Preview season has started, so this week’s column is being hastily penned in a hotel room in Oldham. Over the next few weeks I’ll begin to get an idea of what kids will be getting excited about 12 months from now, as the process starts all over again.
But before then we still have the little matter of this Christmas to attend to, and this week saw the Dream Toys press event taking centre stage. En route to the event (note to tweeters: the next person who writes ‘On Route’ will be sent back to school), I saw a few grumbly tweets and social media posts, including a couple from people who I thought would be more supportive of such an important industry initiative. Once inside the event, any notions of negativity were immediately dispelled. There was a palpable energy about the place: the media had turned out in force, coverage had already started with Good Morning Britain leading the way (well done Mr Murphy), and it was impossible not to get swept up in the enthusiasm and positivity. I was grabbed by several media people for interviews, including some camera work (hello Reuters), and Gary Grant even managed to co-erce me into an impromptu – and completely rigged – game of Pie-Face….with the inevitable conclusion. But it was impossible not to smile and get stuck in.
The long and the short of it is that the event really works for the media. For me, the precise make-up of the top 12 – whilst undeniably important – is not necessarily the be-all and end-all: there will always be the odd curveball included and a product or two that arguably should have made it (something has to come 13th on the list…). What matters is that the event puts toys in the spotlight in a positive way, and hopefully galvanises consumers into action.
For those retailers who weren’t able to be present, Gary Grant had suggested in advance of Dream Toys that if independent retailers disagreed with the list, they should contact their local press to tell them so and offer their own list, creating their own PR coverage in the process. Whilst I completely understand the desire to make the event work for as many people as possible, I just have a small concern that too many lists creates confusion amongst both the media and the public and, ultimately, could lead to list fatigue- goodness knows we’re not exactly short of different lists (and awards for that matter). Nevertheless if Dream Toys acts as a catalyst for more toy stories to be heard, it widens its impact even further.
It may be purely coincidental that some retailers have instigated new promotional offers this week – a new Argos ‘3 for 2’ launches today – but with all the consumer coverage around toys, I guess it’s inevitable, especially as promotions continue to drive huge volumes. In fairness, this is not just true of toys, but retail in general: I saw some research this week which suggested that more than half of goods in UK shops are sold as some kind of promotion. If that’s true it’s very sad, but it’s difficult to complain, as retailers have essentially conditioned consumers to expect a deal, and they’re now quite happy to wait, safe in the knowledge that if there isn’t one running now, one will certainly come along soon. Even though some retailers are claiming they’ll be toning down the Black Friday offers this year (it’s a particularly good move by Asda, as I’m sure last year’s scenes of mayhem did little for the retailer’s brand equity), you can bet the promotional onslaught between now and Christmas will still be relentless.
I’ve heard a few pieces of news that haven’t been officially announced yet (at the time of writing): I understand that European VP Nicolai Lindhardt has parted company with Tomy, while I gather that Neil Bandtock has also moved on from his role at Merlin Entertainment. Meanwhile Kate Briggs has taken on the role of senior buying manager for the girls and pre-school categories at Asda.
Finally, with all the media coverage of toys this week, one particular article caught my eye. Gary Grant is clearly an extremely media-friendly personality, but even he was surprised to see that his fame has travelled as far as Thailand. Interestingly, he has absolutely no idea where the article – or the picture – came from, or indeed what it says. So if there are any fluent Thai speakers out there, I’m sure Gary would be grateful for a translation (and he denies that he’s about to open up in Thailand before anyone asks).