They say timing in life is everything – so it was mildly unfortunate that this week’s Dream Toys event coincided with the unveiling of the American election results. Some years it may not have mattered, but 2016 has just been one of those years. Thankfully, given that vast swathes of the media were inevitably pre-occupied with the most shocking (in every sense of the word) election result since Brexit, coverage of Dream Toys held up remarkably well.
While BBC and Sky camera crews were unsurprisingly absent, there was a good turn-out from the national press, resulting in a decent level of print and online stories. Some of the following days’ print pieces ran without pictures, which is a shame, but understandable given the demands on print space on Thursday morning. Some coverage may also be delayed by a few days (I hear The Sun is potentially holding back for a week or two), but better late than never. And if TV coverage was a little harder to come by, at least This Morning prominently featured the top 12 toys: in fairness, this was also not surprising, as you would hardly want Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield having a serious conversation about the ramifications of the American election result – it was much safer for Holly to focus on giggling at Silly Sausage.
Other media also stepped up to help spread the word: Gary Grant was keen to point out that some online and social media outlets – such as Channel Mum – not only spent hours filming on the day, but in his opinion also help get the message out the toy industry’s core target audience. As he put it: “The face of media is changing. We used to judge this event on the number of TV cameras that turned up, but there are many other ways of reaching parents and kids these days.”
The toys that made up the Dream Dozen were, broadly speaking, a relatively uncontroversial choice, albeit you can never please everyone. At least half of the list wrote itself, while for the remaining selections, you can always argue the merits of one line over another, and it will invariably be a close decision. In the end, it’s unavoidable that one or two products will narrowly miss out; good cases could have been made for lines such as Stretch Armstrong and Code-a-Pillar, both of which arguably lend themselves to media coverage better than some of the top 12, while the Chocolate Pen and LeapStart must have also been close.
It was nice to see a couple of companies on the list who don’t feature every year – Worlds Apart with Selfie Mic and John Adams with Silly Sausage – while Spin Master’s Hatchimals became the focus of much of the post- event coverage. As usual, some papers were keen to find a negative angle and tried to claim that Hatchimals is completely sold out, which is not true. Stock will be coming in regularly between now and Christmas, but what is undeniable is that it won’t hang around on shelves for very long.
Coming back briefly to the result of American election (you know, the one The Simpsons predicted 16 years ago), one area for the global toy industry to keep an eye on is Donald Trump’s previous pronouncements about China. Trump often targeted China in his campaign, blaming Beijing for US job losses and vowing to impose 45% tariffs on Chinese imports. Given the post-Brexit economic conditions that the UK is currently grappling with, any significant change in America’s trading relationship with China could throw a further curveball into the mix. Although whether Trump could afford to alienate China from a trading perspective, given the amount of American product which now goes the other way, is another matter entirely. What a complex and fascinating year 2017 is shaping up to be….
If Dream Toys, in many respects, heralds the start of Christmas in toy circles, the John Lewis ad has come to act as a similar marker in consumer circles. This year’s ad prominently features a trampoline, which suppliers will no doubt be delighted about – indeed I am hearing there has already been an increase in demand within a few days of the ad being unveiled. Some parents may be rather less delighted – I picked this up on twitter: “Can we get a dog?” “No.” “Can we get a trampoline?” “No.” (repeat to fade…) And that was before the John Lewis ad. Thanks John Lewis.”