Hope springs eternal…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 13th September 2019

I mentioned in last week’s Blog that Amazon appears to be taking greater responsibility for the safety of products listed by third-party vendors on its site. Hurrah. However, I also suggested that while this was an encouraging development, there is still a long way to go. Just how much ground Amazon has to make up was neatly illustrated by a CNBC story this week, in which it was revealed that Amazon seems to be contacting suppliers to ask for safety documentation several weeks after their product first appears on the site. I wonder if anyone can spot the fundamental flaw in that strategy. Hopefully the penny will drop with Amazon in the not too distant future.

I know that Amazon reads the Friday Blog, as I was contacted by a very nice man after last week’s column, who asked for a small tweak to be made for the purpose of ensuring accuracy. I refer to him as ‘nice’ as he didn’t even ask me to remove the word ‘desultory’ in relation to the amount of tax Amazon UK’s services arm had paid. Maybe he can have a quiet word internally to see if these safety compliance requests could be made before product is uploaded, rather than several weeks afterwards. Hope springs eternal.

Elsewhere this week, Jakks announced that it had received an offer from a second potential suitor, following last week’s approach from Jazwares owner Alleghany Corp. The identity of the latest bidder has not been revealed: however, Jakks says that it continues to hold discussions with both parties, while admitting that neither proposal is guaranteed to result in a deal. This one may run and run…

One deal which did come to fruition this week was the sale of Dutch retail chain Intertoys to Mirage Holdings – the new name for its former owner, Blokker. So, essentially, the chain has returned to its original owner, a mere two years after it was sold on. But what a turbulent two years it has been, succinctly summed up by Nico Blauw on LinkedIn: “Private equity fund Alteri sucked Intertoys dry and walked away with (reportedly) €72m, leaving nothing but a mess (and gets away with it). Then it ‘sold’ it on to another private equity firm, Green Swan – a fund which turned out to be little more than a farce, unsuccessfully betting on suppliers financing their new business. Many people have lost their job because of the dark side of private equity.” I’ve suggested before that private equity and retail don’t make comfortable bedfellows, and this sorry saga only serves to reinforce that belief. Let us hope that Intertoys can be reinvigorated now it is free from the shackles of private equity.

It’s also been a turbulent week for ‘kidfluencers’ and the influencer community in general. Legendary PR guru Lynne Franks (the inspiration for the character of Edina in Ab Fab) was the subject of an article in PR Week in which she derided influencers, pulling no punches in the process. She described influencer marketing as “a fad which is oversubscribed and will eventually burn itself out.” Wait, there’s more: “Any little girl can sit in her bedroom and talk about cosmetics and get paid a fortune just to talk about any nonsense and know how to buy in audiences on social media. It’s just meaningless. Influencer marketing is silly now.” Don’t beat about the bush Lynne – tell us how you really feel.

Then, a little closer to home, Ryan – of Ryan’s World and Ryan ToysReview fame – was the result of a complaint made by watchdog group Truth in Advertising (strangely, not an oxymoron) to the FTC, the body which recently fined YouTube a cool $170m for transgressions. Poor little Ryan has been accused of “misleadingly blurring the distinction between advertising and organic content.” Ryan’s father has robustly defended the programme, and while all influencers tread a fine line on this score, it would be palpably unfair to single Ryan’s World out. Clearly, the Truth Squad has gone after Ryan because he is by far the most successful, high profile example of the genre.

Toy companies will certainly be watching developments with keen interest. The reality is it may well be time for greater rigour and self-policing in the whole influencer arena, to avoid hastening the speed with which the bubble could burst. I have had numerous conversations with toy companies and PRs who feel uneasy about some of the people which have embedded themselves in the whole influencer scene (who are sometimes referred to as ‘the kiddy-snatchers’). Some of them have not proved not to be the easiest to deal with; one wonders whether – in hindsight – they may have been wise to remember the old adage about being nice to people on the way up, as you never know who you’re going to meet on the way down…

On to more positive things: I’d like to congratulate Informa’s Anna Knight on her promotion to vice president of Global Brands Group – so now, as well as BLE, Anna will henceforth be heading up the Las Vegas Licensing Expo, the NY Licensing Leadership Summit and the group’s media division. That should keep her out of mischief. BLE is only just over two weeks away now, so excitement is definitely building. I hope you’ll all be able to find time to join the panel discussion I’ll be chairing on the Tuesday – you can find more details of the distinguished line-up of panellists who will be joining me here.

I’m slightly relieved that the session will be held on the Tuesday, as I understand that a very large licensor – which is not officially exhibiting at BLE – is rumoured to have arranged an off-site event in Covent Garden on the Thursday of the show. Canny of them to take advantage of the fact that the licensing community will already be in town, although whether or not it is fair game to run a rival event which will potentially take people away from the official show venue, I will leave you to decide.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this video of Wow Stuff’s Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak in action at an awards ceremony this week. Disclaimer: some of the people being filmed may have been drinking since lunchtime. It really is quite straightforward to use.