Didn’t I blow your mind (this time) … it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 5th November 2021

We’re not even past Bonfire Night and retailers’ Christmas TV ads have already started appearing on screens – it is not just toy retailers that are trying to push the ‘shop early’ message. With the ongoing supply chain challenges (I heard this week that one of the largest 3PL providers to the toy market is facing major issues) and the prospect of consumers going all out to make this a special Christmas after a tough couple of years, it makes sense to drive sales as early as possible and to emphasize that waiting for Black Friday would be a high-risk strategy.

Indeed, talking to retailers this week, it seems there is an expectation that Black Friday could be a strange event this year – and possibly even something of a damp squib. Given the prevailing conditions, I wondered if retailers would even bother, but the general consensus is that the public wants it and has come to expect it, so they will grudgingly have to do something, even though many would love to ditch it completely.

But what exactly is it that consumers have come to expect? Next day delivery? I can’t see many – if indeed any – retailers promising that this time round. And as for massive price drops, there doesn’t seem to be a surplus of stock around to make that necessary or desirable, and I can’t see many suppliers funding big Black Friday discounts, given the extra costs many have had to swallow this year. In the end, I suspect that many Black Friday deals will turn out to be more smoke and mirrors than genuine offers.

At this point, it seems pertinent to point out that Maersk has tripled its quarterly profit, despite shipping lower container volumes. For those who say ‘but it’s just market forces’, I would argue these results suggest there is more to it than that. Several suppliers have been in touch to ask if any bodies are coordinating any form of official response, but realistically, what could that achieve? No working group or trade body has any power or sway over the shipping companies, while I am not sure our government would even think about intervening in the free market – so, right now, it seems to me that it is a case of ‘every man (or woman) for himself.’ Even Sainsbury’s had the edge taken off its latest six-monthly figures by a 12% decline in Argos’ revenue, with supply chain challenges cited as a key contributory factor – and it has delayed a major Christmas toy promotion due to shortages. So, even our largest retailers with the greatest clout are not immune to the problem and seemingly can’t do anything to rectify it.

All we can do is to keep hammering home the message to consumers about not hanging on until the last minute if they have specific toys to purchase. DreamToys spearheaded the latest push on that particular front this week. It was certainly a different event this time round: scaled back and with a little less razzamatazz than in the past. If there was arguably less coverage of the event as a whole, it was nevertheless encouraging that the event led to a couple of high profile TV slots – a crack of dawn appearance for Gary Grant on BBC Breakfast and a strong item on This Morning. There was also a respectable level of coverage in the national press, with most of the main newspapers highlighting this year’s Top 12.

The usual caveats apply to the list – it wasn’t a definitive guide to the toys that will make up the top 12 best-sellers come Christmas, but it gave a nice snapshot of what’s on offer from a range of leading toy suppliers. The inclusion of Gassy Gus is the perfect example – it got a lot of coverage because it allows for a bit of humour to be brought into proceedings, both in the written word and even more so with filmed segments – Philip Schofield making Gus fart in the background as Holly was trying to keep a straight face while learning how Magic Mixies works showed the importance of having media & broadcast friendly lines in the mix.

On the subject of media friendly though, I couldn’t let something pass without comment: I know we turned the clocks back this week, but DreamToys PR Bastion went a step further – turning the clock back 40 years by giving press attendees a paper press release. Paper. This is about as useful as giving us an em ruler or a transparency (publishing in-joke). It’s going to blow their minds when someone tells them about USB sticks.

I assume non-attendees received a visit from the Bastion carrier pigeon with details of the winners. Mind you, it would still have got here quicker than the email with the official release. Given the vary large sums that companies featured in the top 12 are charged for the privilege, I am genuinely amazed that there aren’t better resources made available for the media.

I fully appreciate that this was an unusual and challenging year, and it could be that some media outlets felt they have covered toys extensively already, between the myriad individual retailers’ lists and supply chain issues. But in my humble opinion, all the more reason to give it a bit more welly and ramp up the excitement – and at least give media the basic tools they need to do their job.

We’ve certainly been doing our job: we just hit record online traffic numbers over the past 30 days thanks to a succession of major news stories, topped off by the Toys R Us news last week – I gather that well over 300 vendors have registered their interest in becoming a partner via the link we ran online.

Meanwhile our largest-ever November issue hit desks this week – and the digital version of the issue is also available to read online. We’re now well into work on our preview issues for the London and Nuremberg Toy Fairs, so get in touch now to find out how you can be involved.

Finally, as all the Christmas TV ads start to work their magic, we were delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive sneak peek at the Smyths festive campaign yesterday. If you missed it, you can view it here – it’s yet another mind-blowingly good festive ad from Smyths. Let’s keep ramping up that excitement!