BLE opens applications for 2020 Retail Mentoring Programme

The programme offers an in-depth introduction into the world of licensing and unique access to some of the industry’s most important players.

2020 marks the 10th year of the programme, which has seen over 300 industry professionals take part since its launch in 2011. There were a record-breaking 80 participants in 2019, an increase of 48% over the 2018 edition.

Anna Knight, vice president, Global Licensing Group, commented: “The Retailing Mentoring Programme offers an in-depth introduction into the world of licensing and unique access to some of the industry’s most important players. The wealth of expertise and insight on offer to buyers, creatives and managers is immense. That we’ve seen so many people across a range of sectors participate in the programme demonstrates its value and scope, with the 2020 edition set to be the best yet.”

An opportunity for retailers to learn about the benefits and fundamentals of licensing, BLE’s Retail Mentoring Programme is a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accredited course offering insight into the licensing industry to help retail teams gain a competitive edge when identifying new brand partners and negotiating licensing deals.

The Retail Mentoring Programme runs from the spring until Brand Licensing Europe and is delivered through workshops, seminars and 1-2-1 consultancy sessions. Valued at £499, the programme is offered free to qualifying retailers. In addition to the course, participants will also receive:

  • A place at the Licensing Essentials Course and Spring Fling in May, organised in conjunction with Licensing International
  • An invitation to judge the Licensing Awards
  • A place at the Retail Mentoring Programme’s closing Licensing for Retail conference
  • Access to exclusive retail content at BLE, including the retail trends lounge, where they can meet over 260 leading brand owners and agents across fashion, entertainment, art, sports, corporate brands, gaming, heritage and more

Those taking part will also receive a day with a licensor to help them understand licensing from the brand-owner side, as well as receiving tips on how to work effectively with some of the world’s best-known properties and agents. Previous hosts have included eOne, NBCUniversal, Natural History Museum, Penguin, The Point.1888, and Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products.

Retailers can apply to take part in the programme online here. BLE welcomes applications from:

  • Buyers, designers, merchandisers and marketers with existing licensing programmes
  • Buyers, designers, merchandisers and marketers engaged in licensing but want further development
  • Teams who would like to learn how to develop their licensing relationships
  • Teams looking for cross-category opportunities
  • Individuals new to retail and hoping to develop their career and expertise within licensing.


Funko’s Q4 earnings fail to meet expectations

Funko has said that sales for the quarter ending 31st December 2019 were approximately $214m, down from $233m during the same period in 2018.

Funko has reported preliminary Q4 financial results that fell below expectations following a period of growth, and showed an 8% sales decline. The company said that disappointing sales of movie-related products and reduced orders from customers during the peak holiday season more than offset encouraging growth in Europe and for the Loungefly brand.

“While we are disappointed in our fourth-quarter results, we are confident that our strong track record of innovation through new product categories and properties, as well as continued international expansion, will continue to propel the company in 2020 and beyond,” commented Funko CEO Brian Mariotti. “The underlying strength of our Pop! and Loungefly brands, combined with Funko’s unique ability to leverage evergreen properties will enable the company to achieve high-single-digit to low-double-digit sales growth in 2020. Since 2017, we have grown sales at a compound annual rate of more than 20%. The key drivers that have fuelled our growth and brought Funko to where it is today remain intact. Looking forward, we plan to continue investing in existing and new products, people, and global operations to ensure the company is positioned for long-term success.”

Funko’s official Q4 and full-year results, due to be reported on 5th March, are expected to show double-digit growth for Loungefly in the fourth quarter, as well as a 10% decrease in sales of collectible figures for the same period.

A one-off charge of $16.8m has been taken, to write-down the disposal of slower-moving inventory to increase operational capacity.

The company expects the outlook for this year to show growth, in part fuelled by direct-to-consumer engagement and the introdyction of new IP across toys and games.


Which? report finds failings with Amazon’s ‘Choice’ label

The consumer watchdog says company must ensure algorithmic system is not used to mislead consumers. 

As reported by the Guardian’s Alex Hern, Amazon is promoting poor-quality products with an Amazon’s Choice badge as sellers manipulate the algorithmic recommendation system behind the label, according to research from the consumer rights group Which?.

Many of the most popular items sold on are labelled Amazon’s Choice, a thin blue badge that renders a product more visible on the search results page.

Despite the name, Amazon does not actively select the products it declares its choice: the company instead automatically bestows the commendation on products that match an undisclosed set of criteria including good reviews, low price and fast shipping.

That means that if unscrupulous sellers are able to generate good reviews for mediocre, unsuitable or dangerous products, they can succeed in getting their items the coveted label, Which? said.

“Amazon risks betraying the trust millions of customers place in the Amazon’s Choice badge by allowing its endorsement to be all too easily gamed,” said Which?’s Natalie Hitchins. “Amazon must ensure its customers aren’t being misled about the products it is recommending to them – or reconsider whether it should continue with the endorsement in its current form.”

Which? highlighted a number of examples of manipulation that seemed to lead to unwarranted selection as an Amazon’s Choice product, including a car dashcam that had at least 24 written reviews mentioning the offer of a free SD card in exchange for a positive review, and a pair of wireless headphones that had close to 2,000 reviews thanks to the use of a feature called product merging – the majority of the positive reviews were about unrelated products including acne cream and razor blades.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “When browsing our store, customers may see a product highlighted as Amazon’s Choice for their specific shopping request. Amazon’s Choice highlights highly rated, well-priced products that are available to ship immediately. Amazon’s Choice is our choice for a product we think customers may like, and customers can always shop for any brand or product that they want to purchase.

“We don’t tolerate Amazon policy violations such as review abuse, incentivised reviews, counterfeits or unsafe products. When deciding to badge a product as Amazon’s Choice, we proactively incorporate a number of factors that are designed to protect customers from those policy violations. When we identify a product that may not meet our high bar for products we highlight for customers, we remove the badge.”

Which? said Amazon shoppers widely believe the Amazon Choice label confers a more direct recommendation than it actually does. According to its polling, 44% of Amazon’s customers think it means a product has been quality-checked by Amazon, and 35% think it means it has been checked for safety.

Funko releases Bushfire Heroes figure to raise money for Australian relief efforts

Funko has partnered with Popcultcha to release the figures, which depict a firefighter comforting a koala. 

Funko has stated that all proceeds from the limited edition Bushfire Heroes toys will go to the RSPCA National Bushfire Appeal to help animals suffering after the devastating bushfires.

‘The RSPCA is working alongside government and emergency agencies, veterinarians and local authorities to provide much needed equipment and supplies, emergency care and identifying and assessing injured animals in need of assistance,’ the toy’s description reads.

Koalas around the country have been decimated through this year’s bushfire season. A parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday heard that 85% of the koala population in Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid-north coast has been lost in the bushfires.

We Are Family selects Norton PR as UK marketing partner

We Are Family offers best in class full-service support for clients at all stages of their marketing journey. 

From initial product development and consumer research all the way to locally executing marketing, PR and retail campaigns, eight of the largest family-targeted marketing agencies in Europe have joined forces to enable companies to expand their influence across multiple territories.

Tim Höchel, managing director of Full Moon Kids & Teens – the largest and most influential Agency in Germany for kids and youth – founded this network of specialists covering 15 European countries and has experience across numerous global brands including Porsche, Bosch, Lego, Nickelodeon and Activision.

“A child in Madrid has different needs than a child in Manchester,” commented Tim. “You cannot simply adapt a campaign for different countries. That doesn’t work. We have over 20 different languages and cultures in Europe so we looked for the best experts in family marketing in Europe and brought them together.”

The network has been working together successfully now for a year and a half. All the agencies are specialists in kids and family marketing in their country and collectively have extensive experience and numerous awards to their names. The network’s agencies have been serving well-known customers in the toy and entertainment industries such as Lego, Disney and Nintendo for many years. Each campaign is designed to be bespoke to each client, taking into consideration their objectives and the markets they are targeting. We Are Family is able to create campaigns that work effectively across the whole of Europe, while still offering flexibility to allow for and leverage local nuance.

The London-based managing director of We Are Family, Maurice Wheeler, has over 20 years experience developing audience-led strategies. “We were finding that clients were stuck with two choices when they wanted to run an international marketing campaign” states Maurice. “Either go with a big international agency, which might have local offices but is expensive, doesn’t offer the level of service they require and rarely has kids and family experts in all markets. Or they work with 10 different local agencies, who may have the kids and family expertise but trying to manage and coordinate all these slightly competing bodies who might not integrate well together is a real headache for already over-stretched teams. We Are Family is set up to provide the best of  both worlds; you deal with a single person, either locally or out of London, who is your main account lead and they then manage the campaign, and you know you are getting the best local agency who is an expert in their local kids and family market”.

He adds: “While Europe is our focus today, we want to become a global operation soon with plans to open a New York office at the end of the Year and in China in 2021.”

“Nuremberg provided a perfect opportunity to present the We Are Family Agency offering to multiple toy companies,” commented Tony Norton, chairman of Norton PR and marketing. “Having worked with clients that require a more broad-based approach to PR planning where retail activation can be implemented across multiple territories and devising social and digital campaigns with global reach, the opportunity to work with We Are Family is a natural step for us in expanding our business globally.”

Toy Fair New York – Steve Pasierb and Marian Bossard talk to Toy World

The 117th annual Toy Fair New York will host the equivalent of nearly eight football fields filled with toys from 22nd to 25th February 2020.

Steve Pasierb

Global professionals from about 100 countries are expected to attend the New York Toy Fair, all looking to get a sneak peek at hundreds of thousands of ground-breaking toys and games.

“There is so much anticipation building for the show,” explains Marian Bossard, EVP global market events, The Toy Association. “Creative Factor continues to expand, with educational offerings that will highlight the intersection of technology and play from concept to consumer. Now in its 18th year, Creative Factor celebrates and serves the creative professionals across myriad job functions including inventors and designers, sales and marketing, and retail. Also, for the first time at Toy Fair we’ll present Robots on the Runway, which is exactly what it sounds like; a fashion show format displaying the latest in service robots, as well as robots to play with.”

Marian continues: “We’ll also continue our popular programming for the entertainment and licensing community, independent retailers and trend-spotters, and other play professionals. I encourage readers to download the free Toy Fair mobile app (available on iTunes and Google Play) for complete show information, including floor plans, exhibitor listings, seminar schedules, and more.”

Marian Bossard

The US Toy Association says the American toy market is facing a number of challenges this year, the most pressing of which is intellectual property protection.

“Without question, this is the most significant issue upon which we and our members collaborate, and we’re working to prevent potentially dangerous counterfeits from proliferating on e-commerce sites and online marketplaces,” says Steve Pasierb, president & CEO of The Toy Association. “While there are over 100 safety and regulatory standards governing US toymakers, and clear accountabilities on the part of traditional retailers, the e-commerce space and especially third-party sellers on marketplaces are not held to the same high level of responsibility. These rogue manufacturers and sellers, which threaten the health and safety of the children we all exist to serve, must be stopped.”

To read the full interview, which was published in our February issue, click here.

New speakers announced for New York Ethical Toy Program seminar

Attendees at the New York Toy Fair can learn from industry leaders and toy sourcing experts at New York Toy Fair.

Visitors to the New York Toy Fair, which runs from 22nd-25th February, are invited to join the Ethical Toy Program for an educational seminar at New York Toy Fair exploring global opportunities to manage risks, protect brand reputation and enhance their toy supply chain.

Leaders in sustainability and responsible toy manufacturing will examine the current trends, and emerging risks and regulations affecting the toy industry, as well as presenting opportunities to diversify toy supply chains beyond China in 2020.

Whether an established player in the market or a promising start-up, this seminar offers all visitors a unique opportunity to learn from global experts on responsible toy sourcing. A spokesperson for the Ethical Toy Program told Toy World: “This event builds upon a successful session in Nuremberg and gives attendees a chance to poll industry leaders from The Toy Association, SEATA, Mattel, Spin Master, The Character Group, USCIB and The Ethical Toy Program. It is also an exciting time to explore opportunities to diversify supply chains globally, as this is currently a hot topic.”

Seminar topics will cover:

  • Responsible manufacturing opportunities outside of China, with a focus on Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia
  • How to conform to emerging legislation impacting the global toy industry, such as Modern Slavery legislation or Germany’s draft Sustainable Value Chain Law
  • Latest updates and responsible sourcing trends all toy companies need to be aware of

Speakers will include Steve Pasierb (president & chief executive at The Toy Association), Tim Sullivan (SVP global quality/compliance at Spin Master), Michael Hyde (MD- Far East operations, The Character Group), Carmel Giblin, (president and CEO at ICTI Ethical Toy Program), Edena Low (VP supply chain governance, risk management, compliance (GRC) and sustainability at Mattel, Southeast Asia Toy Association) and Daniella Goncalves (assistant policy and programme manager, CSR and labour affairs at USCIB-United States Council for International Business.)

The seminar starts with a welcome address from Steve Pasierb, followed by a keynote from Carmel Giblin and an in-depth panel discussion and Q&A.

Register today to secure your place.

The ICTI Ethical Toy Program has also partnered with the BTHA to present an update on emerging issues and opportunities in the global toy supply chain. This free webinar, exclusive for BTHA members, will cover the following:

  • Risks to be aware of in your toy supply chain
  • Emerging legislation on Modern Slavery and Child Labour you need to conform to
  • Opportunities for supply chain diversification, China and beyond
  • Insights from Ethical Toy Program data from 2000+ annual factory visits

BTHA members can register for this webinar here.

Zuru 5 Surprise growth driven by themed collections

The company is set to launch two new collections this month. 

A strategy to streamline its collectible capsules range has led to a double-digit growth for the 5 Surprise brand, according to the manufacturer Zuru.

This month sees the launch of the newly themed 5 Surprise Dino Strike line and the second series of Unicorn Squad which features all-new glitter characters.

Over 20m capsules have been opened worldwide since the 5 Surprise brand was brought to market three years ago. Since 2019, Zuru has focused on offering themed surprises within the range following the huge success of the US launch of Mini Brands and global sales of 5 Surprise Unicorn Series 1. 5 Surprise sales in the UK alone are performing at +60% YOY with the Unicorn range receiving double the orders of previous standard lines.

“We’ve two new collections hitting UK shelves this month”, said Erika Sava, senior marketing manager, Zuru. “While the innovation of the segmented capsule will always be at the heart of the product, children now get five layers of themed surprises to collect. The design continues to offer children multiple unboxing and reveal elements but is now driven by combining this with the appeal of popular themes. We’ve restructured the range so that children now have more opportunity to complete their collections whilst the themes remain popular and current.”

Alpha sees success at London Toy Fair

Alpha Group UK returned to the 2020 show with a host of new master toy licences along with new additions to its in-house properties.

Alpha showed new content for its flagship pre-school animation property Super Wings. New products are being launched to support the extensive 2020 content slate airing through major UK broadcast partners Cartoonito and Tiny Pop. The pre-school property launches Season 4 in spring, with a new SuperCharged theme introducing new characters and storylines through 40 new 11-minute episodes including 2 x 20-minute specials. The range impressed retailers with refreshed best-selling lines, attractive price points and a host of new play patterns.

Recently appointed as global master toy partner for Sybo’s Subway Surfers, Alpha also unveiled its lifestyle and fashion-led toy range at the show. The line brings together street style and pop culture themes, including some exclusive digital interactivity integrated within key lines.

Alpha UK showcased introductions to its SpongeBob SquarePants master toy licence ahead of the movie release in May, with a selection of new products including plush. Alpha’s humorous line, which should appeal to kids, teens and millennials, is set to expand during SpongeBob’s 21st anniversary year.

Alpha Group has been appointed as master toy partner for Chuggington, which is under new ownership through Herschend Entertainment Studios. As the much-loved pre-school property anticipates the launch of its sixth TV series, the long-term franchise will be launching new content on both digital and linear platforms, along with an extensive licensing programme including a new toy line in 2021.

Gearing up for launch in spring/summer is U-Zoom. These pre-school vehicles power up effortlessly and can travel over 20 meters, delivering plenty of play value at an impulse pocket money price point.

Alpha is also enhancing its in house offering with the new TV supported TerraTrax RC drift cycle, which is new for autumn/winter.

Julie Ball of Alpha Group UK commented: “Our second London Toy Fair was a huge success as we showcased our growing portfolio of in-house brands along with new master toy licensed ranges which extend across a variety of categories. We have received fantastic feedback from new and existing retail partners and are well positioned for a strong and exciting year ahead.”

Vivid’s Fantasticats receives positive reception at European trade fairs

Using the unique Cat-apults, visitors to Toy Fair and Spielwarenmesse were lining up to fire the cats into the target. 

The stunt feline friends Fantasticats became a hit of the European Toy Fairs for the Goliath/Vivid Group.

“Fantasticats is such a playful brand, it was great to see everyone’s reactions at the shows”  says Lucy Vaughan, assistant brand manager. “It is a low tech toy that delivers so much play value, and we have a full range of price points including sets with obstacles to build your own stunt shows launching autumn/winter. The marketing support will be as creative as the product, including TV advertising, a big focus on social, and supported with in-store demo’s so kids can get their hands on the feline friends first hand”.

Vivid’s range starts at RRP £2.99 to allow kids to collect individual the stunt cats, along with various sets and stunt packs for the more advanced cat-flinging experts.

The range will be available on shelf from July.