As we walk the aisles at Javits, we quickly discovered a new trend in toyland. All things Egyptian are big again. Most looked really promising. The highlight for us was the new Playmobil Egyptian themed playset complete with a Pyramid (that opens up with lots of hidden compartments inside), a Sphinx, a Royal Ship and other really wonderfully executed accessory sets. They’ll be available for the holidays. We also saw Hieroglypics Blocks from Uncle Goose that looked right on target for kids interested in all things Egyptian. We look forward to testing both.
Start your engines! Little Kids, the maker of all things bubbles, is introducing new battery operated Nascar Bubble Racers. The concept seems right on target for fans of all things Nascar…and then there’s the added bonus of bubbles… They also are introducing No-Spill Bubble Blitzers…for some reason I just love saying Bubble Blitzers…say it a few times and you’ll see what I mean. These are promised to come with “Bubble Booster Technology”…so that there is a continuous feed of bubble solution to the wand. There are purists that believe that the point of bubbles is to actually make the bubble happen the old fashion way—I take a more moderate position, knowing that sometimes it’s just so much fun to make a ton of bubbles all at once.
Part of LeapFrog’s new product line this year includes the Text & Learn that references the design of the adult BlackBerry. While there seems to be a lot of uproar about this latest grown-up device scaled down for the sandbox crowd, there’s really nothing very new about the concept. When fax machines were new (remember that?), Tyco had a really neat version for kids. The typical toy phone has gone through many variation that track the design and functions of the real thing. So it didn’t really seem that unusual to me that there would be a BlackBerry styled toy–given the adult dependence on their devices. In terms of play value, preschoolers love taking on grown up roles with literal props. Pretend kits for playing office, restaurant, firefighter, etc. are generally a huge hit with this age group. It’s developmentally right on target in terms of expanding their own sense of themselves in a larger community. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they need this particular electronic prop or any other. The proof will be in the game play – which is really hard to judge until we see a finished product and try it out with kids. There is another problem that every parent runs into at some point…even toddlers know the difference between your keys and some fake set of toy keys. Most kids will not accept the substitution! On the other hand, if this is a fun, easy to take along hand held device that has age appropriate content–it might be very appealing.
Move over Wii. LeapFrog is vying for that active plug in play experience for kids 3-5. Zippity is co-developed with Disney. While we haven’t tested it yet, we like the idea that kids are up and moving while playing games that require them to run, jump and hop on the play mat. Of course the big question will be the content. The price is $79.95 (comes with eight pre-loaded games)–additional games will be $24.99. Scheduled for a summer release.
The folks at Mattel see four major trends for the new season…As we go through toy fair–we’ll be adding to the list and putting their trends to the test to see if they apply across the board.
1. Customization- Kids have the ability to use self-expression through their toys. We do see this with more and more on-line/product based tie ins where kids are able to customize their play experiences.
2. Simply Social- With the economy in turmoil, board games and other products for the home are now part of a clever marketing campaign that encourages nesting and entertaining closer to home. Makes sense–and from our point of view any opportunity to connect with family and friends is a plus.
3. Active Play- this trend continues from last year with toys that encourage kids to get up and move–often with an electronic plug in component of course. This is the Wii generation after all.
4. High Value Toys- I love this spin….in other words inexpensive toys–classics that are still a great value. Lets face it, the industry knows that your toy dollars are more restricted — and the price points of many products are being brought down to get under that magic $20 bar. All good news for consumers.
Hard to believe that another toy season is just around the bend. While most consumers are recovering from the holidays, toy makers are busy at work getting ready to launch their new lines for 2009. Toy Fair officially begins in mid-Feburary in NYC–but many of the companies have previews to get all of us excited about the new season.
The first toy we “previewed” was the Barbie Digital Nail Printer. Now we’re usually not big on nail kits that have fake nails that are intended for your seven year old to glue on…but this is really different and if it works will be a hit with girls (and some not so little girls as well). You place your finger in the printer and then it hooks up to your PC—you can then select an image (I selected a repeating pattern of pink Barbies)….and it is literally printed on your fingernail. (The software allows you to adjust the image to exact a custom fit of the image.) Thankfully, I had just had a manicure and was good to go for my Barbie overlay.
That’s right you’re basically putting your finger into an ink jet printer. Once the image is printed on, you add a clear top coat and you’re good to go. If you’re having a sleepover party–or any situation where you have a bunch of girls…this will be a real crowd favorite. We’re looking forward to testing this one!
Geo Trax (Fisher-Price) fans will be really happy with the new sets scheduled for later this year. One includes an airplane that does a loop in the air (on special track). You can add this “airplane” feature to your existing track. The plane is controlled by remote control–very cool as a center piece for this play environment. Many of our five and six year old testers really prefer this set to traditional trains. As sad as that makes me on some levels, it’s easy to see why–it is a fun setting that has lots of motion. We look forward to testing this set!
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.
On the upside, there is a great deal of testing going on across the industry. In part, retailers have increased the pressure on suppliers to verify that their products meet federal regulations. More testing has meant continued fall out. Since the beginning of the new year, ten more products have been recalled due to excessive lead content. While toy industry folks are quick to point out that there are thousands of products on the market, it’s not such a big number–it is important to remember that under current guidelines, companies are not required to recall toys with excessive levels of embedded lead. The federal guidelines only address surface coated paint that has excessive lead content.
So what has changed? More testing, yes. And while there is legislation pending in Congress, nothing has been passed. The leading toy industry association has indicated that it will release its own recommendations for testing standards but has not done so yet. Perhaps it will be part of their toy fair media work.
The answer, therefore, is that there is a lot of forward motion, but no touchdown (I oddly miss football this week). The industry remains on its own, the CPSC has not been given additional resources or legislated bite to its enforcement abilities, and the media has lost interest to a large extent.
What’s a parent to do? Stay on top of the recalls (you can register for email alerts at www.cpsc.gov.)
After all of the upset of the holiday season, January was a welcomed month to regroup around our office. As Toy Fair begins officially on the 17th, the toys have started rolling in again. We’ve already started previewing some of the “hot” toys that will be vying for attention (and your toy dollars) later this year.