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.
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.
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.
I always count on Barbie being at the edge. You could see her wearing this “Think Pink Live Green” t-shirt when she goes to see Al Gore speak. I love it. Comes with a t-shirt for a child–unfortunately none in adult sizes, yet.
Also in keeping with Barbie’s commitment to the environment, a new line of accessories for girls call Barbie Bcause. These are small bags and notebooks that are made from re-purposed (the catch phrase of the season) scraps from Barbie’s extensive wardrobe. I thought originally that the Barbie was going to be wearing “re-purposed” clothing, but that’s going too far. The accessories are for girls to wear — they are attractive–very much like Coach bags in styling and use of piece worked materials.
We also look to see what new occupations Barbie is into each year. This year she’s Celebrity Chef (complete with her own TV camera and studio work top) and Zoo Doctor Barbie.
I got to see D-REX yesterday at Mattel’s showroom. This wireless remote controlled dino will most likely be a huge hit with kids 6 & up. As a little sister, this is just the type of toy that my brothers would have scared me silly with as a kid. With a retail price of $150, D-REX is that big holiday gift. He comes in a clever crate-like box- meant to be his permanent “hang out” when not in use. The remote control is in the shape of the bone. At first we thought that Hasbro’s KOTA and D-REX would be in head to head competition but they’re really quite different in terms of look and appeal. KOTA is much more a preschool, friendly kind of dino. D-REX will be most enjoyed by that older early school years group.
Every year there is an animal that seems to dominate toy fair. Last year it was hard to find a toy that didn’t have a penguin on it. Dinosaurs never really leave toyland…they remain great props for dramatic play…but this year they have come back in a very updated way. KOTA the Triceratop, from Hasbro ($300), is an oversized dino that your preschooler can even sit on. Much like the company’s pony, Butterscotch, KOTA is sound and touch activated (there are 11 different touch points). He will even roar, enjoy chomping on some leaves, and give your child a spring-action ride (he doesn’t move forward). We look forward to testing him with our testers.