversized boat is going to float (comes with wheels for floor play as well). If you have a pirate fan in the house, this will be a must have holiday present.3. Under the heading of “they think of everything”…there is a horse/pony setting, complete with an itty bitty mouse near the hay..and the horses really have their own poop piles. Now usually we’re not big on such realistic props–but this one seemed appropriate and will likely delight kids.
This morning we officially begin our adventure through the Javits center looking for this year’s best toys. In the olden days, Javits was dominated by small and mid size companies. Finding the next “big” thing is always part of the fun of our job. Now the big guys are here as well so the dynamic and feel of attending Javits has changed. In the past we would also come with suitcases that we would fill up with press kits–now most companies either hand us a disk or a thumb drive. A good green trend. We’re going to start with Lego (celebrating its 50th year). More later.
We were delighted with today’s news that both TRU and Wal-Mart have raised the bar on safety standards for toys. Not waiting for Congress to act, these two super retailers are moving the industry along in producing safer products.Both retailers are joining California in banning phthalates (a softener added to plastics that has been linked to serious health risks) and reducing the levels of surface coated lead way below the current federal standard of 600 ppm (parts per million) to 90 ppm. What’s left? We will continue to call for the same reduction in embedded lead. Only the state of Illinois regulates the levels of embedded lead (requiring toys sold in the state to have levels below 600 ppm). The CPSC reports that a child died from lead poisoning after ingesting a charm that had excessive levels of embedded lead. This is a real risk that also needs to be addressed in all products for children.We need the government to follow the market–set the standards and require mandatory testing.
One of my favorite toys last year was Jakks Pacific’s EyeClops, a magnifier that you can hook up to your tv and see anything really up close (your skin, the rug, anything that you can reach or bring to the EyeClops). Seeing your skin that blown up is really, really interesting (and delightfully gross). Everyone wanted to play with this product when we tested it.
This year the company is bringing out Eye Clops BioniCam that allows you to move around and capture images at 100x, 200x or 400x magnification. You can record the images and view them on the color LCD screen. Best yet, you can then take them back to your television or computer and look at the images on a larger screen. When hooked up to the computer you can print or email your discoveries. Fun for science projects! (Yes this is another USB opportunity!) The suggested age range is 6 & up–but I think it will be most enjoyed by the 9 & up crowd. Suggested retail is $79.99.
We look forward to testing this one!
Last year everyone was talking about magnets. Everything from toddler toys to construction toys used magnets in some creative way. This year the buzz is all about “USB” capability.
Traditional toys like Hot Wheels, Barbies, Groovy Girls–now all will have an on-line component where play is just a USB cord away. Borrowing from the amazing successful Webkinz model, more and more companies are offering a toy that also “unlocks” a unique play experience on line. From the response of our toy testers, this seems like a smart move. School aged kids love collecting toys (stuff animals, cars, action figures) and this generation is tech savvy — so it’s a perfect combination. We will be testing these new products with kids in the coming weeks.
Leapfrog also offers the USB cord as a way of uploading/downloading info to their new platforms. Sprig Toys, a new line of vehicles will also work with action figures that hook up to a USB plug on board the vehicles. VTech’s new promising art platform, KiddiArt Studio, also uses a USB connection.
Several years back there were toys (mostly dolls) that required parents to “download” information to the toy (your child’s name, birthday, favorite color,etc.) …and we received many complaints that this took too much time and frankly was too complicated for less than tech savvy parents. Two things have changed–the iTunes interface has made the whole “download” thing much less overwhelming for parents. Things have changed: the toy/computer interface works better, parents are younger and more techy themselves, and for slightly older kids, they’ll be doing the plugging in–and let’s face it, they’re really good at it.