All change (again) …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 20th October 2023

When I switched on my phone last Saturday morning, the first text which greeted me simply said: “Woah Toy Fair.” Although my initial reaction was ‘what on earth has happened now?’, I think I had guessed by the time I opened my inbox, which contained a round robin email sent by ‘Crazy’ Aaron Muderick, current chair of the Toy Association Board.

The message confirmed what many people had suspected ever since the announcement was made a mere two weeks previously: it was time to cancel the Dave Middleton Funbus and tear up the contract for Toy World airlines; the North American Toy Fair won’t be moving to New Orleans after all. Just like Toy World airlines, it was never going to fly.

To be fair, the cancellation of the proposed move (you can read all the details here) was widely expected after the initial reaction to the news, but just perhaps not that rapidly. To say the toy community wasn’t convinced would be an understatement – although credit to the Toy Association for not prevaricating and moving swiftly to respond to public opinion. The New Orleans announcement had actually succeeded in doing what no other option had done to that point – it unified the entire US and international toy communities. Unfortunately, it unified them in opposition to the move, rather than in support of it.

So, we are essentially back to square one, with a plan for the North American Toy Fair to move back to its original home in New York during (or close to) its original February timeslot. But are there still some final twists to come? While that is the stated intention, we were told previously that this wasn’t an option – indeed, I gather that the slot which was vacated by Toy Fair was immediately snapped up by another exhibition organiser. Some interesting negotiations presumably lie ahead – could it come down to who is prepared to pay the most? I even heard a maverick theory this week that the New Orleans announcement was a negotiating tactic to force Javits to come to the table and talk seriously – while I am not personally convinced that’s the case, stranger things have happened. We all await further news on the date, hoping that it will be far enough away from the Nuremberg Toy Fair to avoid inconvenience.

Aaron’s email also declared that the Toy Association would be “actively exploring ways to support its members in LA”, starting this August / September. It will be fascinating to see how that support manifests itself; the LA trip has never been officially organized by anyone. In fact, the LA community almost prides itself on the fact that it is self-sufficient, and the gathering is in effect organized ‘by the toy community, for the toy community.’

Back in the UK, I gather the UK toy market held up reasonably well in September, with Circana data rumoured to be on a par with last year, suggesting that the festive season has got off to a respectable start. Talking to a few ad agencies this week, I gather planned festive marketing campaigns are still very much ‘go’ – as one said, “no-one is panicking just yet.” Plus, there have been plenty of innovative PR activations and launch events to showcase new launches – just last night I attended the launch of The Traitors board game, when Vivid took over The London Dungeon for a night of thrills, chills and gaming fun.

And we may not have the launch of the Argos catalogue to drive early sales anymore, but lots of other specialist toy retailers are filling that gap with catalogues of their own – The Entertainer, Toymaster and Smyths have all launched their own catalogues recently. And this week also saw The Entertainer unveil its Top Toys for Christmas list – slowly but surely, retailers are ramping up activity to encourage consumers to start Christmas shopping.

And where does Amazon fit into the equation? Its Prime Big Deals Days took place last week – did that event move the dial for suppliers and retailers? I would love to hear feedback, as I don’t have an Amazon Prime membership, so I have absolutely no idea whether toys featured prominently in the deals and the communication around the campaign, or whether it centred around electronics and other categories. I understand Amazon believes that this new event is a big opportunity to kickstart Christmas shopping, so I am curious to know whether the reality lived up to the expectations – the first couple of people I have spoken to about it don’t seem to think it had much impact at all but let me know if you feel differently. There is also the question of whether this new event takes the edge off Black Friday, or whether the two events dovetail and complement each other? Again, initial supplier reaction suggests the former, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

A very quick note for our readers in PR: I have no idea who told some of you that it was a good idea to send press releases as PDFs, especially with colourful layout and embedded images throughout – but it certainly wasn’t a journalist. It’s a terrible format, and a monumental pain in the rear end to work with. If you would prefer to avoid being added to a list of PRs on the Toy World naughty step, please don’t do it anymore. Thank you kindly.

Finally, I must say that I have been enjoying Isaac Larian’s European travel diary this week, as he makes his way around Europe visiting MGA offices and retailers, while fully embracing the local culture by dressing up appropriately in each destination (Union Jack jacket in the UK, beret and cloak in France etc). Whether he took up the challenge to don Lederhosen for the German leg of the trip remains to be seen – we await pictorial evidence. The whole escapade reminds me of a Blippi episode…maybe Moonbug should be talking to Isaac about turning him into a cartoon character? Isaac’s Travels has a nice ring to it…

Have a great weekend, I’m off to play at being a Traitor.