What’s that coming over the hill…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: November 10th, 2017

Dream Toys has put the toy market back in the media spotlight this week. Alas, not via breakfast TV anymore; sadly, those days appear to be long gone. Thankfully, the tabloids and other national papers are as supportive as ever, highlighting the event and the individual top 12 Dream Toys extensively. Throw in a good spread of social media, radio and online coverage and the word was well and truly spread. There were a few controversial omissions from the top 12 list, as predicted in the Blog several weeks ago. Presumably the lack of stock of certain red-hot lines – Luvabella, LOL Big Surprise! and others – counted against them. While retailers will surely sell every piece they can get their hands on anyway, I suspect the decision was driven more by the reluctance to hand the media a ‘big bad toy industry deliberately keeps the market short’ story on a plate. Harsh on those great toys, but perhaps understandable to keep the overall tone of the coverage as upbeat as possible.

Elsewhere, suppliers and retailers are also trying to remain upbeat, despite the UK NPD weekly numbers continuing to fluctuate wildly. The latest report – for week 43 – saw the market fall by 11.7%, with the October numbers down 6% overall. People are naturally looking for definitive answers for the decline, but it’s a tricky one to put your finger on. I am not inclined to believe that Halloween is behind the fall, despite what some people at Dream Toys were saying – I just don’t see what was different about it this year. I think there is some truth in the suggestion that we might be experiencing a slight correction in the market, after two years of fantastic growth. And consumer unease – which has been simmering away since the debacle of the summer election – coupled with a dawning realisation that Brexit won’t be the walk in the park which was promised in certain quarters, must surely be having an impact. While prices have risen across the board, that isn’t stopping people snapping up the high ticket, must-have toys at full price. However, it may be affecting the overall spend on toys, and indeed non-food in general.

Retailers certainly require nerves of steel at the moment. I understand that it’s already getting difficult to get slots with some major accounts’ delivery centres, and that’s before the finance teams start questioning orders and suggesting cancellations (more likely to happen in multi-channel retailers I suspect). If it goes down to the wire again – as is being suggested – fortune will favour the brave, not to mention those retailers who remain physically open to receive deliveries until the last possible moment.

Meanwhile, retailers are unveiling their Christmas ads, hoping to encourage the public to start opening their wallets. Aldi’s ad sees last year’s star Kevin the Carrot joined by a new lady friend, Katie the Carrot – basically a carrot with a bow in her hair (very on trend). Strange as it sounds, I suspect that many a Christmas tree will have a plush carrot – male or female – under it this year. B&M’s advert is simple but highly effective, focusing on product, price and value. It’s a brave move to run an ad featuring comparative prices in today’s dynamic retail pricing environment, but few would deny that it communicates B&M’s strengths perfectly. At the other end of the scale, M&S’s elaborate ad featuring Paddington Bear has drawn many plaudits, as well as resulting in much hilarity in the Good Morning Britain studio, after the presenters were convinced that a character was not saying ‘Thank You Bear’, but rather something much more offensive (I bet it has been hastily redubbed already).

And then there is the John Lewis ad, now a legendary marker in the festive media calendar. The ad was launched online this morning, in all its 120 glory. Teasers have been doing the rounds all week, until someone at John Lewis really let the cat – or more accurately, monster – out of the bag. This column has touched on the questionable practice of retailers deliberately breaking on-shelf embargo dates. But this has to be the first example of a store worker messing up its own employer’s carefully-laid plans, after the Canary Wharf store filled checkouts with the £20 soft toy monster on Tuesday, four days before the big reveal. Muppets.

Gossip-wise, there’s just time to mention that Seth Bishop has stepped down from his role as MD at KD Toys for personal reasons; Andy Friess has parted company with Toy State after 12 years; Mothercare has put 200 employees on notice of possible redundancy; Disney is said to be in talks to acquire parts of the Twenty First Century Fox business, including Sky (I bet agencies are thrilled about the prospect of that particular deal coming to fruition) and it has also announced plans to make yet another Star Wars trilogy (and probably a few spin-offs too). Roll on Star Wars XII, eh?

If you’d like to avoid having to sit through X Factor tomorrow night, here’s that John Lewis ad in all its glory.

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